‘It is bet­ter to go with strong hy­brid sys­tems in terms of per­for­mance and price’

At FISITA 2018, we had an op­por­tu­nity to sit down with Takashi Ue­hara, Chief En­gi­neer, Power Train Prod­uct Plan­ning Divi­sion, Toy­ota Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion, to dis­cuss what means of mo­bil­ity are avail­able now and what could po­ten­tially sur­face not too long fro

Car India - - INTERVIEW - In­ter­viewed by: Jim Gorde

Toy­ota have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in the hy­brid space, thanks to the Prius, but what are the new de­vel­op­ments? We’ve seen full electrics, bat­tery electrics, and fuel-cell electrics; what in your opin­ion are the other ma­jor changes hap­pen­ing in the elec­tric ve­hi­cle space? What will the hy­brid of 2020 or 2022 look like glob­ally? For 2020 or 2022, I can­not tell you when but, of course, we have a new model with some im­prove­ment, but the tar­get now is still se­cret.

When the Prius hap­pened, it was cap­tur­ing ef­fi­ciency which was be­ing ig­nored be­fore fun­da­men­tally. To­day, why is the elec­tric ve­hi­cle be­ing con­sid­ered the fu­ture? It’s not like the IC en­gine has be­come unattrac­tive from any an­gle, nor the cost of fuel, nor the cost of mak­ing the car, nor the avail­abil­ity of in­fra­struc­ture — all that is good. Why is the IC en­gine be­ing con­sid­ered “dead” for the fu­ture? I don’t think the IC en­gine would be dead for the fu­ture. I think the IC en­gine will sur­vive for a very long time in the fu­ture be­cause of the gaso­line or crude oil is very easy to han­dle with very high en­ergy den­sity. Elec­tric­ity, as you know, is dif­fi­cult to store so that is the rea­son why the IC en­gine would sur­vive for such a long fu­ture.

As a per­son in­volved in pow­er­train, would you be­lieve that the IC en­gine is at its op­ti­miza­tion? Has it plateaued or are more im­prove­ments pos­si­ble? I think it’s pos­si­ble, but with the curr ent tech­nol­ogy, to get higher ef­fi­ciency with the IC en­gine the cost will b e very high. Of course, we have to study elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, in­clud­ing EV, but we have to also study the ICE for the fu­ture.

What sort of chal­lenge is it, given that Toy­ota sell cars in many de­vel­op­ing economies such as In­dia and given that hy­brids are ex­pen­sive or even a reg­u­lar hy­brid be­cause the bat­tery pack is an ex­pen­sive part of the cost? What about meet­ing the chal­lenge of cost be­cause the gov­ern­ments want to re­duce emis­sions, too. What are the chal­lenges you face with cost, with re­gard to bat­ter­ies? We hear about new bat­tery tech­nol­ogy with more en­ergy den­sity. Can you give us an idea

about how bat­tery tech­nol­ogy is evolv­ing? We have heard en­ergy den­sity has dou­bled. So what are the emerg­ing bat­tery tech­nolo­gies in your opin­ion? If we in­crease the en­ergy den­sity of the bat­tery, the size of the bat­tery cell would be larger and also we don’t ex­pect too much bat­tery cell tech­nol­ogy im­prove­ments for the fu­ture, be­cause more than 60 per cent of the bat­tery cost con­sists of the raw ma­te­ri­als. In many coun­tries, the de­mand for the bat­ter­ies would in­crease, but the cost it­self can­not be I think de­creased in case of EVs. In HV also we need some im­prove­ment in the power mass of the bat­tery cell. But for hy­brids, the power out­put of the bat­tery is much more im­por­tant than en­ergy quan­tity. The type of the bat­tery is dif­fer­ent.

Is there an al­ter­na­tive to lithium? Can you use any other ma­te­rial in­stead of lithium? The bat­tery re­ac­tion will be a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion. There is a long his­tory in the study of ma­te­ri­als and the volt­age. So, for the mo­ment, lithium or nickel metal hy­dride would be the best. Other ma­te­ri­als we are study­ing, but not so easy to find out. The main thing in the bat­tery is a global is­sue. The main prob­lem with the bat­tery is that the raw ma­te­rial cost is 60 per cent. To re­duce the bat­tery cost, be­cause of vol­ume we can work on 40 per cent, but re­main­ing 60 per cent raw-ma­te­rial costs are not go­ing to come down. There is a chal­lenge. Till we change the tech­nol­ogy, we can­not re­duce the cost so much. Every­body is fac­ing the same chal­lenge.

About the other tech­nol­ogy, cur­rently proven tech­nolo­gies are nickel metal hy­dride and lithium-ion that every­body is us­ing. Of course, we are work­ing on other ma­te­ri­als but it needs a tech­no­log­i­cal break­through, but it may take time to prove that tech­nol­ogy. But with hy­brids, be­cause we use the lim­ited size of bat­tery, the bat­tery re­quire­ment is low. So the cost im­pact, com­pared to elec­tric, is lesser be­cause bat­tery size is low. And this bat­tery keeps on charg­ing and dis­charg­ing on a dy­namic ba­sis when it is on the ve­hi­cle, so the uti­liza­tion and the en­ergy effi ciency are very high. So, from that point of view, if you see the bat­tery size of a hy­brid is small and is more cost-ef­fec­tive com­pared to an EV. But that tech­nol­ogy needs to evolve.

What about the avail­abil­ity of raw ma­te­ri­als? Will the prices go down? This is a global is­sue. So it’s not so easy to con­trol.

Why have Toy­ota taken a big bet on fuel cells? You be­lieve in hy­dro­gen. Why do you think hy­dro­gen is also a vi­able source? The good point of hy­dro­gen is, for ex­am­ple, from elec­tric power plant with crude oil we can get hy­dro­gen as a by-prod­uct. Also, there is a pos­si­bil­ity to get hy­dro­gen with re­new­able en­ergy like wind. For the fu­ture, many de­vel­op­ments would be re­quired, but this is a good point of hy­dro­gen. Also, for the fu­ture we have to se­cure en­ergy is­sue for ev­ery coun­try of the world. We need many dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties — hy­dro­gen, there is a pos­si­bil­ity and also elec­tric­ity. So that’s the rea­son why we are study­ing hy­dro­gen.

You have seen the In­dian mar­ket and the con­di­tions, so what do you think will be the most ideal so­lu­tion? Will the HEV be the most ideal so­lu­tion for In­dia? For the fu­ture, I can­not tell you clearly be­cause if there is a tech­ni­cal or en­gi­neer­ing devel­op­ment, maybe the world could be changed. For the growth fu­ture, now Toy­ota is spread­ing HEV to the world. To re­duce the CO2 with­out sup­port, HEV is most suit­able, we think. Tech­nol­ogy to de­velop hy­brid can be used for the EV, fuel cell and all types of ve­hi­cles. But look­ing at the con­di­tions of each re­gion, we should sup­ply the best pow­er­train.

In­dia is also a very cost-sen­si­tive mar­ket. If you look at PHEV ver­sus an HEV, bat­tery size is smaller, de­pen­dence on in­fra­struc­ture is lower, it’s more prac­ti­cal to have a smaller IC en­gine. Do you think that makes more sense? Yes.

One more point. All th­ese hy­brids have al­ways been petrol. Now there are a few diesel hy­brids. What are your views on diesel hy­brids? Diesel is, by its na­ture, more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient and you can have more torque from an en­gine, es­pe­cially a small­er­size turbo-diesel. What are your views on a diesel hy­brid? Do you think it can make a change? We have stud­ied diesel hy­brids be­fore, ac­tu­ally. It doesn’t de­pend on hy­brid or no hy­brid; diesel it­self, very re­cently, is very ex­pen­sive to meet the reg­u­la­tions. To meet ex­haust emis­sions reg­u­la­tion, the main area, with diesel is very dif­fi­cult. The thing is, with petrol you can­not con­trol CO2 emis­sion; with diesel and heated cat­a­lysts, they have been tested and show NOx is 1/10th of norms. If it comes true, won’t diesel be more pre­ferred? We have sub­si­dized diesel here, but, glob­ally, look­ing at CO2 and over­all ef­fi­ciency, doesn’t diesel make more sense? If we put very big cost in diesel for just CO2 to re­duce the emis­sion, maybe we can take that as an op­tion. For ex­am­ple, hy­brid has a very big amount of the bat­tery, maybe we can re­duce the CO2 also. There are two areas ba­si­cally. One is that diesel has par­tic­u­late mat­ter. We have to be very care­ful about the en­vi­ron­ment. So, from that point of view, there is a huge cost. Now Euro 6 is com­ing, then RD is com­ing, the cost of the diesel is go­ing to in­crease a lot. In that, if you put hy­brid, from the cus­tomer af­ford­abil­ity point of view, it be­comes dif­fi­cult. One is cost point of view and sec­ond is en­vi­ron­ment point of view. We think that the gaso­line hy­brid is more ac­cept­able. Be­cause CO2 by hy­brid we are tak­ing care. We need not put diesel again on hy­brid. It would need more emis­sion con­trol, AdBlue, and so on.

The In­dian road con­di­tions be­ing very dif­fi­cult, in­clud­ing bad roads and flood­ing, peo­ple have raised con­cerns about elec­tric ve­hi­cles be­cause there is a charge in

the ve­hi­cle. From the safety point of view, we know Toy­ota sold 12 mil­lion elec­tri­fied cars, but are there some risks with elec­tric ve­hi­cles that need to be man­aged in a coun­try like ours? Will we get a shock if the car drives on a flooded road? Be­fore we in­tro­duce it to the mar­ket, we re­solve this. We elim­i­nate the risk, even with the high-volt­age EV sys­tem. We made it clear that with EVs, we are tak­ing care of high volt­age and there has to be proper eval­u­a­tion. We have strict cri­te­ria when bring­ing new ve­hi­cles in the mar­ket. If that is not done, then there is a big risk, oth­er­wise it is com­pletely taken care of: how earth­ing and other things should be taken care of so that there is no shock. Toy­ota are work­ing for so long, we have de­vel­oped a sys­tem so that there is no prob­lem even in flood con­di­tions and so on. But this as­pect has to be taken care of by every­body.

The four as­pects of Fu­ture Mo­bil­ity Con­nected, Au­tonomous, Shared, and Elec­tric (CASE) — what’s your take on this? Will all th­ese tech­nolo­gies go to­gether in one prod­uct by 2020 or 2050? All we have to do. For us, we are from the pow­er­train side, so our job is elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. But, as we said, CASE — con­nec­tiv­ity and also au­ton­omy and shar­ing — we are study­ing ev­ery­thing in the other de­part­ments at Toy­ota.

At the same time, you are de­vel­op­ing new, ex­cit­ing petrol en­gines. What chal­lenges do you face? How do you di­vide your time? How does your team di­vide their time look­ing at dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies while con­tin­u­ing to de­velop prod­ucts for to­day’s mar­ket? For the six-cylin­der en­gine with new Supra, the staff for the devel­op­ment of this was com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

In a mar­ket like In­dia, there was a point in time when Toy­ota made the Prius only in Ja­pan. Now you also make it in other mar­kets. So if you look at In­dia, do you be­lieve you can lo­cal­ize and pro­duce some of th­ese ve­hi­cles in In­dia to bring down the cost? There are some pos­si­bil­i­ties. I think we could.

Would it be com­pletely knocked down (CKD)? Or what sort of sys­tem assem­bly? It de­pends on the qual­ity of the parts that can to be sourced lo­cally. But we can part­ner with In­dian sup­pli­ers to make the per­for­mance and qual­ity of the parts higher and higher and meet our re­quire­ments. For the fu­ture, if we de­cide to lo­calise here, we can do with a few In­dian com­pa­nies.

So, is there a pos­si­bil­ity of an Etios HEV? Not spe­cific to Etios, but do Toy­ota be­lieve that you can now have lo­cal cars that can use th­ese sys­tems to be con­verted into HEVs? I can­not tell you any­thing about the fu­ture, but, yes, there is some pos­si­bil­ity, I think.

We have seen the hard­ware. How im­por­tant is the soft­ware for the en­tire sys­tem? A car is a com­puter nowa­days; we know that. How im­por­tant is the soft­ware in an HEV or PHEV and where does your soft­ware work hap­pen? Is your soft­ware team only based in Ja­pan or is it based across the world at var­i­ous R&D cen­tres? Now the con­struc­tion of soft­ware is very com­pli­cated and has many lay­ers. Many peo­ple are in­volved in the soft­ware devel­op­ment for one ve­hi­cle. It is im­por­tant to share the in­for­ma­tion very quickly and have a sys­tem­atic chain for mak­ing soft­ware for one ve­hi­cle. There are many Toy­ota sub­sidiaries in the world, so part of the soft­ware devel­op­ment is done in Eu­rope, also in Asia and the US.

How soon can we ex­pect 48-volt sys­tems to come into the main­stream and fil­ter down to small cars? We also have stud­ied 48V but, same as EV, we have to see the con­di­tions of the area and we will judge. So, at the mo­ment, I can­not say yes or no. As a tech­nol­ogy, 48V is not tough. We are work­ing on a very high volt­age, any time we can do it. But the most im­por­tant thing is what cus­tomers get: cost­com­pet­i­tive­ness ver­sus per­for­mance. So if you are get­ting that per­for­mance at the cost-com­pet­i­tive­ness which cus­tomers can ac­cept, then that tech­nol­ogy can be brought.

What will hap­pen to the au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neers work­ing on the IC? Can they move to EVs or HEVs eas­ily? They are still work­ing with high mo­ti­va­tion be­cause they have to spread en­gine pro­duc­tion all over the world. They have to in­crease ef­fi­ciency with lim­ited cost. Our en­gi­neers, pro­duc­tion/de­sign­ers are still highly mo­ti­vated. Some en­gi­neers, due to elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, have changed their jobs from de­sign to elec­tric ve­hi­cle field, but still the de­sign­ers in IC en­gines ar e work­ing very well. In In­dia, talk­ing about 2025, still 70 per cent will be IC en­gine bases, so the IC en­gine will not die. It will b ecome more ef­fi­cient, but also come with hy­brid. There will be some EV also. All tech­nolo­gies will ex­ist. So IC en­gine is still very im­por­tant.

Do you be­lieve that be­tween now and till when HEV can be af­ford­able in In­dia, the par­al­lel-as­sist sys­tems or mild-hy­brids can be a more prac­ti­cal mid­dle path? We have al­ready de­vel­oped mild-hy­brid sys­tems and also in­tro­duced them to the Ja­panese mar­ket, so we have the ex­pe­ri­ence there. But, at the mo­ment, we have judged that it is bet­ter to go with strong hy­brid sys­tems in terms of per­for­mance and price.

Do you have any thoughts on Vari­able Com­pres­sion Tech­nol­ogy be­ing brought in nowa­days in IC en­gines to make them more ef­fi­cient? Is that a vi­able tech­nol­ogy in your opin­ion? We have the tech­nol­ogy al­ready, but we have not yet in­tro­duced to the mar­ket be­cause we think for the mo­ment we don’t need it. In my opin­ion, if we can change the com­pres­sion ra­tio, cy­cle by cy­cle, if it is so quick, then I want it, but the speed of the chang­ing is not so quick. To change the com­pres­sion ra­tio, to avoid knock­ing and so on, is not easy. We have to also avoid higher emis­sions. We don’t think we can get such high ef­fi­cien­cies by do­ing this.

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