An eye on the future

Toyota Motor Europe’s vice-president of R&D and purchasing explains why range-extenders are not part of the OEM’s plans, but fuel cells are

It was not long ago that Toyota’s efforts at hybrid technology were being derided as little more than a novelty that would have minimal impact on the market. Today it is clear that the car manufacturer was ahead of its time.

Similar sentiments may arise in future about the role Masahisa Nagata performs at Toyota. Not many businesses have an individual performing the dual role of executive vice-president of research and development and of purchasing. The departments do not have an obvious affinity. “It’s a really interesting point,” Nagata says. “But each function, whether it is R&D, purchasing or any other, can only see from a distance what another function’s programme is.

“I can see from the inside of both and can create a synergy between the two. So if there is a disagreement about an issue, I can make a decision that will be best for Toyota and so best for both departments.”

The company has built up more than 15 years of consumer and industry reaction to its pioneering hybrid cars, giving Nagata a good sense of whether a technology will succeed or not. He is cautious, for example, on what contribution range-extenders will have. He says: “We believe there is a concerning point with the range-extender, which is that you cannot keep the same car performance. Based on our investigation, the plug-in hybrid, with our current system, has better emissions so we do not have a clear plan to develop range-extenders.”

Toyota is, however, developing inductive charging for electric vehicles. The wireless technology relies on the use of coils and the car manufacturer is assessing the effectiveness of circular and solenoid versions. “The solenoid-type coil is better because the car is not always able to park in the correct place and it provides a better exchange than the circular coil,” says Nagata.

More research is required to reduce the excessive energy losses which have been a continuing source of frustration for R&D departments, Toyota included.

tags: July-August 2014 Toyota Hybrids & EVs