Electric cars have been touted as the solution to environmental challenges, but a top scientist from Toyota’s research arm claims that it’s not that simple. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, states that while electric vehicles are ideal for countries with vast renewable sources of electricity, hybrid vehicles are better suited for regions more reliant on coal-fired power stations, such as Australia. This argument is backed by data published by Mitsubishi, which shows that electric vehicles offer the most environmental benefit in countries that generate electricity from renewable sources.
Furthermore, Pratt warns that the world may not have enough raw materials to facilitate an immediate worldwide switch to battery-powered cars. According to Bloomberg, Pratt stated, “Eventually, resource limitations will end, but for many years we will not have enough battery material and renewable recharging resources for an electric-only solution.” He argues that battery materials and renewable charging infrastructure will eventually become abundant, but it will take decades for battery material mines, renewable power generation facilities, transmission lines, and seasonal energy storage facilities to scale up.
Toyota has been criticized for being late to introduce electric vehicles to its product line compared to its competitors. However, the Japanese auto giant, which is the largest in the world by production volume, believes it is better to spread precious battery minerals across a larger number of cars, such as hybrids which halve fuel consumption and emissions. In comparison, a Tesla Model 3 Long Range with a battery size of 78.1kWh is enough battery capacity to be spread across almost 80 Toyota Camry Hybrids. The question for policymakers is whether it is better to have one electric car with a 78kWh battery pack or close to 80 petrol cars that use half the fuel and half the emissions of a regular petrol vehicle.
Toyota’s top scientist argues that reducing the tailpipe emissions and improving the fuel consumption of dozens of cars is a better use of the limited battery materials than a single electric car that is powered, in many cases, by electricity generated by burning coal. It’s not clear whether Toyota’s models take into account the assumption of future technologies being brought to market. Most large car companies are currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the development of solid-state batteries, including Toyota, which are widely believed to be the next major breakthrough for electric vehicles.
In conclusion, the debate about whether to prioritize battery materials for electric cars or hybrids will continue. While electric vehicles are ideal for countries with vast renewable sources of electricity, hybrid vehicles may be a better solution for areas more reliant on coal-fired power stations. Toyota believes that spreading precious battery minerals across a larger number of cars may be a more sustainable approach to reducing emissions, fuel consumption, and reliance on fossil fuels while ensuring that limited battery materials are used judiciously. The development of solid-state batteries may also play a significant role in the future of electric vehicles.