Toyota, once in the vanguard of hybrid technology, has been very slow to react to the development of plug-in functionality. The only currently available plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) across the whole Toyota and Lexus range is the Prius, which costs a surprising £3,099 more than the non-plug-in variant. The car also struggles against it’s plug-in peers, the short 15 mile battery range contributing to lower economy figures than the competition, who can travel at least double that distance before needing to resort to petrol or diesel.
It seems that, rather than compete, Toyota has decided to withdraw from the PHEV market and stick to the hybrid, depending on the fact that they are the company that popularised the hybrid in the early days, in order to maintain a loyal customer base. Therefore the third-generation Prius is the last of it’s kind, with no immediate plans for any plug-in variants in the foreseeable future. When the new fourth-generation Prius goes on sale in February 2016, the third-generation will only be available while stocks last.
What is ridiculous is that both Toyota and Lexus claim that not having the plug-in capability is a virtue. This is what Lexus’ web site states:
NO PLUG REQUIRED Lexus Hybrid Drive never needs to be plugged in – that’s because the hybrid battery is re-charged during the course of driving. When braking, the electric motor goes into reverse, acting as an electric brake and generating electricity. This is fed into the hybrid battery to re-charge it. Simple and clever.
I shall study this for a moment. It starts with Lexus Hybrid Drive never needs to be plugged in. Rubbish. It cannot be plugged in; there’s a difference. A PHEV never needs to be plugged in, but you would be foolish not to. It then goes on with … because the hybrid battery is re-charged during the course of driving… while referring to the regenerative braking, but not to the fact that the petrol engine will have to provide the recovered energy in the first place.
Toyota’s own web site is even more ridiculous and, the more I read it, the more annoyed I get. I feel as though the company is deliberately misleading potential purchasers and, in this current era with Volkswagen’s recent cheating being made public, I am amazed at such an attitude. I am referring to the Hybrid section, where there are eight articles to peruse. The first is an How it works and is very basic, but is reasonable for the target audience. The next article is plain weird, a video putting a child in charge of the test drive in order to indicate how easy a hybrid car is to drive; I cannot imagine how showing grown men being rightly uncomfortable going for a test drive with a little girl is going to sell cars, but again there is no misrepresentation.
The next four articles are increasingly misleading, especially if watched in order, in which I personally find them tantamount to deception. The first of these is The Hybrid Experiment – Could a car make you fall in love with driving again? It is difficult to believe. It is introduced by stating that no actors were used, but I would feel it more accurate to say no professional actors. It doesn’t say whether they were encouraged towards their in-car attitudes. Basically, a set of motorists are filmed driving in the city being ignorant and foul-mouthed. Then they get into a Toyota Hybrid and become polite and charming. I actually agree that a hybrid can be a more relaxing environment; in my first six months of running a PHEV, I found it relaxing to run only on electricity. A down-side is that I do feel frustrated if the engine comes on in the city, something that a hybrid will do regularly as the electricity has to come from somewhere to charge the much smaller battery. So the comment, at two minutes and five seconds, of “I can hear voices outside”, which implies to me that the engine is not running, is a little misleading. Many modern petrol and diesel engines cut-out when stationary, so where is the difference? Only with a large enough charged battery can you drive for mile upon city mile and continuously make that observation.
Second of the troubling foursome is The Hybrid Experiment – Do you have to charge a hybrid? The first one and a half minutes of this video is spent treating random passers-by like idiots, passing them a charging socket and asking them to plug it into the car. At the end they are told that they don’t have to, because it does not have a socket, extolling the fact as though it is an advantage by stating “it charges itself”. As I have already said, a PHEV does not have to be plugged in, but you would be foolish not to. And if you do not plug in a PHEV, it too will charge itself.
Next up is a rather revealing article; a page that briefly details the London Congestion Charge Exemption. By the way, thank you for the idea, Toyota; I shall endeavour to write a proper article on the subject. This page describes the charge and details the payment, whilst also listing the two Toyota models that are exempt from the charge: the Yaris Hybrid and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. There is no mention of the Prius (none-plug-in), but with it so closely following an article that ridicules the plug-in, I can well imagine distracted visitors missing this vital piece of information.
Especially with what follows, the final of the foursome. It details the New Prius. This is a snazzily laid out page with lots of handsome photographs but not much text. There is certainly no mention of there being no plug-in. Being so close to the London Congestion Charge Exemption article, an association that does not exist can easily be formed. If, when perusing the previous article, the viewer recognised the photograph of the Prius and felt no need to read the caption, they would be unaware of this sleight-of-hand. Let the buyer beware!
Why am I so pro-PHEV, and so against hybrid? Hold on, you may think, this is a PHEV web site which excludes the mere hybrid. Exactly! But the question that should be asked is: why? Why do I favour the plug-in so much? It is simple really; it is all about charging efficiency.
If you are keen on protecting the environment, and so decide that electricity is the best means of propulsion for your car, then you need to decide on how that electricity is going to be generated. If you need a decent range, then a pure-electric car is out of the question and so you will have to resort to an internal combustion engine (ICE). With a hybrid, all the electricity generated will be via a petrol engine that is around 25% efficient. Which means that up to 75% of the fuel is wasted. Instead, if you plug in your car, then that electricity comes from a power station. Even a coal-powered station is 65% efficient, so any journeys between recharges that do not leave the batteries depleted, and do not involve the ICE at all, requires around 2.6 times less energy to charge up the battery pack.
Those are my calculations anyway, so I’ll show the mathematics here. Don’t worry, they are simple; if not, I would not have a clue. All figures are rounded to simplify.
- With a 25% efficient ICE, to provide 100kj of energy, 400kw is required (25% of 400 is 100).
- With a 65% efficient source, to provide 100kj of energy, 154kw is required (65% of 154 is 100).
- 400 / 154 = 2.6
Important notes are:
- The charging system will add weight.
- A heavier battery pack, to take advantage of the more efficient charging, will add lots more weight.
- Because of the extra weight, fuel consumption will be reduces when the ICE is in use.
- Given a sensibly sized battery, most local driving will not require the ICE.
- The taxation on power-station energy is much less than fossil-fuelled energy.
- Whilst a coal-powered source is 65%, there are much more efficient power sources available, such as wind farms and, yes, nuclear energy.
I started writing a news article with the simple intent of reporting the fact that, from 2016 onwards, no Toyota hybrid will have plug-in capability aside from the outgoing Prius. During compilation I became aware of the company’s absurd means of justifying this fact. Now, I’ve seen supermarkets sell goods at a reduced price, even though the item was more expensive than the last time I bought it there a couple of weeks earlier. I have bought other goods and felt ripped off as I realised that they were not what I expected whilst still being as described. Going through Toyota’s advertising I just felt that all the information was being misrepresented and it was hard to separate fact from farce. From childhood to early adulthood I was, frankly, poor. I never tried to gain profit by misdirection or any, what I consider to be, underhand tactics. Now that I am comfortable I find it very hard to stomach big companies targeting any lack of knowledge a prospective customer may have in order to turn a quick profit.
It surprises me that Toyota appear to use these tactics, But maybe it should not. After all, I am well aware of how the company has been found guilty of cheating at the highest levels of Motorsport: for example, in the World Rally Championship in 1995 Toyota Team Europe was found guilty of deliberately designing an air restrictor that had ingenious spring-loading so that it was undetectable to scrutineers.
View Toyota’s Advertising
To view the pages, visit the following web address:
Scroll down to Why Choose a Hybrid? and the click on View all (8).