The automobile industry has been buzzing since last year when Toyota Manufacturing announced a goal of creating up to 10 fully electric vehicles by 2020 to meet the needs of the burgeoning markets in China and India and to continue developing new markets for electric vehicles worldwide.
As an innovator in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell technology, Toyota already has two solid electric vehicles in their lineup: the i-Road and the iQ EV. Both vehicles are powered 100% by electricity and offer both a substantial savings on the cost of gas for fuel to the driver as well as the benefit of creating no carbon dioxide emissions. Both China and India are in the process of enacting laws dealing with both caps on imports and lowering or eliminating emissions for new vehicles, thus driving the need for Toyota to continue to diversify and enlarge their electric vehicle lineup. Both China and India are substantial auto markets for Toyota, a Japanese company that must comply with these new trade caps and requirements for zero-emission vehicles if they want to maintain their sales numbers in these rapidly evolving markets.
The hitch for Toyota comes down to the need for high-quality, long-life lithium-ion batteries to power this advancing wave of new electric vehicles. To meet this need, Toyota and Panasonic both announced in December that they were opening the door to discussing a joint venture between the two companies to explore how to scale the production of battery cells for EV automobiles. Panasonic currently manufactures lithium-ion batteries with Tesla in a joint operation at Tesla’s Nevada manufacturing facility. These joint partnerships between automakers and battery makers allow both parties to share the costs associated with the research and development required to create new processes for large-scale production.
As Toyota pursues their bold goals for creating a fully electric fleet, the question still remains: are electric cars the automobile of the future? While some emerging markets such as India and China may put pressure on Toyota and other automakers to provide sufficient electric vehicles by means of laws and trade caps favorable to electric vehicles, other markets such as the Americas and Europe are still widely choose driven rather than electric. While electric cars such as Tesla have met with great success and have collected a devoted following, the price tag associated with Tesla vehicles makes them prohibitive for most buyers.
Until a large-scale, economical, and viable means of battery cell production can be implemented by both battery manufacturers and automakers, either independently or via joint ventures, the ability of automakers to widely produce solely electric vehicles will be limited by the availability of battery cells.
Electric cars may be the automobile of the future one day, but that day won’t be here until battery cells are mass produced economically. That day and that future may not arrive for a very long time.