Japanese carmaker Toyota, initially a pioneer in the electrification of cars with the hybrid Prius, is clinging to the idea that unpluggable hybrids are an answer to reducing the impact of climate change – even though other carmakers embracing the shift to go all electric.
It has just announced details on drivetrain technologies for its popular lifestyle SUV, the Rav4 – which will be its first hybrid SUV in Australia and will be available as a front-wheel and all-wheel drive hybrid. But it can’t be plugged in.
Commendably, Toyota have not made mention of a diesel Rav4, indicating perhaps that it recognises that, with sales declining in some markets, the days of diesel are coming to an end.
The carmaker has found a lot of popularity in its hybrid range, with the hybrid Camry awarded Best Medium Car under $50,000 in the 2018 Australia’s Best Cars awards and accounting for almost half of all Camry sales in the country.
The hybrid Rav4 is likely to generate a lot of interest also, with SUVs a leading sector in the Australian market.
“The new drivetrains deliver confidence-inspiring performance and agility and will result in a new perception of hybrid with electric AWD capability that enhances driving pleasure,” says Toyota Australia’s VP of sales and marketing, Sean Hanley.
But it’s not a satisfactory answer to the question of zero emissions, even around town as the car must be driven on petrol in order to charge the battery for EV driving.
There have been some suggestions that Toyota is plotting another solution for its hybrid range – wireless charging.
While it has invested in research and development for wireless charging with WiTricity since 2014, the question is if wireless charging technology is improving fast enough.
While WiTricity, which was founded in 2007, claims to have achieved 90 per cent efficiency in their most up-to-date wireless charging system, the output is still only 11kW despite over 10 years of R&D.
The battery size for the Rav4 hybrid has not yet been released, but it could be safe to assume it will be of a similar size to Toyota’s only other hybrid SUV, the Highlander AWD hybrid which has a 1.9kWh NiMH battery – so it could theoretically be charged in around 10 minutes.
Even if Toyota released the Rav4 with a battery more similar in size to a plug-in hybrid (it does have a 8.8kWh in the Prius Prime, for example) – the issue still remains – until ICE is left completely behind, the carmaker is only delaying the inevitable.
Ultimately, the point of hybrids is that they form one step in a shift towards the ultimate goal of leaving fossil fuels behind.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.