Section 8. Integrating IT and Exploring New Energy Sources

Item 2. Responding to the Energy Problem

Development of electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles

As the 1990s began, the response to global environment problems was joined by another important task for the automotive industry: measures to anticipate the energy problem posed by future short supply and depletion of petroleum resources. TMC established the Electric Vehicle Development Division in 1992, marking the start of serious efforts to develop electric vehicles and hydrogen-fueled fuel cell vehicles. In 1990, the state of California in the United States passed zero emissions regulations that required vehicles with zero exhaust emissions to make up two percent of a manufacturer's total units sold, starting in 1998. This and other factors created the need to accelerate electric vehicle development from the research stage to commercialization.

With the aim of limiting costs, Toyota's electric vehicle development was based on a modified version of the RAV4 car-based SUV. Initially, two formats were adopted, one with a maintenance-free sealed lead battery and the other with the just-developed nickel-metal hydride battery. Assessments through focus groups in Japan and the United States indicated that the lead battery only allowed a short cruising distance on a single charge, making it an impractical choice. As such, the RAV4 EV electric vehicle, which was launched in Japan in 1996 and in the United States in 1997, was fitted with a nickel-metal hydride battery.

In the eight years up to 2003, the RAV4 EV achieved a sales performance of approximately 1,900 units. Of these approximately 1,500 units went to the United States, with approximately 320 units sold in 1998 in California, as required by the state's zero-emission program.

In the area of fuel cell vehicles (which run on electricity generated from hydrogen), Toyota developed the FCEV-1, which was fitted with a hydrogen-absorbing alloy storage unit, in 1996. A further step in development was taken in 1997 with the FCEV-2, which was fitted with a reformer that extracted hydrogen from methanol. In 2001, Toyota developed and tested the FCHV-3 and FCHV-4, which were fitted with a secondary battery and adopted the control technology built up through experience with the Prius. In the FCHV-4, a high-pressure tank was used to store hydrogen. In December 2002, the Toyota FCHV, fitted with the Toyota FC Stack fuel cell developed in-house, was released for limited sale in Japan and the United States, marking the first step toward commercialization.

To top of page