Toyota reveals its plan to catch up with electric car battery technology

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Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, faces a problem. Although the company is known for pioneering lean manufacturing methods and being a pioneer in hybrid electric powertrains, the shift to battery electric vehicles has left it somewhat unprepared. As competitors entered into contracts for critical minerals and formed joint ventures with battery makers (or built their own), Toyota appeared to be falling behind.

Now, it has released a new roadmap outlining how it will regain competitiveness and sell 3.5 million electric cars by 2030.

After some early experiments with plug-in RAV4s (including a partnership with Tesla), Toyota has finally released a modern BEV, the bZ4x. The car had a rough launch—pulling the wheels will do that—but the bZ4x’s week-long test exceeded our low expectations. A look at the car’s specifications illustrates Toyota’s problem, though: There are different battery packs for the single-motor and dual-motor versions, made by Panasonic and CATL, respectively.

Slow production of battery electric vehicles cost CEO Akio Toyoda his job earlier this year, and he was replaced by former Lexus chief Koji Sato, who created a new organization within Toyota called BEV Factory, whose mission is to develop the next generation of electric vehicles for Toyota in 2018. 2026.

“We will need different battery options, just as we have different types of engines,” said Takeru Kato, head of the BEV factory. “It is important to offer battery solutions that are compatible with a variety of models and customer needs.”

Four solutions

To this end, Toyota is working on four different solutions. Three of them will use liquid electrolytes and are intended for different applications.

A performance-focused liquid lithium-ion battery is scheduled to be the first to appear in 2026. Toyota says it is targeting a 20-minute fast charging time and wants these cells to be 20 percent cheaper than the cells used in the bZ4x. The company plans to use this in a BEV that can travel approximately 500 miles (800 km) on a single charge.

For low-cost vehicles, Toyota is looking at lithium iron phosphate cells, a chemical that is already very popular in China and is used by Tesla. Toyota plans to build these batteries as bipolar batteries, where the active materials for the anode and cathode are on opposite sides of a common electrode holder rather than having separate electrodes for each. (Toyota already uses this approach with the nickel-metal hydride batteries it uses in many of its hybrid models.)

The LFP cells target a 40 percent cost reduction compared to the bZ4x battery and 20 percent greater range. LFP cells don’t charge as quickly, but Toyota wants a fast charge of 10 to 80 percent DC for 30 minutes. If successful, the company expects these cells to appear in 2026 or 2027.

There is also high-performance lithium-ion chemistry in development, although it may not be ready until 2028. Toyota wants to combine a bipolar electrode structure with a high percentage of nickel in the cathode to create a package with an extremely long range — up to 621 miles (1,000 how much). But it’s also targeting a 10 percent cost reduction compared to the performance-focused package mentioned earlier.

The fourth battery technology is one that Toyota has talked about a lot in the past – solid-state. Both the electrodes and electrolytes in a solid-state battery are solid, which means the battery can be smaller and lighter than a cell with liquid electrodes.

The technology is tantalizing, but it is troubled by the formation of dendrites, which are protrusions of lithium crystals that can grow and puncture the cathode. Toyota says it has made significant progress in the durability of solid-state lithium-ion cells — it’s shy about saying exactly why — that has allowed it to shift to putting these batteries into mass production, with commercial use planned for 2027 or 2028.

Interestingly, Toyota was originally planning to use solid-state cells only in its hybrid cars, but it appears it has tweaked that idea and will put them in BEVs, with a targeted range of over 600 miles and a quick charging time of just 10 minutes. .

Flatter batteries

The final note in Toyota’s battery strategy is one that many of us will welcome. Toyota says that in addition to working on these four different types of batteries, it’s also putting a lot of effort into shrinking the height of the battery pack, from 5.9 inches (150 mm) to 4.7 inches (120 mm) or even 3.9 inches (100 mm). mm) tall.

Currently, the thicker plate of batteries that an electric car requires means that they are much easier to pack into crossovers or SUVs, but with the consequent increase in frontal area and therefore more drag when propelled through the air.

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