October 10, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Toyota branches out into ethanol

TOYOTA CITY, Japan--Hybrid cars aren't the only fuel-efficient concept to have grabbed Toyota's interest.

The Japanese company, now the second-biggest automaker in the world, will come out with a car in Brazil in Spring 2007 that can run on 100 percent ethanol, as well as on a blend of gas and ethanol, Yusei Higaki, a project manager in the global external affairs division, told CNET News.com during a tour of the company's facilities here.

The pricing and the name of the car have not been revealed yet, he added. Brazil is a natural spot to launch the car. Brazilians produce ethanol there from sugar cane, and a number of gas stations sell it.

Toyota has also kicked off trials with gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuel cars in Europe. In GTL, natural gas is converted to a relatively clean form of fuel for diesel cars. The process is similar to the one for converting coal to diesel fuel, but cars running on GTL emit far fewer particulates. Humans, in fact, can drink GTL fuel: You might get sick, but you won't die, one Shell executive said last year. GTL is expensive, but could become popular in megacities where the air pollution from diesel has become a major health hazard.

Toyota is riding a crest of popularity these days. It saw car shipments increase by 25 percent in the U.S. in September, at a time when other major manufacturers--from both the U.S. and Japan--reported declines. Analysts believe that the company will overtake GM in the next few years to become the world's largest carmaker, although it could face problems with quality and customer satisfaction, like Dell, as it grows.

Toyota now has 43 percent of car sales in Japan--excluding the mini-car market--and 16.5 percent of U.S. sales. It will also provide the technology and components for auto competitor Nissan's first hybrids, coming in the 2007 model lineup. (Related story: Inside Toyota's hybrid factory.)

Fueling Toyota's future

A huge part of the success can be attributed to the Prius, which runs on a combination of electric and gasoline power. Worldwide sales jumped from 28,083 in 2002 to 43,162 in 2003, and hit 175,157 last year. Toyota's goal is to reach 1 million in annual hybrid sales in the first few years of the next decade. From 1997 through July 2006, it shipped 552,657 Priuses--which accounts for 76.7 percent of the 720,516 hybrids shipped by all manufacturers.

Toyota's energy efforts can be broken down into four areas: alternative liquid fuel cars running things like ethanol; clean diesel cars, which include diesel hybrids; hybrids; and electric cars.

The concepts can and do overlap. A GTL car, for instance, is both a clean diesel car and an alternative fuel car, and it could ultimately be reworked to incorporate hybrid technology. Toyota has produced a diesel hybrid truck for Japan that qualifies as both a hybrid and a clean diesel.

Another crossover is the plug-in hybrid. These cars, which can get 100 miles per gallon, are similar to regular hybrids. The difference is that in plug-ins, the electrical engines do more work and the gas engine does less work. On the freeway, the gas motor on plug-ins drives the car, so the benefits mostly come in city driving.

Right now, major manufacturers don't make these plug-ins cars because of the cost of the battery and the lengthy charge times. Battery and auto manufacturers, however, are trying to change that with improved nickel and lithium batteries.

"We are seriously studying the plug-in, especially for short distance drivers," Higaki said. "It doesn't work for long distance drivers."

Toyota has its eye on another type of electric car, too: the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. At its technology showcase here, the company displayed the Fine-X, a hydrogen prototype car that tops out at 200 kilometers per hour (about 125 mph). Researchers at the University of California at Davis have also built a hydrogen car out of a Toyota SUV.

It will be a while before hydrogen cars hit the market. For one thing, the filling stations need to be built, Higaki said.

"The first issue is infrastructure. We can't change from the manufacturing side," he said. "The second issue is cost."

And in the very experimental area, Toyota is tinkering with robots and personal transporters. The I-Unit, a four-wheeled vehicle displayed at the technology center, can go 50 kilometers per hour.

See more CNET content tagged:
Toyota, alternative fuel, hydrogen fuel cell, car, Toyota Prius


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Mistakes in the article
The article says Toyota will beat GM in the next few years. I thought it was going to be this year.

Also, 1.6 km = 1 mile. So, how did 91 mph become 200 kph. 200 kph is 125 mph.

I am still more excited about a 100% electric car like the Tesla Motors roadster. No tail pipe, no oil changes, no fillups, great!!
Posted by bommai (172 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good catch
We've fixed the "per hour" conversion in the story. Thanks.
Posted by Zoe Slocum (42 comments )
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metric conversion
I was thinking kilograms 2.2 kg per pound. If you divide 200 by 2.2 you get 91.

Toyota not expected to pass GM this year. Maybe 2007. More likely 2008. It's the future so exact timing is difficult to gauge.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
Link Flag
media bias is ridiculous
the whole idea of toyota beating GM is purely hypothetical. GM
has 24% of the US market, toyota has 16. that's considerable.
take into account the improvements GM has been making
(hybrids coming out, albeit late, will have the first hydrogen car
to market, ethanol) and nothing is a given. although the media
would have you believing otherwise. you'd never hear about
GM's hydrogen car on this site, you'd never know that they've let
journalists drive it, and that they are working hard to get the
infrastructure ready for the car to come to market.

and you'd never realize how large a gap they really have until
you actually look at the numbers. but that's a little hard for
some people, i guess.
Posted by youngm7 (7 comments )
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Toyota Motorcycle and other concepts
Some of their I-Unit like concepts are cool and seem like something everyone can use, but fall short of being something that could be practical.

A motorcycle is practical, but most of them fall short of being something everyone could commute on.

Currently most bikes fall into 2 groups, the insanely fast and no so comfortable sport bike, and the 800 lb looks like a harley version. I think a non-scooter commuter branded bike could be successful.

The closest example I can think of would be the supermoto class, which is sort of like an Enduro with street tires ( pic: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.moto-station.com/ttesimages/motodivers/nouveautes2005/KTM/KTM_Supermoto_st2pz.jpg" target="_newWindow">http://www.moto-station.com/ttesimages/motodivers/nouveautes2005/KTM/KTM_Supermoto_st2pz.jpg</a> )

It does still have the problem of requiring a fair deal of rider skill compared to a car though, so maybe the first company to solve that problem will get rich.

I think the 4 wheeled Segway ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://static.flickr.com/54/133588988_01f20a6043_m.jpg" target="_newWindow">http://static.flickr.com/54/133588988_01f20a6043_m.jpg</a> ) is kind of a neat idea but it could be redesigned without the self balencing gyroscopes for 1/10th of the cost.

The T-Rex is a 3 wheeled car design based on a motorcycle, but it might be too low to the ground to be seen by other traffic. ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.aquasunmotorsports.com/t_rex_gallery.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.aquasunmotorsports.com/t_rex_gallery.html</a> )

I think maybe a stret design based on the "4 wheeler" ATV could be a solution.

Of those the Peugeot Quark comes the closest to something people could use. ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.peugeot.com/tradition/concept_cars/en/cc_quark_fiche.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.peugeot.com/tradition/concept_cars/en/cc_quark_fiche.htm</a> )

The Peugeot Hogger is another concept from Peugeot that is a little more typical of what people today might drive. (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.peugeot.com/tradition/concept_cars/en/cc_hoggar_fiche.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.peugeot.com/tradition/concept_cars/en/cc_hoggar_fiche.htm</a> )

Other Peugeot concepts can be found under the "all models" link on the top left nav, some of them are pretty cool.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.gizmag.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.gizmag.com</a> is a pretty cool site for coverage on these kinds of things also, they are like everything I wish Popular Science could be.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
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Commuter bikes do exist
I have a nice little Yamaha SR125 (125 cc) and it's pretty good. Nice and comfy, four stroke, 77 MPG, top speed is about 55 MPH. That's classed as a commuter bike and it seems pretty good to me.
Posted by ayteebee (32 comments )
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Japanese showing the long term initiative
US car manufacturers would do well to follow Honda and Toyota's lead in these areas. Stop worrying about nav systems and rear seat dvd players for the soccer moms, and start worrying about alternative fuels. Also, the US needs to make sure its environmental regulations arent so imposing that alternatives cant get off the ground. Right now it is illegal to convert a gasoline vehicle to ethanol/flex fuel, (even though the ethanol is cleaner burning) because of regulations that mandate emissions testing of each vehicle model.
Posted by (402 comments )
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The problem with US automakers
The average hourly wage for a Ford employee is $65/hour and these are union employees which pretty much means if they go to the bathroom on the way out the door for the day they get double overtime for it.

It is no wonder that they take a loss on each vehicle sold. I believe the average Toyota employee in the US makes $45/hour. That is still a god awful amount of money, but it is still $20/hour +overhead cheaper than Ford.

Ford could build non union plants in some areas a little more rural than Detroit and the employees would probably be happy to average $18-$20/hour but they would never even consider it. They would prefer to just keep laying off employees to meet a slowing demand until they are just a niche player.

Toyota and Honda are not using some kind of magic formula, they build their vehicles in the US the same as the GM and Ford, it is just that the guy sweeping the floor in their auto plants does not get $100K/year to do it.

Where GM and ford lose $1,000 - $2,000 per vehicle sold, Honda and Toyota make $1,000 - $2,000. This means something especially considering high margin Trucks/SUV's are a smaller percentage of sales for Honda and Toyota.

They have a pile of R&#38;D cash where GM/Ford are just trying to keep the lights on for another year.

I'd feel bad for them but I knew for years this was coming so I am assuming they have too but have done nothing about it.

God forbit GM/Ford actually stick a plant somewhere where their high paid execs might actually have to drive more than 30 minutes to get there from the airport.

Their overpriced labor will run them right into the ground and being so union and all they wouldn't have it any other way.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Link Flag
Drink GTL fuel?
You'd be an idiot to drink GTL fuel. It is diesel. Very pure diesel, but nonetheless, a hydrocarbon liquid. I wonder what bozo from Shell made that statement?
Posted by drpitzer (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
FORD & GM are selling it since 1980
Long before fuel injection, pure (100%) alchool was driving most cars in Brazil. More than 70% of the cars sold in Brazil this (2006) year are flex fuel, means they can run on any percentage of alchool and gasoline. Ford, GM, VW and Fiat are offering it on most of their products for more than a year, japonese brands (Toyota and Honda) are starting late this year.
Posted by pietrodelai (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Then that's a change....
Usually it's GM and Ford who are behind. How much do you
want to bet that Toyota comes from "behind" and takes that
market away from GM and Ford?

And it's not that I'm routing for that either, though I believe
Toyota and Honda are darned good companies.

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
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