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CarTech: the hybrid perfected Toyota details its hybrid journey

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Photos by Toyota

It was December 1997 and the whole world was consumed with Leo (DiCaprio) and Kate (Winslet) in Titanic. Meanwhile, this little known, newly launched, mass-produced ‘hybrid’ called a Prius was launched.

What does it do? It has batteries. Is it fast? It doesn’t look like it. What’s all the fuss about? It has great fuel mileage.

Come the early 2000s, a few A-listers like Leo (DiCaprio) and Jen (Aniston) were seen driving one but the Prius still had its doubters.

After six years in the market, it was primed for the big-time and it came when Cameron Diaz rolled up to the red carpet of the 2003 Oscar’s not in a gas-guzzling stretch limo but in a humble white Prius.

It’s a major leap considering that only 10 years before, this hybrid was just called ‘Project G21’ — an ‘entirely new concept vehicle to meet 21st century needs’ like outstanding fuel economy.


Do ‘what we should’

Toyota’s goal was simple, make a vehicle with an internal combustion engine assisted by an electric motor to realize greater efficiency and zero CO2 emissions when operating on ‘electric vehicle’ (EV) mode.

The first-generation Prius was a rousing success for Toyota — surpassing the initial target of 1.5 times better fuel economy. It returned double at 28 kilometers/liter.

Using regenerative braking to power the wheels allowed the Prius to extend its range. It wasn’t as simple as just sending ‘juice’ to move the wheels. Of equal importance is WHEN to use electric power.

With its Energy Management features to determine the proper timing, Toyota’s Hybrid System sends electricity to the wheels to assist the engine during the most fuel-consuming parts of the drive — startup and when you put pedal to the metal. Once constant speed is maintained and detected, surplus energy is stored in the battery along with regenerated energy from braking.


Through the years

The good got even better. The Prius of the Oscar’s was a second generation model and it rolled in with 2.5-pecent better fuel-efficiency at 29.6 km/l. Fast-forward to 2009 and the third-generation was picking up 32.6 km/l.

Just as the Prius seemed to hit ceiling, the automaker focused on improving the body with the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA).

This new platform made the chassis lighter and 60-percent more rigid for better handling, safety and fuel-efficiency. Toyota tinkered with the Atkinson cycle on the 1.8L petrol 2ZR-FXE engine and got 40-percent maximum thermal efficiency. New features came up, like grille shutters and a ‘flat under floor’ design to reduce drag coefficient to 0.24, which was even better than the Camry’s. All that gave the fourth-generation and latest model of the Prius 7-percent body and 18.2-percent engine improvement. Certainly not jaw-dropping numbers until it recorded an average of 40.8 km/l. Now pick that jaw up off the floor, please.


Battery of tests

Toyota’s hybrid vehicles (HVs) use both lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries with no special preference for either in any region of the world.

Manufactured by Primearth EV Energy Co., Ltd., current HV batteries are now designed to be lighter with 56 cells per pack (Lithium-ion) and 168 cells per pack (Ni-MH).

To pass quality control, power packs must have high Input/Output (I/O) characteristics, high reliability and must withstand extreme heat and cold temperatures (between -30 degrees to 60 degrees Celsius). Before getting installed in a Prius, these batteries undergo a ‘battery’ of tests. It has to pass Charge and Discharge, Vibration, Fire, Drop (5-meters high), Immersion, Water Leak, Crush, Thermal Shock and Freefall tests.

After passing more exams than the K to 12 program, Toyota HV batteries are rated to last for 10 years or longer, or 150,000 miles or farther, whichever comes first.

Even with 10 million batteries in the market, Primearth EV Energy Co., Ltd. has yet to receive a single complaint and not a single vehicle-installed battery pack has ever been recalled.

Continuing to care for the environment, Toyota also planned ahead for the disposal of expired HV batteries by offering an end-of-life battery recovery and purchasing scheme. To date, it has already received and recycled 40,000 battery packs.


The hybrid effect

Getting a vehicle to travel 40.8 kilometers, roughly the distance between Makati and Sta. Rosa, Laguna, on one liter of gasoline is just hard to fathom.

With gasoline prices at the mid to high P40s, this IS the solution. Sadly, the country’s lawmakers find deliberating whether or not to view alleged sex videos as a better use of taxpayer money than to pass the ‘Alternative Fuel Incentives Bill’, which will make the price of the Prius more competitive.

Toyota has now expanded its hybrid technology to 34 other models that range in size from compact to minivans, commercial vehicles and also in several Lexus models as well. It has resulted in over 9 million hybrid vehicles sold in more than 90 markets across the world.


The effect?

It has reduced fossil fuel use by 25 million kiloliters (equivalent to the fuel need to make 1.3 million roundtrips from the Earth to the moon and back) and also the decrease in CO2 emissions by 67 million tons.

People say there’s no such thing as perfection, but the effect of Toyota’s hybrid system on the environment makes for a very compelling argument.