The Battery Series: Toyota to master both li-ion and solid-state batteries
For specific reasons, Toyota is known as a rebel against the all-electric revolution, keen to keep its strong influence on the hybrid. Nevertheless, the Japanese giant ramped up its investment in electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries following the targets towards electrification announced by the new CEO, Koji Sato, in April, who probably had heard enough from the environmentalist groups to join the EV bandwagon by then. But Toyota has already been working on introducing new EVs, developing batteries and focusing on alternative fuels.
In August 2022, Toyota added a battery production line at the Ishihama Plant to produce bipolar nickel-metal (NiMH) hydride batteries. As the Kyowa Plant started manufacturing in May 2021, Toyota has a 40,000-unit-per-month capacity. Toyota Industries developed the world's first bi-polar NiMH with Toyota Motor Corporation, and it was first used in the Toyota Aqua, launched in July 2021. Toyota's upgraded version is the follow-up of the cylindrical NiMH first used in the Toyota Prius, established in 1997 and swept the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) market for many years, helping Toyota reach 15 million PHEV sales as of April 2020.
The innovation of the battery is the "bipolar electrodes" stacked to form a battery. The technology is based on a metal component, the "current collector", which enables the cathode and anode to be placed together, thus allowing smaller batteries with fewer materials. The structure enables large currents to flow more rapidly, outpacing the conventional NiMH batteries. Bipolar NiMH is used in Lexus RX (launched in June 2022) and Toyota Crown (launched in July 2022). According to Auto News, the new bipolar battery has 1.4 times more battery cells in the same space than the old battery and offers 1.5 times the output.
Toyota is expected to release performance and popularised versions of two new batteries following the unveiling of new battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) in 2026. Addressing a wide range of customers, as in the hybrid car strategy, Toyota plans to develop performance and popularised versions of new batteries, increasing range by up to 20% and reducing costs by up to 40%. The next step will be solid-state batteries (SSBs).
Bipolar nickel-hydrogen battery. Source: Toyota.
What is the timeline up to 2030?
In June 2023, Toyota announced the plans for new generation EVs and battery technologies, along with new manufacturing technologies under the theme 'Let's change the future of cars.' The announcement included the new in-house BEV development centre the BEV Factory, and provided a timeline of the planned developments.
Sato stated in May that the Japanese giant will invest an additional 1 trillion yen (around 6.4 billion euros) in new EV models and production by the end of 2030. In the June announcement, Toyota said it has shifted over half of its R&D staff and around half of its R&D expenses to Advanced Development fields and will follow this trend in future.
The timeline of announced developments appeared as below:
|2025:||Toyota Battery Manufacturing North Carolina (TBMNC), which so far received a total of $5.6 bn investment, will start producing batteries for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).|
|Toyota's largest manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, will manufacture the Subaru three-row electric SUV from 2025 (the bZ5X).|
|2026:||A full line-up of BEVs to be launched. The next generation BEV will be introduced this year with a range of around 620 miles (1,000 km). A square battery is being developed to boost performance for this BEV and ones to follow. The battery will have a higher energy density, while costs will be lower by 20% compared to the only current BEV model in North America, bZ4X. Charging from 10% to 80% will take less than 20 minutes.|
|2026-2027:||The bipolar structure battery will be applied to BEVs using low-cost lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) chemistry. The aim is to increase the range by 20%, lowering costs by 40% and allowing fast charging from 10% to 80% in less than 30 minutes, compared to the current bZ4X.|
|2027-2028:||A high-performance version of the bipolar lithium-ion battery, combining a bipolar structure with a high nickel cathode, will be used, expected to surpass the performance version of the square battery range by 10% and reduce the costs by 10%. A quick charge of up to 80% will take less than 20 minutes.|
|Solid-state batteries (SSBs) are expected to be commercialised to improve the range by 20% compared to the performance version of the square battery and fast charging up to 80% in less than 10 minutes. Toyota will continue research in SSBs to achieve a 50% range improvement compared to the performance version of the square battery to reach a range of 900 miles (1,450 km) after 2028.|
|2030:||The BEV factory will produce 1.7 million units of BEVs out of 3.5 million.|
Toyota's SSB prototype. Source: Toyota.
Advanced manufacturing processes
Like all other major automakers, Toyota is developing advanced manufacturing technologies to prepare for the fierce competition of the growing EV industry:
- One technology that stands out for future production processes is giga casting, reminding the Giga Press of Tesla. Toyota aims to "achieve high productivity, with integrated moulding of optimum shapes."
- Another goal is getting rid of a conveyor in assembly lines and introducing a technology that will allow cars to move from one process to the other independently.
- Lastly, aligning new methods, such as giga casting and self-driving assembly lines, with digitisation through adapting connected technologies and autonomy will switch conventional manufacturing to digital manufacturing.
Toyota has impressive plans, but the target for EV production may stay a little behind its competitors. Tesla plans to produce around 20 million EVs by 2030, while Volkswagen Group's target is 8 million, compared to Toyota's 1.7 million.
If you want to check the first articles of the series, here they are:
The Battery Series: How Tesla wants to keep world leadership?
The Battery Series: What does BYD have on the menu?
The Battery Series: Volkswagen to boost performance through dry-coating
The main image shows Toyota bZ4X, courtesy of Toyota.