Toyota inks additional solid-state battery JV
The Aichi-headquartered OEM again takes the experimental route in its BEV catch-up strategy
Japanese legacy automaker Toyota has signed an agreement with Japanese energy company Idemitsu Kosan to produce solid state batteries, a much-anticipated innovation promising unprecedented range and charging speeds.
“Solid-state battery technology is a potential cure-all for the drawbacks facing electric vehicles that run on conventional lithium-ion batteries, including the relatively short distance travelled on a single charge as well as charging times,” Toyota says. The firm believes they “are set to become a real alternative to lithium-ion batteries”.
Toyota has also been developing solid-state batteries with Japanese electronics company Panasonic since April 2020. Following findings from that project, Toyota now says that solid-state batteries “can deliver 700-mile range and full charging in under fifteen minutes”.
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The company says that the Panasonic joint venture is “on track for limited production by 2025”. The Idemitsu collaboration is working to a different timetable, so seems to be independent of the work Toyota is dong with Panasonic.
The two companies say they will “work together in developing mass production technology of solid electrolytes, improving productivity and establishment a supply chain, to achieve the mass production of all-solid-state batteries for battery electric vehicles”. Idemitsu began initial research into solid-state batteries in 2001, the company says.
Idemitsu and Toyota have a three-phase plan for the development of the batteries. The companies will first aim to develop sulphide solid electrolytes, before constructing a large pilot facility in the second phase, in which Idemitsu says it will “obtain mass production technology”. Finally, based on the results of phase two, “both companies will study of future full-scale mass production and commercialisation”. Idemitsu is aiming for the commercialisation of solid-state batteries in 2027 or 2028.
Toyota is not putting all its eggs in the solid-state battery basket, however. The OEM earlier this month signed an agreement with South Korean battery firm LG Energy Solution (LGES) to supply 20GWh/yr of lithium-ion battery modules that will be assembled in the US state of Michigan.
Too little too late?
The two recent announcements from Toyota evidence a sudden burst of commitment to BEVs from a company routinely described as a laggard with respect to battery electric technology.
Furthermore, Toyota has received criticism for perceived lobbying practices against decarbonisation and electrification legislation. The automaker has been a long-time champion of HEVs and PHEVs and some industry commentators have characterised Toyota’s lobbying activities as compensation for being behind the curve on battery vehicles.
“What we are seeing instead is the laggards from the industry, notably Japanese automakers like Toyota, that are so far behind on battery electric vehicles that instead their strategy has just been to lobby against policy that will decarbonise the whole sector, that will electrify the whole sector,” says Ben Youriev of lobbying monitoring thinktank Influence Map.
“What they are trying to do is drag the whole industry down with them because they are simply so far behind on the tech,” Youriev says.
Toyota’s approach seems to be to rely on breakthroughs based on unproven future tech ahead of committing capital to solidify a firm base in current liquid-state batteries. If the promises of its solid-state batteries — which have as yet only been tested in laboratory conditions — do not materialise, Toyota could find itself adrift in the BEV marketplace.
Toyota currently produces only two BEVs, the bZ4X crossover, as well as the bZ3 sedan it develops jointly with China’s BYD for the Chinese domestic market. But the firm says it is planning a model set to be built in Kentucky beginning in 2025, which will be powered by the batteries produced at the Michigan plant that will be supplied with batteries under the LGES agreement. By 2030, Toyota will offer at least 30 BEV models and expects to sell c.3.5mn BEVs a year globally, it says.
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