For several months now, Toyota UK (and recently Lexus UK) have been trying to convince people in the UK that their now quite dated hybrid technology is “self-charging” and therefore better than pure battery electric vehicles which need to be plugged in.
Here’s the latest TV ad, pushing the hybrid (and note that it is not even a plug-in hybrid, which Toyota do have in their line up here in the US at least):
Right at the end (around 0:46) they show somebody standing beside their electric car waiting for it to charge, as if to imply their weak hybrid system is somehow superior. Let’s look at all the ways this is misleading, if not blatantly inaccurate.
The easiest thing to deal with is the claim that it is “self-charging.” Toyota’s explanation for this is simple: they state that because it is capable of recovering energy during braking, and that energy is stored in the battery, it is self-charging. Their FAQ goes further and states:
“The battery charges itself through the engine in normal driving and recycling energy as you brake.”
Well, the battery in every internal combustion engine car I’ve ever owned also recharges itself in normal driving, and the last few have used regenerative techniques as well to provide power for the engine shut-off feature (which turns the engine off when the car is stationary to save fuel and reduce emissions).
Toyota’s hybrid system is essentially just a more efficient internal combustion engine. It cannot be used without gasoline (from the same FAQ):
So even though a hybrid can operate in an electric-only mode, it must have fuel in the tank – even if only a little. Trying to run a hybrid purely on the electric engine without having the fuel to power the conventional engine will result in damage.
No fossil fuel, no go. Technically, it does charge the battery without being plugged into electricity, but it does so by lugging around a fossil fuel powered generator.
Waiting to Charge
The range of the Corolla on a tank of gasoline may well be longer than the typical range of an EV today, but nobody stands by their EV waiting for it to charge. You do have to stand by the Corolla, breathing in petrol vapor, and likely also diesel vapor, when you need to refuel it however.
Most EV charging happens while the vehicle’s driver is somewhere else, perhaps overnight while they sleep or while they work if they have a charger at the office.
Unlike a Toyota hybrid driver, I can pull into my garage at night with the battery almost empty, plug in and go to bed knowing full well that when I wake up in the morning the tank will be full. Pick that Corolla, and nothing will change overnight. The tank will still be almost empty & the battery will not have charged overnight either. Better plan for a detour to a gas station on the way to work.
On long journeys, chargers are rapidly approaching the same amount of time it would take to pump gasoline. Even today’s first generation rapid chargers are under an hour for most practical purposes, which allows time for a break and some food while the car charges (~200 mile range means a stop every 3 hours or so). Remember, unlike pumping flammable fossil fuels, you do not need to stay with the car while it charges. Plug it in then go get some food.
Finally, since this Corolla is just an ICE powered car, it still has an exhaust, and still pumps out greenhouse gases. Depending on the engine choice, it puffs out 120-150g of CO2 per mile. That is just the tailpipe emissions from burning the gasoline in the engine. It does not take into account any of the emissions associated with drilling the crude, refining it into gasoline or transporting it between the various steps in the process.
An EV has no tailpipe emissions at all, meaning that the air in the areas it is being driven is not impacted. The generation of the electricity may produce CO2, or it may not. Many utilities now offer 100% renewable electricity plans, or the energy used to charge the car could come from solar panels on the roof.
It is fairly clear that Toyota (and its Lexus subsidiary) are attempting to sow doubt in the minds of consumers about EVs and portray their hybrid technology as a clean, simpler alternative. While EVs may not be a perfect match for everyone today, there are excellent EV alternatives for ICE powered cars like the Corolla that will likely work well for most. There are also PHEV options that would be better than the dated hybrid tech in the Corolla and may well help to convince people they could live with a pure EV.
We need to make a dramatic change in our emissions, and hybrids are not going to deliver that.
City Access & Future Value
Also worth noting perhaps is that the cities that are talking about enacting bans on combustion engines do include hybrids in that category. While no cities have done so yet, several have indicated they would be willing to try to ban access to all combustion engines in an attempt to meet their Paris Agreement emissions reductions.
Furthermore, if you are buying an ICE powered vehicle today, restrictions on its use, or other changes to encourage people to switch to zero emission vehicles, such as increased fuel taxes, may have reduced its value far more than has been the case in the past by the time you come to sell it. Just ask diesel car owners how changes in the acceptability of diesels impacted their residual values.