With The 745-mile Solid-state Battery, Toyota Just Became A Force To Reckon With
Story by James O’Neil •
This may sound like an Ad for Toyota. Please do not take it that way. Many auto manufacturers are going in this direction and there will be an update on Honda soon.
- Toyota has been secretly developing a solid-state battery for EVs with a range of 745 miles and a charge time of 10 minutes, which could revolutionize the industry.
- The battery will provide EVs with the same driving range as traditional vehicles, eliminating the need for frequent charging stops during long trips.
- While Toyota has been a proponent of hydrogen cars, this breakthrough in EV batteries suggests a shift in the company’s approach to the post-ICE future.
Perhaps we’ve gotten too accustomed to the tech-bro approach to corporate PR, in which companies loudly trumpet every half-baked idea that may or may not fizzle into anticlimactic failure. Today, a company waiting until a concept is totally finished and ready for deployment seems almost quaint. While Toyota has hitherto seemed staunchly opposed to EVs, its research and development department has been developing what may be the biggest breakthrough in EV batteries away from the prying eyes of publicists: a solid-state car battery with a range of 745 miles and a charge time of ten minutes. (For those who prefer metric, that’s a range of 1200 kilometers and a charge time of six hectoseconds.)
For the first time in the history of mass-production EVs, a battery-powered car will have the same driving range as one with an engine and a gas tank. Anyone listening carefully will hear EV-driving dads breathe a sigh of relief as they contemplate how they won’t need to pull over and pry their children away from convenience store candy shelves every two hours while they wait for the car to charge. The great family road trip hasn’t gotten any more bearable in the post-engine era, but may get a bit more cheapskate-friendly.
What Is A Solid-State Battery?
A solid-state battery is quite simple to explain. It stores its electrical charge in a solid electrolyte (other types of batteries use a liquid or paste-like one). They’re commonly used in small devices like pacemakers, RFIDs, and other things that demand little electricity. Because they have a very high energy density compared to other battery types (that is, they can store more electricity than other batteries of the same size), solid-state batteries seem like a natural fit for electric cars. But they don’t do well in cold weather, tend to weaken quickly after repeatedly getting charged and drained, are particularly costly, and have other issues that prevent them from going into every laptop, smartphone, and car.
The rise of EVs has made battery research a lot more profitable than it was a mere ten years ago, and scientists have been working on overcoming the shortcomings of solid-state batteries. Toyota is the first company that has come out and said it may have solved the range and battery weight problems.
What Does This Mean For Toyota’s Hydrogen Cars?
Toyota has been more devoted to hydrogen cars than practically other auto company. Indeed, Toyota has been so enthusiastic about hydrogen that at times it seemed like a passion project of recently-departed CEO Akio Toyoda. The Toyota Mirai has become the de-facto flagship of hydrogen cars. It is about as middle-of-the-road as one can get without making a crossover instead of a sedan. Indeed, it cannot be a coincidence that Toyota designed the Mirai to look like a close relation to the Camry. Putting hydrogen fuel cells into such a deliberately normal car essentially makes refueling the only difficulty for sales.
Toyota has recently announced a hydrogen variant of its Crown luxury sedan, which will be sold only in Japan (JDM enthusiasts, take note!). For quite some time, it appeared that Toyota was one of the few automakers trying to fight a valiant crusade for a fuel that could barely be found outside the confines of a small handful of cities worldwide. Toyota is also strongly pushing the use of hydrogen for commercial trucking. While it previously seemed like Toyota was betting that hydrogen would supersede batteries, it is now apparent that the company is taking the same approach to the post-ICE future as other manufacturers.
As the public gets more comfortable with EVs, most companies have begun developing both battery and hydrogen-powered cars. A quick reading of most corporate press releases about hydrogen cars shows that nearly every automaker says something about how no single-car fuel will solve the energy crisis. On the subject of hydrogen fuel cells, corporate copywriters seem particularly fond of the phrase “just one piece of the puzzle.” It’s almost a requirement to mention the metaphorical puzzle at some point in a hydrogen press release.
Toyota’s Lackluster EV History Makes This A Surprise
Perhaps Toyota’s apparent hesitance to introduce a battery EV into its current lineup comes from the failure of its previous attempt. The electric Rav4, most recently sold from 2012 to 2014, had a range of 103 miles. In other words, the car could drive about as far as a gasoline vehicle with the fuel gauge needle hovering perilously close to E. While no one noted any egregious mechanical faults with the electric RAV4, its range was too short for even the most convenient of commutes. After this less-than-exhilarating dalliance with EVs, Toyota seemed to quietly give up on them until 2022 when it introduced the bZ4x crossover SUV. Aside from having a barcode instead of a name, the bZ4x is a reassuringly ordinary vehicle with a driving range of around 250 miles (the precise range depends on trim level), which puts it on par with most other EVs today. Given this apathetic approach to EVs, no one expected Toyota to announce that it had solved the battery range problem.
However, as is Toyota’s way, the company is not rushing a long-range BEV into production. Instead, the first vehicles with this battery are expected to be hybrids instead of all-electric vehicles. Toyota claims it will be ready for sale in 2027 or 2028. While it may seem that Toyota is obstinately refusing to put “the good tech” into production cars, this long-term release plan will probably prove wise. Putting the battery into hybrid vehicles instead of immediately making it the sole power source may be a cushion of reliability. If the battery doesn’t hold up to the abuse of daily driving despite Toyota’s famously rigorous testing, the internal-combustion backup will ensure that the vehicle nevertheless has a better driving range than the 2012 electric Rav4.
Toyota Has Consistently Made Cutting-Edge Designs Available In Its Most Sensible Vehicles
While other automakers reserve their more unusual powertrains for halo cars and enthusiast-approved coupes, Toyota has a long (if understated) history of putting groundbreaking designs into practical vehicles. This is the company that introduced the world to hybrid vehicles with the Prius, a car that remains the most determinedly mundane commuting module to carry a novelty powertrain. (Obviously, hybrids aren’t a novelty today, but they were at the time.) The company also produced what may be the world’s only mid-engine minivan— which required one to dislodge the front seat and open a floor hatch when performing an oil change.
Toyota May Have Come Out of Nowhere To Take Over EVs
Toyota’s promises about this battery seem almost too good to be true. Even Tesla, the company leading the EV vanguard, hasn’t managed to produce a vehicle that has the same driving range as a car with an inline-four and a full tank of gas. The prospect of a ten-minute charge time is just as astonishing as an EV that can allegedly drive from Chicago to Philadelphia without charging midway. If Toyota lives up to its own hype, it may usurp everyone else currently vying for the top of the EV game.