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Toyota’s Jim Lentz looks into the future of wireless charging, CNG and more hydrogen

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The traditional start of the LA Auto Show – well, other than the fancy pre-parties – is a keynote speech by this or that CEO. Today, the honor was given to Jim Lentz, president and CEO of Toyota USA, who talked about our automotive future (of Toyota and the industry as a whole) and said some things that caught our green-minded ears? Wireless charging in a Prius? Yes, please.

Lentz said that the number of fuel-efficient vehicles (here defined as cars that get more than 30 miles per gallon) available for sale in the US is up 330 percent in the last six years. This includes a host of technologies – better ICEs, clean diesels, plug-ins – but, as we all know, Toyota is placing its near-term high-MPG bet on hybrids. The company will launch (globally) 21 new or redesigned hybrids between now and the end of 2015. The next one up is the Avalon Hybrid, due in December.

The 2012 market share for hybrids is 3.5 percent. For Toyota, it’s 14.

As the fleet gets cleaner and greener and competition from regular, more efficient gas engines gets stronger, will customers still be interested in hybrids? After all, the industry average for hybrid market share will only be about three-and-a-half percent in 2012. But, Lentz said, for Toyota, that number is 14 percent, “and that will continue to grow in the future. I don’t think consumers are necessarily shying away from hybrids. We, for the most part, have been the only manufacturer that has been pushing hybrids.”

And those hybrids will continue to get better, too. Lentz wouldn’t get into any details, but did mention that Toyota is working on advanced batteries. He’s still skeptical of pure EVs – citing cost and range issues – and said Toyota remains on track to bring a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to market in 2015.

Wireless induction charging is “not imminent in our vehicles.”

As for wireless induction charging, Lentz said that it is “not imminent in our vehicles,” but he did confirm it is an in-house R&D project. Toyota realizes that consumers want things that are convenient. He doesn’t find it that big of a hassle to charge up his Prius Plug-In, but there’s no question that wireless is easier.

What about natural gas? Given peak oil, which “will happen in the middle of the next decade,” Lentz said, “there is going to be a point in time where natural gas is going to be one of the solutions for probably 25-30 years after that as we develop even more and more hydrogen.” So, CNG and hydrogen vehicles will compete? “The question becomes, if an infrastructure is going to be built, will the investment be made in natural gas or in hydrogen.”

The questions is already being answered. California is already moving toward hydrogen, and since the challenge with CNG is the charge time – the time it takes to pressurize a pump, “similar with what you have to do with hydrogen, the cost of that infrastructure is very, very similar. I just don’t know how much investment there will be in CNG refueling stations,” he said. Then, of coruse, there’s the potential impact of fracking? “I don’t know how the environmental question about fracking will play out. There will always be that discource.”

Lentz also spoke glowingly about car-sharing programs, noting that since the the first successful such program started in Portland in 1994, the idea has grown to include more than 25 programs in the US that serve 720,000 members with 9,800 cars. Toyota has yet to get into this in a big way, but that will change.

Continue reading Toyota’s Jim Lentz looks into the future of wireless charging, CNG and more hydrogen

Toyota’s Jim Lentz looks into the future of wireless charging, CNG and more hydrogen originally appeared on AutoblogGreen on Wed, 28 Nov 2012 13:41:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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