Aside from CFRP, what avenues is Toyota pursuing to make future vehicles lighter yet stronger?
In the vehicles we are developing for future production we’re evaluating all possible lightweight, high-strength materials. Today, the Prius hybrid vehicle interestingly makes more use of aluminum panels than any other Toyota vehicle. Overall it uses more aluminum body panels than some Lexus vehicles. To me, that’s a commitment to using pretty advanced materials!
What are Toyota’s future plans for building cars from composites?
We can’t discuss future product plans. However, I can say that several years ago we showed a concept of a complete CFRP unibody (integrated vehicle body and chassis) for a compact car that would be powered by a version of the Toyota Hybrid Drive system using power from either a gas engine or a fuel-cell coupled with an electric powertrain. That could be a hybrid, an electric vehicle or a fuel cell vehicle. It’s no secret that a CFRP body is something we could do in the future, especially as we work to improve the cost factor. That concept unibody is currently on display at the Toyota Kaikan, a public visitor center in Toyota City, Japan.
Following the development of other more energy-efficient power sources for automobiles such as turbo direct-injection, gas-electric hybrid, all-electric and fuel-cell, you’ll notice that every single future power source carries substantial weight penalties. No advanced technology power source can store and deliver as much power per pound as an engine fueled by gasoline or diesel fuel. Therefore, a key enabler for any future high-efficiency system will be lightweight materials. To the extent that excess weight is always a detriment to high efficiency, you can see that all future advanced technology vehicles are ripe for advanced materials.