Toyota reportedly intends to unveil a new electric car next year that could recharge from zero to full in just 10 minutes. First reported by Nikkei Asia, the car will take advantage of solid-state battery technology that the Japanese automaker has been developing since 2017. Toyota itself hasn't commented on the reporting.
When it comes to the electric vehicle race, Toyota has been something of a laggard. It sells only one battery electric vehicle, available exclusively in China, with a focus mainly on hydrogen fuel cells in the rest of the world. Hydrogen has always been a promising technology but faces a steep uphill climb as it requires a lot of infrastructure that isn't being developed while every other automaker leans into battery electric models.
The new solid-state batteries could be a game changer, however. Nikkei says Toyota's battery will enable 310 miles of range, making it comparable to existing electric cars but with a far lower charge time. Tesla's Model 3 using conventional lithium-ion batteries, the same sort found in smartphones and other consumer electronics, has a range of 315 miles on a charge and takes at least thirty minutes to charge at one of Tesla's fastest Supercharger stations.
The latest Model S, meanwhile, can add 160 miles of range in 15 minutes of charging, but Toyota's battery would offer double the range in 10. The new battery is also very energy dense, meaning it would use less space in a vehicle and even compact cars could have an impressive range.
Early days — Granted, the report indicates that Toyota's first prototype will be unveiled next year, with mass production beginning sometime "in the early 2020s." Another automaker working on solid-state batteries, Volkswagen, expects to have production running for a similar solid-state battery by 2025 at the earliest. So there's likely still quite some time before anyone can actually buy a car with one of these innovative batteries.
The technology is known to have the potential for higher capacity than lithium-ion batteries but has shown problems with maintaining longevity over time, and with holding a charge in cold weather. Still, companies in the space like QuantumScape have raised billions to advance solid-state batteries with impressive results — every indication is that solid-state batteries will someday replace lithium-ion.
Tesla has been eeking out improvements to lithium-ion batteries and is working on its own next-gen batteries but even still, solid-state batteries will be released with comparable performance and should see greater evolution in the future.
Game changer — The development is exciting news for the EV industry if Toyota can pull it off. There are many people who either can't charge at home or can but have low-voltage outlets that mean charging is incredibly slow. If people have to sit for more than 30 minutes at a public charger, they are less likely to buy an electric car. Solid-state batteries could mean that owners could go to a charging station and refuel just as fast as a conventional gas car can. There would also need to be improvements in charging infrastructure, of course.
Toyota has a lot of help in its development of the technology, as the Japanese government has been encouraging the development of solid-state batteries. A $19.2 billion fund is being created, some of which may be used to subsidize the development of the technology.