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Toyota Down On Plug-In Conversions

In a memo sent to the US Senate Finance Committee during their deliberations, Toyota outlined its concerns with the conversion of existing hybrids such as the Prius to plug-in hybrids (PHEV) in the context of proposed incentives to spur PHEV adoption. CalCars published the document.

Toyota’s view, according to Charles Ing, Director, Government Affairs Toyota Motor North America, is that PHEV converters should comply with existing standards governing second-stage manufacturers; that NHTSA and EPA should be required to establish new regulations for the certification of conversions of used vehicles—thereby putting the product liability and warranty risk onto the converter; and that the government should assure that there be no degradation in emissions and vehicle safety before it provides taxpayer incentives for conversion.

At the top of Toyota’s list is the concern over the degradation of emissions (higher NOx and total HC emissions) exhibited by a converted Prius PHEV than by a stock Prius. (Earlier post.)

This raises the question of whether the government should be paying people to make their cars dirtier?

—Toyota memo

Toyota also expressed a specific concern over converted PHEVs being out of compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), noting that after-market converters do not perform crash testing to certify that the converted vehicle meets or exceeds FMVSS.

Toyota also cited a number of general concerns:

  • Increased risk of fire from lithium-ion batteries. This may particularly resonate with Toyota given its delay of introducing lithium-ion batteries in the next-generation Prius, reportedly due to thermal management problems.

  • Increased risk of injury in an accident. Aftermarket batteries, Toyota argues, can compromise the fuel system and/or crashworthiness, even becoming projectiles in an accident.

  • Adverse effect on rear suspension. The addition of hundreds of pounds of extra weight in the rear of the vehicle compromises the rear suspension and handling and stability.

  • Compromised powertrain and voiding of warranty. Toyota charges that converters “hack into and modify” the software in the engine control module, which may damage the battery pack and engine, and also voids the warranty.

  • Increased risk of electrical shock. Toyota said it was unaware of any testing to ensure compatibility between the conversion kit batteries and home electrical wiring.

  • Removal of spare tire. Removing the spare tire to allow placement of the battery “poses a risk in the event of a flat tire in an emergency situation.”

  • Non-compliance with EPA regulations. To the extent hybrid plug-in converters interfere with the ECM and the vehicle's emissions, the vehicle may then not be in compliance with EPA regulations.

In response, CalCars founder Felix Kramer commented that the bill’s definition of “qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle” means they must meet environmental, as well as National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA) and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Most of Toyota’s objections, in other words, will not apply to eligible vehicles as defined in the bill.

CalCars values conversions because they increase awareness and support for PHEVs. At the same time, they offer a partial response to the intense demand for PHEVs from people who can’t believe we have to wait for years for something we should already have. Our strategic goal in promoting conversions is to motivate, pressure and incentivize carmakers to build PHEVs. Of course, once automakers finally do sell PHEVs, there will also be many hundreds of thousands of hybrid candidates for safe, affordable, warranted retrofits.

Our large international car companies are the ones who should be resolving the issues raised—they can do the job right!

—Felix Kramer



You tell em Felix!


Felix, don't let the Engineers and Lawyers, from this
giant automaker, get the best of us who are impatient
with the foot dragging of these profit minded corporations.
I never had any warrany problems with my Toyota Tacoma
when it came to adding a 200 lb. shell and a 150 lb.
lumber rack. I put in an Air Lift system in the rear leaf springs
and this truck is now a 4cyclinder MPG task master.
The aftermarket manufacturers have yet to discover how big this new
PHEV market segment is going to be. After 5 years the Prius II will be depreciated
enough to make its purchase and a $10,000 Li-ion battery upconversion,
a viable option when deciding to go New or Used.
I will take the used PHEV that never needs to stop at the
pump while commuting around the local region.

Paul Berg, Sweden, Västerås

Here we go again? Who is trying to kill the Plug In Hybrid?


This kind of statement doesn't surprise me at all. In our litigation-happy culture, Toyota is trying to cover all their bases. Because you know if one of these converted Priuses got into an accident and burst into flames, someone would blame the automaker.

I doubt this will slow down the retrofits very much, if at all.


The auto companies and their lobbying organization, The AAM, seem to have decided plans for the American auto market; and, this doesn't include a secondary market of Plug-in Retrofiters, who could extend the life of current HEVs and cut into their profits. So why wouldn't the auto companies make it difficult for after market companies by supporting difficult bureaucratic regulations? I believe, from what I have read, that their idea is to proceed with a plan that includes moving diesel and bio diesel ICEs back into the market, in concert with the oil companies controlling the distribution of the fuel. Both the auto companies and oil companies have large R&D investments in diesel technology and they will do whatever is necessary to recover the money. Don't forget well-designed, large battery, PHEVs don't use much fuel from the pump and BEVs use none. My guess is Toyota, who is also a member of AAM, will continue to produce HEVs but at best mild, small battery, PHEVs; but, DICES (Diesel) for sure.


One solution here is to empower a third party warranty on the conversions such that it will qualify for the incentives and cover Toyota's fears of liability. Such a third party may itself need government indemnification but will yield a faster moving PHEV market.

For sure the big manufacturers do not want to rush headlong into the BEV era. But the PHEV is going to arrive with or without incentives and the stampede to this new technology will astonish previous marketing of transportation systems.

The more conversions on the road the cheaper they become, growing the aftermarket with revenue, jobs and new businesses. Why not all good?

David G

There is a company called Phoenix Motorcars who uses a battery pack from Altairnano which allow their 5 passenger sport utility truck to have a range of 130+ miles, fully recharge in 10 minutes or less, top speed of 95 mph, 0-60 in 10 seconds. This is not a concept vehicle. This truck exists today. It takes the same amount of time to recharge the battery as it takes you to fill up your tank at the gas station. Why not get COMPLETELY off of foreign oil? 70% of USA oil use is for transportation! I'm not against Plug-in Hybrids but I just don't see the point of them if battery technology already exists to power vehicles the way americans want to drive them with all the benefits of ZERO emissions and no gas!


Jim G

I have long suspected Toyota's management are of a split mind on hybrids. On the one hand, they aggressively shoved these cars into the US market ahead of all the other major players. But on the other, they ditched their RAV4 EV and (correct me if I'm wrong) didn't recycle that project's technology into the Prius project, but instead chose to use a true hybrid drive rather than just attach a gas generator to an electric-drive car, which would be so much less complicated to engineer.

Others will disagree, but my personal interpretation of this has been that the major automakers' headquarters, Toyota included, have been strongly influenced by the perception that, by making cars with architectures that are too simple, like those in EV's (or PHEV's being exclusively used as EV's) a major revenue stream from parts replacement and servicing could be cannibalized.

But to maintain that attitude even after GM has announced a truly electric-drive Volt would be particularly short-sighted. We'll see.

Reality Czech

I recall someone naming the cost of a Phoenix SUT at about $70,000 per unit.  That is a completely adequate explanation for why we don't "just do it".


News flash there David, EVs aren't ZERO emissions...

Electricty isn't pollution free.

joe padula

EV's can be pollution free, think hydro, windmills or solar power on the roof.
The grid gets cleaner every year, making an EV self upgrading.
Doug Kortoff has several electric cars and a solar pv array. He charges at night and sells back with TOU metering during the day when electricity is needed and expensive.
Are any of your options on the road today and have this ability?


reality chech,

phoenix SUV retails for 45,000, not 70,000. Credits will reduce the price to the consumer. Yes, the cost is around 70,000 per vehicle, but will come down as production ramps up beyond these small initial orders.

There are also sub 30,000 electric cars that won't have as good a battery, but will be at least a bit more affordable.


Coming from a manufacturer background I can agree with 1/2 of Toyota's concerns.

We go to great lengths to "certify" partner products / OEMs.

If government money were suddenly available for people to make modifications to my equipment at will then I would surely want to make some type of statement and obtain clarity on where the liability lies.


Toyotas motive for objecting to tax induced conversions could also be that they know it will delay A123 from ramping up production of their automotive grade lithium batteries if they could prevent large scare conversions that will be done predominantly by A123’s Hymotion. Toyota does not want A123 to succeed because they are on track to become GMs battery maker for PHEVs and HEVs. Toyota could risk loosing its competitive edge on hybrids if A123 succeed to mass produce these batteries cheaply for GMs upcoming PHEVs.


Less here than meets the eye.

Toyota simply doesn't want to be associated with problems they didn't cause. The matter is partly liability and partly public image.

If Nissan hybrids start catching fire the headlines won't say 'Nissan hybrids burn, Toyota's are OK'. The lede will be:

'Crisis as Hybrids barbeque children'.

Same thing if a Prius converted to PHEV ever burns.


Patrick is correct. Toyota simply wants to cover their a** in the event of a lawsuit. Can you blame them? You can second guess them all you want, and it may not be what some would do if they had a multimillion dollar company, but I don't see anything wrong with their HEV design. As for the great conspiracy: I just don't see it.


They can't kill the plugin this time. More and more people are retrofitting their cars. They can try and slow it down, but it can't be stopped this time! The only way they can stop it is to not make the Prius anymore and recall all of the ones that they have sold. Just like EV-1 and that isn't going to happen.


With all the electric Rav-4's out there, still proving the merit of
its battery design, this thumbs down, on next generation
Li-ion batteries, is going to play out badly. Toyota
will be left behind if it doesn't get behind this new
battery format. This may be the break that GM and its
shareholders are waiting for. It is ironic that Toyota
isn't leading the advent of this new technology. The
RAV-4 has been holding up so well, not only in resale but
in battery longevity.


Jim G,

Your speculation is correct. There is a fear of loss of parts/maintenance revenue in simplified vehicle engineering (EVs). The PHEV is a more complex device and will require more maintenance, parts, tune-ups etc.

The question is what do manufacturers do if they make a car with high MTBF and reduced electric and biofuel energy needs? Answer: enter the green energy business. Toyota, Daimler, GM, Ford have the engineering talent in place to become players in the alternative energy business. Their secondary market revenue shifts from ICE engine parts to energy-producing parts: generators, solar/PV, turbines, batteries, power controls etc. As vehicular reliability rises - so too does demand for alternative energy resources.

kent beuchert

It's good to se Toyota state what those idots in Congress should have known all along - you can't monkey
with a vehcicle and start stuffing it with batteries , like elad acid, which are deemed hazardous materials they won't even allow on a plane. I find it utterly incomprehensible that the same safety fanatics are allowing these aftermarket companies modify vehicles
to the extent of $14,000 worth of changes,and keeping their previously great big mouths shut. You's think that the fact that Toyota voids the warranty on these economic disasters would clue them in that something was amiss. These aftermarket companies are simply taking advantage of conscientious but very dimwitted
car owners - they can NEVER in a million years come close to saving on gas what they spend on the conversion, which won't last more than 5 years anyway.
Never has more money been spent to less effect.

Eric H

Having done the math, I can tell you that -- accounting for transmission losses -- PHEVs are not radically better in terms of CO2 than regular hybrids or turbodiesels. However, this just goes to show you that the safety laws are essentially barriers to entry, and Felix falls right into the trap. He should have written back,

"Only large manufacturers can afford to run the tests currently required. Erase all of the automobile safety rules and let consumers take some responsibility for their own safety. There would be many more competitors in the marketplace giving consumers a wider range of choices depending on their tastes for safety, efficiency, aesthetics, security, and so on. There are private, third party testers (UL, IIHS) that can provide expert, unbiased opinions for those small manufacturers who are willing to sacrifice a vehicle or two to prove their worth. This would also open the door to open source vehicles and distributed manufacturing. Both workers and consumers would benefit."


the idea is incentivize early adopters to demonstrate at their cost that PHEV technology is a reasonable change in transportation lifestyle. You've got to be conscientious, plug in at night limit driving if electing all EV, and not jackrabbit acceleration.

Like any new technology early adopters don't make the most practical choices. They enjoy being at the front of the wave and showing others new direction, by example. Congress, though assuredly more idiotic than yourself, is simply responding to advice to help jumpstart the idea. Apparently unpopular - there is something called positive reinforcement that rewards well-intentioned choices. Unless made by the wrong breed of people, in which case negativity is the program call.

Toyota's election to limit liability is a prudent business decision which should not halt aftermarket upgrades for those who really want them.

Gerald Shields

So Toyota is "down" on plug-in conversions. Then why don't they get off their butts and start making PHEVs?! It ain't to do one and it would keep companies like Calcars, Hymotion and A123 from having to do them. Get with it Toyota!


Eric H...You must have done the math with a bent slide rule or your calculator was discharged. My state produces equivalent electric power at 4% the carbon dioxide levels of a gas car. Hybrids & turbodiesels comparisons would still be in the single digits. Electric motor efficiency beats the exhaust valves, air cleaner, carburetors, fuel injectors, muffler, catalytic converter, & exhaust & connecting pipes off any Internal Combustion Engine(ICE)...because the electric motor don't need none of 'em. Central power generation is always better than individual mobile power generation. With renewable energy generation taking hold in the country, every state can have our numbers to shoot at.

Joe....Electric motors have zero emissions where the need is life or death...inside cities near kids that got lung disease from ICE emissions. Soon may ICE be dead & kids live. Long live electric motors that the planet may live too.

Paul Dietz

Then why don't they get off their butts and start making PHEVs?!

Because the battery technology isn't quite there yet. And throwing a fit about that won't change it.

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