Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA, Inc., will display a compressed natural gas (CNG) Camry Hybrid concept vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Honda is currently the only automaker with an OEM natural gas passenger vehicle—the Civic GX—on the US retail market.
In 1999 Toyota marketed a CNG-powered four-cylinder Camry to fleet customers in California. However, in an era of cheap gasoline, customers were not attracted to a vehicle that required special refueling techniques and a limited refueling infrastructure, according to Toyota, which discontinued the program a year later.
With the combination of plentiful long-term supplies in North America, improved and more efficient recovery methods, favorable pricing and clean-burn/low emissions characteristics, CNG has become a prime energy-source for the future. With this concept, we are confirming our interest in pursuing CNG within our broad and comprehensive R&D scope. Natural gas and an expanded retail-friendly CNG infrastructure could be seen as a model for future hydrogen infrastructure.—Irv Miller, group vice president, TMS Corporate Communications
The benefits of CNG are currently being amplified by rapidly changing market conditions and an increase in consumer environmental awareness, said Toyota. At the same time its drawbacks are being mitigated by a growing awareness that advanced technologies will require investment in appropriate infrastructure.
The US CNG pipeline system is an approximately 1.8 million mile network and expanding. Currently, there are only about 1,000 CNG refueling stations nationwide, with less than half open to the public.
GM’s VP of Research and Development Larry Burns recently said the GM was also again exploring offering a natural gas vehicle solution in the US, initially in the form of a dual-fuel combustion engine approach, with future applications of natural gas to produce electricity for E-Flex models (Volt and future variants) and longer-term use as a hydrogen feedstock at filling stations or at people’s homes. (Earlier post.)
RAV4-EV program. Toyota made the CNG Camry Hybrid announcement at a Sustainable Mobility Seminar in Portland, Oregon, at which it also announced it will place four off-lease RAV4-EV battery-electric vehicles (BEV) in a new program in Portland, Oregon designed to assist in the development of clustered electric-charging infrastructure for the arrival of future zero- and low-emission vehicles.
The Portland initiative will be patterned after the UCI ZEV-NET shared-use, station-car program in Southern California. The Portland vehicles will be used as station cars for shuttling people from mass-transit terminals to downtown and suburban locations.
The program is being developed by Portland State University (PSU), in association with the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) ZEV-NET (Zero Emission Vehicle-Network Enabled Transport) program. In late July, Portland General Electric (PGE) went on-line with its first free-standing public electric-recharging station, marking the event by recharging a Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. On 22 September, PGE announced the installation of five additional plug-in charging stations—enough to charge 12 vehicles— the Portland and Salem area, with more on the way.
Price reduction on hybrid batteries. TMS also announced that it reduced pricing for first- and second-generation NiMH Prius hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) replacement batteries by more than 10 percent. The price of the 2000-2003 first-generation Prius battery has been reduced to $2,299, while the 2004-2008 second-generation Prius battery is reduced to $2,588. Prior to this most recent price reduction, both batteries were priced at $2985.
Toyota also is studying the business case for remanufacturing Prius HV batteries in North America to further lower replacement costs.