DETROIT --- Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. on Monday, Jan. 11, unveiled the FT-CH dedicated hybrid concept at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.  

The FT-CH reflects Toyota's stated strategy to offer a wider variety of conventional hybrid choices to its customers, as it begins to introduce plug-in hybrids (PHVs) and battery electrics (BEVs) in model year 2012, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCHVs) in 2015 in global markets. 

"Within the next 10 to 20 years, we will not only reach peak oil we will enter a period where demand for all liquid fuels will exceed supply," said Jim Lentz, TMS president. "A century after the invention of the automobile, we must re-invent it with powertrains that significantly reduce or eliminate the use of conventional petroleum fuels. One of many alternatives is through what is commonly called the electrification of the automobile. By far, the single most successful example of this has been the gas-electric hybrid." 

The CH stands for compact hybrid. The FT-CH was styled at Toyota's European Design and Development (ED²) center in Nice, France.  Compared to Prius, it is 22 inches shorter in overall length, yet loses less than an inch in overall width.  

ED² designers looked to capture the high-energy appeal of what has come to be called the 8-bit generation. Popularized in the early 80s, 8-bit microprocessor technology dominated the budding home video game industry. Today, 8-bit is considered a specific retro-style that is embraced by such things as 8-bit genre music and 8-bit inspired art, Toyota said. The direct reference to the 8-bit generation is meant to be fun and stylish, with strong appeal to young buyers. Lighter in weight and even more fuel efficient than Prius, the concept specifically targets a lower price point than Prius, thus appealing to a younger, less-affluent buyer demographic. 

Lentz confirmed that Toyota is developing a Prius family "marketing strategy" for North America that will take full advantage of the Prius brand equity. 

"The strategy is still taking shape and obviously it will require additional models to qualify as a family," said Lentz. "Among others, the FT-CH is a concept that we are considering." 

In the early 2010s, Toyota plans to sell a million hybrids per year globally, a majority of those in North America. To accomplish this, Toyota will launch eight all-new hybrid models over the next few years. These will not include next-generation versions of current hybrids; instead, they will be all-new dedicated hybrid vehicles, or all-new hybrid versions of existing gas engine models. 

Toyota's joint venture partnership with Panasonic has been a key element of its success in the advancement of hybrid technology. Later this year, Panasonic EV Energy (PEVE) will have three separate, fully operational production facilities with a combined capacity of more than 1 million units per year. 

Toyota recently kicked off its global demonstration program involving approximately 600 Prius plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Beginning early this year, 150 PHVs will begin to arrive in the U.S. where they will be placed in regional clusters with select partners for market/consumer analysis and technical demonstration.  

The Prius PHV introduces Toyota's first-generation lithium-ion drive battery. When fully charged, the vehicle is targeted to achieve a maximum electric-only range of about 13 miles. It will be capable of reaching highway speeds of more than 60 mph in electric-only mode. For longer distances, the Prius PHV reverts to "hybrid mode" and operates like a regular Prius. This ability to use all-electric power for short trips or hybrid power for longer drives alleviates the issue of limited cruising range encountered with pure-electric vehicles, Toyota said.  

All program vehicles will be equipped with data retrieval/communication devices that will monitor activities such as how often the vehicle is charged and when, whether the batteries are depleted or being topped-off during charging, trip duration and all-electric driving range, combined mpg and so on. 

As it becomes available, data from the program vehicles will be posted to a dedicated Web site. This data will help consumers understand how the vehicles are being used and how they're performing. 

Toyota said it believes this demonstration program is a necessary next step to prepare customers for the electrification of the automobile in general and the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology. 

Toyota added that it is moving quickly with the development of PHV technology well beyond this demonstration program. Advanced battery R&D programs with nickel-metal, lithium-ion and "beyond lithium" are underway for a wide variety of applications in conventional hybrids, PHVs, BEVs and FCHVs. 

The Toyota FCHV-advanced began its own national demonstration program late last year. Over the course of the three-year program, more than 100 vehicles will be placed in an effort to demonstrate the technology's performance, reliability and practicality in everyday use. 

Recently field tested in southern California by two national laboratories at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy, the FCHV-advanced confirmed an estimated single-tank fuel range of 431 miles. In combined city and highway driving from Santa Monica to San Diego, the FCHV-adv logged an estimated 68 miles per kilogram of hydrogen, the rough equivalent of 68 miles per gallon. 

In 1997, Toyota introduced the RAV4 EV battery electric vehicle in California. A total of 1,484 of these 100-mile range large-battery electric vehicles were either sold or leased over the course of the program.  Nearly half are still on the road.  

Shortly thereafter, Toyota started a modest demonstration program with a small-battery electric urban commuter vehicle, called the e-com. This concept addressed the idea of the "on-demand" city station car similar to the Zip-car business model that is becoming popular in large urban areas.  Although shorter in range, the e-com program addressed a specific mobility niche at a much more affordable price than the RAV4 EV. 

The RAV4 EV and e-com programs were short lived due to lack of commitment from the market; the consumer and the consumer's environmental mindset were not ready to commit to battery electric vehicles at that time, Toyota said. 

But that's changed. Today, there's a greater awareness of environmental issues and the benefits of advanced technology vehicles. The shift has reinvigorated an interest in the electric vehicle market. As a result, Toyota said it will bring a small, urban commuter lithium-ion BEV to market in model year 2012.     

Battery technology has progressed significantly in the time since the RAV4 EV and e-com programs. But major challenges still remain. The cost of lithium-ion batteries needs to be reduced significantly, or a more affordable alternative developed.  

Like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, battery electrics will require the creation of infrastructure for recharging on the go. This issue of range is also a challenge to overcome. Even at 100 miles, BEVs as a primary mode of transportation do not yet offer what most consumers see as true mobility.