October 1, 2012

...AND CHEAPER...:

Carmakers Find Ways to Make Cheaper Hybrids : The fuel-sipping cars have typically been pricier than conventional counterparts, but technological advances are changing that. (KEVIN BULLIS, October 1, 2012, Technology Review)

Automakers have grown more enthusiastic about hybrids because the cost of making them has plummeted. Several years ago, Toyota's Prius hybrid cost the consumer about $6,000 more than an equivalent conventional car--and even at that price, the company was losing money on every one it sold. The difference is now $2,500, and the car is profitable, says Mike Omotoso, an analyst with LMC Automotive. The drop in cost is due to an accumulation of incremental technology improvements, along with economies of scale. And advances going forward--better batteries, electric motors, and power electronics and transmissions--could cut costs by another 50 percent.

At Toyota, for example, the company shifted from a 500-volt electrical system to a 650-volt one, a decision that produced "a host of benefits," says Justin Ward, advanced power-train program manager at the Toyota Technical Center. The company was able to reduce the cost and weight of copper wiring, use cheaper power transistors in the electronics that control the hybrid system, and make the electric motor cheaper and smaller.

Although other automakers have shifted to lithium-ion batteries, Toyota has stayed with nickel-metal hydride. But it's made improvements to these batteries, such as shifting from cylindrical cells to flat ones to save space and modifying the cases to improve battery cooling. Simple changes like moving connectors from one side of a circuit board to the other can have big implications in terms of manufacturing, Ward says, making it possible, for example, to replace a worker with a robot for an assembly step.

Posted by at October 1, 2012 4:57 AM
  

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