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The enigmatic secret electric Toyota vehicle Tweets: much ado about nothing?

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Longtime readers of Kaizen Factor know of our respect for the writings and work of Bertel Schmitt and the Daily Kanban website. In something of a mutual admiration society, Herr Schmitt also functions as our esteemed Asia Editor, with a number of his writings cross-posted both here and in the Daily Kanban he co-edits with the equally respected Edward W. Niedermeyer. Lately, I have also begun to assiduously follow both their Twitter feeds, and Mr. Niedermeyer’s retweet of a couple of enigmatic posts from German-based Realist (@TeslaAgnostic)‘s Twitter feed certainly caught my eye and piqued my curiosity.

Hmmm… A pre-series secret electric Toyota?! Isn’t this the carmaker that famously said that the capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs? Whose efforts at production battery-electric vehicles have been primarily limited to a handful of Toyota/Scion iQ EVs, COMS neighborhood electric vehicles, the car/motorbike mashup i-Road and compliance vehicles for the United States (a RAV4 generation or two) and China (FAW-Toyota Ranz E50 EV and Guangzhou-Toyota Leahead i1 EV)?

A Google search for “Charging Standard Interoperability Dortmund” turned up an August 2015 invitation to the 3rd International Testival of the PEV Charging Communication Community on the ISO/IEC 15118 Vehicle-to-Grid Communication Interface which took place on 12 and 13 November 2015 at TU (Technische Universität, or Technical University) Dortmund’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, in Dortmund, Germany. Oh, and that “Testival” is not a typo, but a clever, punny contraction of “Test festival”. And ISO/IEC 15118? We’ll get to that in a bit…

The Hyundai Ioniq is, perhaps, the biggest threat ever to the Toyota Prius’ popularity and hegemony of the green eco car mantle. It will be the first car to offer a choice of “regular” hybrid, plug-in hybrid or battery electric only powertrains. Teased by a single shadowy side profile rendering on December 7 and officially slated to be unveiled in January in Korea, it was spotted and extensively photographed completely undisguised during a video shoot on December 21.

Wisely, Ed Niedermeyer’s retweets stop here, for Realist (@TeslaAgnostic)’s remaining tweets become ever more speculative and even fantastical…

Yes, Toyota secretly working on an electric car would be big, no, huge news. It also strains credulity, given the carmaker’s tepid attitude towards non-hybrid battery electrics and its all-in dicey gamble on fuel cell technology. And a secret plug-in hybrid Supra at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January? That would rock, but, again, probably wishful thinking. In fact, the 2016 NAIAS Press Conference schedule lists a “Toyota Lunch” on Tuesday 12 January from 11:40 AM-12:15 PM, over 1.5 hours after the last major carmaker press conference (Nissan) ends. Lunchtime auto show press conferences, more often than not, generally imply a speech from one of the company’s head honchos as opposed to a new product unveiling.

Also, the 2016 edition of the Detroit Auto Show is not only notable for something of an exodus of exhibitors (Jaguar Land Rover, BMW’s Mini and Tesla), but for the number of other brands that will not host press conferences (Scion, Mazda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Buick, Cadillac, and all the FCA brands except for Chrysler itself).

Much like the Betamax vs VHS battle of the videotape formats of the late 1970s and 1980s, there are a number of quick charging methods for battery electric vehicles. Clarissa Wikipedia explains it all in its Charging Station article, but the three major formats are Tesla’s dedicated Superchargers, CHAdeMO and the Combined Charging System, or CCS.

CHAdeMO was formed in 2010 by The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru’s parent Fuji Heavy Industries, with Toyota and Mazda joining later. A page on CHAdeMO’s website lists the electric vehicles that use TEPCO’s DC connector for quick charging.

The following year, at the 15th International VDI-Congress of the Association of German Engineers a proposal for a different “Combined Charging System” (CCS) was agreed upon by Audi, BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen, this one using an AC connector with a DC option with either a Combo Coupler made to SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) J1772 standards or a Combo2 following IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) 62196 protocols.

Suggestions of a Betamax-like capitulation of CHAdeMO in favor of CCS are odd in light of presentations at the 2nd World EV Summit held on 14-15 May 2013 in Lillestrøm, Norway which noted that, per Wikipedia‘s summary,

…both a Chademo and a Volkswagen-group spokesperson have pointed out that a concurrency between Chademo and CCS is not required as the additional cost of a dual-protocol rapid charge station is a mere 5% – thus multi-standard DC chargers are being advocated by Chademo, Volkswagen and Nissan.

Further, an Inside EVs article from late November steered us in the direction of ROEV, the self-described “Electric Vehicle (EV) industry trade association created to increase the appeal of EVs by enabling charging network interoperability in the US” and its 19 November press release from the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show announcing a partnership between BMW, Nissan and the 3 largest EV charging networks in the U.S., with Audi and Honda also having joined ROEV’s ranks. And what does ROEV stand for? Nothing that we could find, but we concur with Sebastián Blanco of Autoblog‘s suggestion that it’s probably just be a play on rove.

Just over a month later, Inside EVs picked up on a joint Nissan/BMW announcement of the building of 120 dual-port 50kW Greenlots-networked fast-charging stations across 19 states. The publicly available charging stations include both CHAdeMO and SAE Combo connectors, as shown in the photo at the top of our story.

It certainly doesn’t sound like the Japanese need to give up their CHAdeMO connectors, nor those of us in the United States. At least one pundit, however, suggests that CHAdeMO is on death row in Europe. In an unexpected twist, however, it turns out that Toyota, though a member of CHAdeMO, has only used their quick-charge plugs on the 400 or so Toyota eQs that remained in Japan, and neither its export iQ EV counterpart nor either of the compliance RAV4 EVs sold in the U.S. offer CHAdeMO fast charging.

Here’s where we need to explain ISO/IEC 15118. The title of the conference alluded to in our 3rd paragraph – Vehicle-to-Grid Communication Interface – generally explains it. More specifically, the Smart grid communication section of Wikipedia‘s Charging Station article informs us that

SAE International is developing a range of standards for energy transfer to and from the grid including SAE J2847/1 “Communication between Plug-in Vehicles and the Utility Grid”. ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) are also developing a similar series of standards known as ISO/IEC 15118: “Road vehicles — Vehicle to grid communication interface”

This concept is hardly a new one at Toyota, with its Global Newsroom featuring stories of vehicle to home (V2H) systems for the mutual sharing of power between electric-powered vehicles, such as plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs) and electric vehicles (EVs), and homes in Japan and the United States as far back as 2012. More recently, Prius Plug-In Hybrids are an integral part of Japan’s first regional emergency power supply system.

testival So, what really happened at the 2015 TU Dortmund Testival?
The Google search that turned up the invitation for the 3rd Testival at TU Dortmund University also revealed an English-language followup article on the University’s website.

To read the article, one gets the impression that the focus of the Testival is less on the titular “vehicle to grid communication interface” and more on the

… (ability) to refuel at any charging station regardless (of) the manufacturer – whether direct- or alternating current, whether speed- or steady charger…experts were brought up to date to what extent the introduction of an international charging standard has advanced to.

…electric vehicles will only reach a considerable circle of buyers if power refueling is possible anywhere and without complications… In undergoing international standardization a complex communication protocol for charging control was developed by now…such as speed charging (and)… inductive charging… For the first time this standard is currently implemented in electric vehicles around the world…

Indeed, the article more accurately describes this as a “Conformance & Interoperability Testival”.

A trio of domestic German models (BMW i3, Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid and Volkswagen e-up!) are joined by an Erlkönig (prototype) Hyundai Ioniq “covered in protective foil, down to the small emblem on the hub cap showing the company’s logo and a black mat is laid over the dashboard” and Honda and Toyota “pre-completion electric vehicle prototypes”

The end of the article sends you to a nearly 10-minute video of the testival that reveals that all is not as mysterious as Realist describes. Around the 36-second mark, the covers are removed from a black sedan to expose… a mundane Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid! (It may have been discontinued for 2016 in North America but it carries on in Japan). Around the 2:18 mark, after the lunch break (they sure work and eat fast!) the other two Asian cars make their first clear appearance. The Hyundai Ioniq is only partly covered in black, and its characteristic vertical leading edged C-pillar is clearly recognizable. Even more readily identifiable is another rear pillar, this one on the tiny white car at the upper right of the screen: a Toyota iQ EV. It moves a bit closer around the 3:23 mark, and closer yet onto the blue and diamond-plated silver platform at the 4:07 mark (or 16:45-18:45 Test Slot 4). More car movement around the 7:12 mark reveals, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the distinctive rear-three-quarter view of the Toyota iQ EV.

There you have it, then: a pre-series secret Toyota electric vehicle that really isn’t.

hero_l

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