A national manager at Toyota Motor Corp. believes some of the most eagerly anticipated electrified cars could end up being a flop, EV World Insider reported Thursday.
According to the EV World newsletter, which was dated Aug. 18 but released via email Thursday, Bill Reinert, national manager of Toyota's advanced technology group, said that some Toyota employees have started a "death watch" on the Tesla Model S (previously codenamed Whitestar), Fisker Karma and the Chevrolet Volt.
In "off-the-cuff" comments at a conference in Oregon earlier this month, Reinert told EV World publisher Bill Moore that he and his colleagues don't think any of the three – particularly the Tesla – will reach significant volumes because the batteries are just too costly.
Jana Hartline, an environmental communications manager at Toyota, told Greentech Media that the sentiments don't represent the company as a whole.
"As a company, we do not have an official death watch anywhere," she said. "As an official position, we support other manufacturers' forays into new technology because it pushes the envelope and forces everyone to raise their game."
Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org, a plug-in hybrid advocate group, questioned the productiveness of the death watch.
"If you're the biggest car company, it's probably more productive to try to show that leadership rather than worrying about or doubting some of the other innovative efforts," he said.
Still, he said, Toyota's recognition of the electric-car movement is a good sign.
"Car manufacturers are finally paying attention to the fact that both presidential candidates are going to promote and incentivize plug-in cars," he said. "Every car maker wants to get in on this if it's going to happy. Business models are changing."
The news comes the same day Toyota announced plans to accelerate its evaluation of plug-in hybrid vehicles.
According to Japan Today, Toyota President Katuaki Watanabe said the company will deliver plug-in hybrids for fleets to evaluate next year, instead of the previously expected early 2010, and reiterated plans to bring mass-produced plug-in hybrids to the market in "the early 2010s."
Just a few hours after the Toyota announcement, General Motors Corp. vice chairman Bob Lutz said the company plans to have "a large test fleet" of production Volts on the streets in late 2009.
He dismissed the idea that GM and Toyota are racing to produce a rechargeable car, saying that the competition is meaningless because the vehicles are so different, the Associated Press reported.
But Kramer said the announcement really reaffirmed the race.
"[GM] is upping the ante, so this really is a race," he said, adding that even though the vehicles are different, they can be compared using the amount of gasoline the cars would displace with electricity.
Meanwhile, a Palo Alto, Calif. dealership already has begun accepting $500 deposits to reserve plug-in Priuses, according to Green Car Congress.