top of page

What Toyota's Solid-state Batteries Mean For The EV Industry


Oct 2, 2023

After avoiding EVs for over a decade, Toyota is about to change an industry that didn't even see it coming.

  •  Toyota plans to have solid-state-battery EVs in production by 2027 or 2028, after a long absence from the battery EV market.

  •  Solid-state batteries offer more energy storage and require less space than current EV batteries, but face challenges with extreme temperatures and degradation.

  •  Different battery types could offer more variation in EVs, such as batteries better suited for power drains, extreme temperatures, or fast charging. The auto industry may need to push for better power grids to accommodate fast-charging EVs.

Toyota is reentering the battery EV market after a long absence. The company has announced it will have solid-state-battery EVs in production by 2027 or 2028. While skeptics love to point out that Toyota has been teasing a solid-state EV battery since 2010 (if not earlier), the company has been fairly consistent in claiming a release date in the latter half of the 2020s.

Solid-state batteries (or SSBs) have been a long-pursued dream among manufacturers of EVs. To put it quite simply, they can store more energy than the current generation of EV batteries, and require less space to do it. However, they have hitherto resisted all attempts to make them work in cars. They do not do well in extreme temperatures (such as a car that sits outside in any weather). They also tend to degrade very quickly when drained and recharged (if they can be recharged at all). Lastly, it has been difficult to manufacture large-sized SSBs.

But since the battery is the heaviest and bulkiest part of an EV, manufacturers have been throwing huge bags of money at various research labs in the hope that solid-state batteries can finally power cars. Now that solid-state batteries are in the near (though not immediate) future, what does this mean for the EV industry?

It’s been a long time since the driving range was available as a trim option on cars. The concept was last explored on a mass-production scale in the 1970s by the Ford Motor Company, which offered auxiliary “extended range” fuel tank on its Lincoln sedan-barges in those last glorious days before the fuel crisis hit. The concept of buying extra driving range could return as the list of available battery types expands.

Just as different types of engines have their relative advantages and drawbacks, different batteries are naturally suited to different purposes. As a result, automakers could use battery upgrades to sell more than extended driving range. For example, some battery types are better suited to sudden power drains. These could be put into sports coupes and advertised as ready for fast and hard acceleration. Other battery types are tolerant of extreme temperatures, which could be marketed as offering extra reliability in areas subject to searing summers or frigid winters. For commuters, batteries that take naturally to fast charging might be a good fit.

While automakers have offered multiple engines in the same model for practically the entire history of the automobile, batteries will make such variations easier than ever before. Different battery types would not require separate mounts, powertrain linkages, or anything else. Compared to selling a car with both an I4 and a V6, it would be a blissfully straightforward operation to offer multiple battery types in the same EV. If the tooling was set up properly, any battery could be installed in any car body with no changes to the car itself.

Lithium-ion batteries (and other closely related types) have been the standard for EVs because nothing else works well enough at the right price. While other battery types could technically power cars, they either don’t work very well, or they are too costly for anyone to pay for. However, even if one does one’s best to ignore the inevitable lithium shortage, automakers will inevitably have to move beyond lithium-ion batteries (and indeed, lithium-ion batteries of any kind).

It’s definitely true that for now, some viable car battery technologies are prohibitively expensive. Even luxury automakers (the kind that have clients instead of customers) would find it difficult to sell customers on a costly battery. While someone can do a lot of preening and strutting around the engine of a luxury car when popping the hood in a parking lot, it’s hard to brag about the battery. No one wants to listen. The day may come when high-status automakers design EVs so that the owner can easily open a floor hatch and show off the motor(s), but the world of car purists would have to undergo a massive cultural shift before anyone could one-up the others in a parking lot by showing off the car’s battery and boasting about its superior chemistry.

But while the battery is far from the sexiest part of an EV, people nonetheless expect more out of it with every new generation of cars. The average driver rarely thinks about the battery when it works correctly, but quickly complains when it doesn't. Customers demand ever-longer driving ranges, shorter charging times, lighter weight, increased lifespan, and other things. The same people who continue to lament GM’s abruptly canceled EV1 would demand an immediate battery swap if they somehow got their hands on one.

Toyota’s perhaps most noticeable boast with its solid-state batteries is the astonishingly fast charge times - 10 minutes or less. But while Toyota’s claim of rapid charging times is impressive, one must ask if the power grid is ready for thousands (if not millions) of fast-charging cars, particularly in the summer when everyone depends on air-conditioning. This could cause an unexpected alliance between the auto industry and the people who don’t want to have to drag out a generator multiple times a year when the lights flicker. If the industry is trying to put more people into fast-charging EVs, customers need to know that they can quickly charge their car at any time of year- and not just when the weather is mild and the area power demand is low.

As it is, the state of Texas inevitably begs its residents to stop using electricity whenever the weather gets hot (and then threatens to have another statewide blackout every winter). While Texas is a bit of an outlier when it comes to poor electricity supply, the rest of the country may not be ready for a lot of people to suddenly start fast-charging cars at the same time. In short, the auto industry may have to start lobbying for increased power grid resilience. No one will buy a car with fast-charging capability if they can’t actually fast-charge it.

Toyota has long dominated the industry - the company is currently enjoying its third consecutive year as the top-selling auto manufacturer in the world, but has generally stayed a respectable distance behind the bleeding edge of automotive technology. While the company’s technological hesitance has generated a steady stream of grousing from tech lovers, it is a big part of why the company makes the most famously reliable cars in the world. With that in mind, few people would have expected Toyota to try to lead the next generation of EVs while essentially skipping the present day.

However, Toyota’s management has historically planned for the long term rather than frantically racing from quarter to quarter as American corporations do. The company has more than enough sales and profits to fund projects that may not generate income for over a decade. Since Toyota is taking full advantage of this long flood of incoming money, the company may soon be the industry leader in EVs.

bottom of page