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Toyota defends hybrid recycling program

Battery-powered: Toyota's petrol-electric Prius will be joined by the locally assembled Camry Hybrid in 2010.

Victorian opposition battery claims refuted as Toyota prepares for local hybrid

Toyota logo1 Sep 2008

TOYOTA has reacted strongly to claims by the Victorian opposition that the local production of Camry Hybrids from 2010 could be an environmental disaster because Australia has no ability to dispose of the batteries.

The opposition claims made front page news in The Australian newspaper, which quoted Liberal MP Andrea Coote as saying that the government-backed Camry Hybrid production program would see “the government busy basking in the benefits of this policy while leaving the environment to pick up the tab”.

“In the next decade, Victoria will be faced with tens of thousands of dead hybrid car batteries, with no environmentally sustainable way of disposing of them,” Ms Coote is quoted as saying.

However, Toyota Australia product planning manager Peter Evans told GoAuto that a hybrid battery recycling program has been in place since the Prius was introduced to the market here in 2001 and accused the opposition of simply trying to discredit the government.

Mr Evans said that an approved recycler that is also licensed by EPA Victoria breaks the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries down and locally recycles the plastic, copper wire and some other metals, while the resin circuit boards and nickel battery elements are exported to Korea for recycling.

Toyota has sold more than 10,000 Prius models in Australia and has replaced only three batteries due to wear and tear, each of which was recycled at Toyota’s expense.

8 center imageLeft: Toyota Camry battery and Prius.

One Prius being used as a taxi in Cairns covered 500,000km before needing a new battery and Mr Evans said that anecdotal evidence suggests there have been no failures from regular use at less than 300,000km.

While Toyota will start building 10,000 Camry Hybrids annually from 2010, it will be some years before battery replacement will become an issue and Mr Evans suggested that full local recycling was possible by then.

“You’ve got 300,000km before they may need replacing – at 20,000km a year, that’s 15 years, so there’s quite a long lag time between now and when we start to see volumes of the batteries hitting the wall,” said Mr Evans.

“There isn’t a plan (for local recycling), but we would expect that, as our society moves to a more recycling focus like the Europeans, as more and more of these precious metals are recycled then it becomes economically viable to recycle them locally. I would therefore expect that, when the volumes become economically sustainable for local recycling, you would expect us to move to that.” Mr Evans noted that each NiMH battery weighs 27kg and that “the price of nickel has gone up so much you’d be crazy not to recycle”.

As well as the three batteries that have been recycled, Toyota has replaced another 14 – either as a result of a recall due to an electronic fault, or due to warranty issues – and these have been used for research and training purposes here and overseas.

Mr Evans said that the longevity of the hybrid batteries had been proven both here and overseas, with more than one million Toyota hybrids having been sold globally.

Almost the entire taxi fleet in Vancouver, Canada was converted to hybrids some years ago and the evidence there has reflected the experience in Australia, with 300,000km-plus mileages the norm.

He said the issue of battery life was merely an urban myth that might scare off some potential early adopters, but does not believe it is a big issue in the minds of most consumers.

In fact, he suggested that the lower stress put on the petrol engine in a hybrid car meant that they went further without the need for a major overhaul than a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore.

Cairns taxi operator Graham Boundy, who owns Black and White Taxis, said last month that the Prius costs half as much as his conventional cabs in terms of fuel and maintenance costs.

Local dealer Pacific Toyota has delivered 32 Prius taxis in the harsh environment of Cairns and has orders for a further eight.

Toyota Australia senior vice-president David Buttner said that hybrid technology remains important to the company and is serious about its responsibility to the environment.

“Toyota Australia regards the batteries as a key ecological issue and has had a recycling solution in place for more than seven years,” said Mr Buttner.

“Toyota's hybrid batteries are designed to last the life of the vehicle. We have sold more than 10,000 hybrid vehicles in Australia and the performance of the batteries has been outstanding.

Read more:

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