New Toyota tech seeks improved hybrid fuel efficiency

BMW i3 vs rivals Toyota Prius
Credits: Otis Clay
21 May, 2014 2:00pm Jordan Bishop

Toyota’s latest semiconductor technology could see hybrid fuel efficiency improve by up to 10 per cent

Toyota has developed a new form of semiconductor that the Japanese brand hopes will improve the fuel efficiency of its hybrids and electric vehicles by as much as 10 per cent.

This may seem an ambitious target at this stage, given current prototypes are registering an improvement of only half that amount, but it’s still early days, with the technology expected to trial on public roads before the year is out.

While they don’t sound all that exciting, semiconductors actually play an essential role in hybrids and EVs. Located within the power control unit (PCU), they govern the flow of electricity from battery to motor, as well as helping store the power generated under braking.

However, as well as being crucial to how the PCUs work, they currently account for 20 per cent of all the energy lost in hybrid vehicles.

To try and tackle this problem, Toyota’s new semiconductor – developed in-house with help from Denso – is made from a silicon carbide compound instead of the traditional silicon. This limits energy losses and allows for an 80 per cent reduction in power control unit size.

Whether it works as predicted remains to be seen, but an early glimpse of the technology is currently available at the 2014 Automotive Engineering Exposition in Yokohama.

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Sounds promising, but still expect to see every review moan about not having a "proper" gearbox. Funny how real world owners never find it a problem mind...

Maybe from owners but what about all the people who've tried it and decided it wasn't for them, because of the gearbox? Sounds like a slipping clutch IMHO. It's also a very irritating whiny sound that comes and goes like a cheap laptop fan. I just couldn't live with it.

I take your point. However, after a year of owning a Prius, I don't find it like that at all. 50% of the time the engine isn't even running, and when it is, the revs are usually so low you can barely hear it. When you do give it some welly, yes it is a little noisy. But irritating? Obviously, you'd say yes (fair enough) - and yes it is a bit whiny, but it must be a very subjective thing, as I have no problem at all and neither does anyone else we know who've been in it. Frankly, I find it a lot less annoying than my other workhorse - the diesel grumble of my 2.0 TDCI Mondeo.

What gets my goat is how the car mags make such a big deal about it, but ignore the awful racket of some of the 4 pot diesel and 3 pot petrols that are around these days. And unlike the Prius, that noise tends to be constant.