Much like Toyota, its mainstream sibling, Lexus has been reluctant to enter the battery-car market, beyond the likes of the little UX 300e now offered in Europe and other select markets. But the Japanese automaker appears to be reversing course and, like Toyota, it’s now teasing plans to offer a global battery-electric vehicle powered by the all-new Direct4 drivetrain.
For the moment, the Japanese luxury brand is being vague about details, though it does indicate that the Direct4 system will find use in both plug-in hybrid and all-electric models. One of the unanswered questions is whether both Lexus and Toyota are planning to skip the current state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery technology in favor of the solid-state technology that the parent company is openly working on.
Lexus says it will reveal its new EV concept during the first quarter of the new year. That’s triggering plenty of speculation about whether it will be used for an all-new model or be offered as a version of an existing product, perhaps even the long-popular RX crossover. But the automaker has clouded matters by not only releasing a dark teaser image showing the snout of the upcoming EV but also shots of both a sedan and a boxy crossover, both well camouflaged.
Toyota Motor Corp. was, of course, a pioneer in electrification. The Toyota Prius was the world’s first production hybrid, and the Lexus division was quick to adopt the technology for its own fleet. Today, they dominate the market for hybrids and, to a much smaller degree, play in the plug-in hybrid segment.
But, when it comes to true zero-emissions vehicles, Toyota has been big on hydrogen fuel-cell technology – like what it’s using with the newly launched, second-generation Mirai. Company officials, like U.S. sales chief Bob Carter, have long been skeptical of pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, due to their price premium, limited range and other challenges.
Now, however, prices are dropping, range is growing and a nationwide charging network is falling into place. On top of that, a number of countries, such as England, and even the state of California, are putting in place plans to ban the sale of new vehicles using internal combustion engines.
But there may be another secret weapon in play: Toyota has hinted for several years that it is working on next-generation solid-state batteries. They’re expected to be even cheaper, lighter and more powerful. The Japanese news service Nikkei, reports Toyota could unveil its version of the technology in the coming days, a potential game changer that, if it lives up to the hype, could make TMC a leader, rather than a laggard, in the BEV market.
We got insight into the planned Toyota battery-electric car last week. Now, Lexus says it’s readying an entry of its own.
Beyond the batteries, the vehicle will use the brand’s new Direct4 drivetrain system which, Lexus said, “precisely controls the delivery of drive torque from front and rear electric motors and braking force to all four wheels.”
The system follows the increasingly common formula of putting separate motors on the front and rear axles, each capable of delivering up to 201 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. Power in a multi-motor EV is not always additive so, we don’t yet know how much the combined powertrain will deliver.
Also uncertain is whether the system was designed for a skateboard-like platform, all but the norm in EV design today. If so, we’ll be curious to see how it can handle other powertrain layouts besides BEV, as Lexus apparently will use the Direct4 system in
future plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, as well. It’s possible those could adopt a range-extender format where the gasoline side of the drivetrain simply serves to provide additional electricity for the motors that alone send torque to the wheels.
One possible approach was signaled by the recent Lexus ES prototype that paired a 174-hp gas engine with a pair of 107-hp electric motors, one on each axle.
The Direct4 system, a statement from Toyota suggested gives “the driver a genuine sense of being fully connected with the vehicle” while offering “an ideal balance of predictability and excitement, with powerful, linear acceleration and exhilarating cornering.”