After all, Lexus and Toyota probably won’t fall asleep on electric cars. The automaker, known for waiting for its moment and taking a cautious long-term strategy on anything it thinks will get bigger, appears to be using the same mindset here.

Lexus chief engineer Takashi Watanabe was interviewed at the 2023 Lexus RZ 450e prototype drive in Barcelona, ​​Spain, Green Car Report Learn what the automaker thinks about electrical architecture, charging rates, and an electric future.

Green Car Report interviews Lexus chief engineer Takashi Watanabe

The future is electric.

Toyota may have bet on hydrogen horses, but it knows which pony wins the passenger car race. Even if it often doesn’t want to admit it.

Watanabe said that for automakers to actually achieve carbon neutrality, battery electric is the right solution.

But it’s not just electric cars. Watanabe said we need to switch to renewable energy, and the best source is electricity rather than fossil fuels. The key will be how efficiently we manipulate and use electricity. The challenge is “how small a battery can we achieve these goals,” Watanabe said.

Pure electric vehicles are not a medium-term solution, Watanabe said. This is the next step in playing a central role in achieving the future and carbon neutrality goals.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e

2023 Lexus RZ 450e

up to 800 volts

Asked if Toyota and Lexus had done work on the 800-volt electrical architecture, Wantanabe responded quickly: “Yes.”

But the first electric Lexus 2023 RZ 450e sold in the U.S. won’t feature this electric architecture or charging rate. Its 71.4 kWh battery pack has a maximum charge rate of 150 kW and a charging and operating voltage of about 400 volts.

Watanabe believes the reason is the relationship between battery capacity and charging. Larger battery packs guarantee faster electrical architecture and charging rates for execution reasons. For Toyota and Lexus, it will be “case-by-case,” Watanabe said.

Watanabe said the turning point was around 100 kWh. That’s where charging needs to be faster, and the electrical architecture would benefit from 800 volts.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e

2023 Lexus RZ 450e

fast charging rate

Watanabe points out that higher charging power (above 150 kilowatts) is expensive in terms of vehicle hardware and infrastructure.

The executive is quick to point out that different regions are at different stages of infrastructure development at this time. The needs of a particular region will determine a lot of work for automakers. While the US is (slowly) starting to roll out 350 kW fast charging stations, the current dominant rate for fast charging is 150 kW.

“CCS is a global standard, it’s convenient, and CCS 150 (kw) looks set to become mainstream for the foreseeable future,” Watanabe said, referring to a globalized rate of charge that surpasses what the U.S. and the market have.

Over-the-air update

When asked what is possible to upgrade the RZ or other EVs via over-the-air updates, Watanabe said: “Right now we’re not trying to impose any restrictions or restrictions on what’s possible via OTA.”

The executive elaborated that, for example, motor control, charging, support systems or new value services can all be enhanced with OTA technology.

The key is the updateable ECU system and communication system that Lexus is working to integrate. But like many other variables, Watanabe said many of them will be defined by the needs of each region.

Watanabe noted earlier that while the US market sees a 200-mile range as low, in markets such as China, it’s seen as well beyond the range.

Lexus Steer-by-Wire System

Lexus Steer-by-Wire System

Autopilot

The steer-by-wire system, which was first introduced with the Lexus RZ 450e (though it won’t be an option for the first model year in the US), comes with a yoke. The system is a step towards an autonomous future.

Watanabe said it was “a little awkward” to just sit behind the wheel and the steering wheel moved on its own. When steering by wire makes sense, the steering wheel (or yoke) can be connected or disconnected from what is actually happening with the tires, but not by conventional electric power steering.

Values ​​and Experience

Watanabe said some automakers’ future definition will come down in part to experience. Digital keys via smartphones (which some automakers such as Hyundai and Tesla are already offering) are stepping stones that could enable future services.

The executive theorized about delivery and charging services that would come to meet you or your vehicle and make sure the battery is pre-charged for you. This type of service will rely on the implementation of a smartphone digital key and pre-planning using an app.

2023 Lexus RZ 450e

2023 Lexus RZ 450e

But what about scope?

In November, Cooper Ericksen, vice president of product planning and strategy at Toyota Motor North America, told GCR While Toyota will offer affordability rather than the core of its EVs, Lexus likely won’t go down the same path. The executive noted that 400 to 500 miles of range is the goal for luxury models. This requires the use of bigger batteries and more batteries, a larger carbon footprint per vehicle, and a higher sticker price.

The RZ 450e is none of those things, and Watanabe emphasizes efficiency and lowering the automaker’s carbon footprint while keeping costs consistent.

The shift comes as we’ve had mixed messages from executives at Toyota and Lexus, and in the U.S., 200 to 230 miles of range simply can’t compete with the latest EVs.

Before Lexus can offer the 300- to 400-mile range offered by some luxury competitors—and in some cases even more—Lexus has to prove it can innovate the way it has always been: by making the owning experience very, very smooth.