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Artist rendering depicts the automotive battery lab at Toyota’s Michigan R&D campus in York Township. (Toyota)

Toyota to add battery lab at Michigan R&D campus

New battery lab will support Toyota’s first battery manufacturing plant in North America and help steer R&D for electrified vehicles.

Toyota will invest nearly $50 million for a new automotive battery lab at its R&D headquarters in York Township, Michigan. The lab is expected to be operational in 2025, the same year that Toyota aims to begin producing its first U.S.-assembled EV.

“The battery lab will be our first dedicated test facility in North America. Right now, battery testing is being done globally in the Toyota network and at our Toyota family of suppliers,” Jordan Choby, group vice president of powertrain at Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) R&D, told SAE Media during a recent press event.

Initial design plans for the Michigan R&D battery lab outline a 24,000-sq.ft. facility. But the footprint could change, which has been the case with Toyota’s under-construction battery manufacturing plant in Liberty, North Carolina, the automaker’s first battery production site in North America. “Based on the volumes that we are forecasting, we’re expanding an expansion before the original plant is even built. So that’s how fluid the situation is in North Carolina,” Jeff Makarewicz, group vice president for technical resources at TMNA R&D, said in an interview with SAE Media.

The technical specialists working at the new lab will be involved in battery development and testing. “The testing that we’ll do in the battery lab will cover cell testing – from cell characterization, cell durability, cell performance and cell quality to battery modules and packs,” said Choby. Workers also will be involved with evaluations, such as using Level 2 AC and Level 3 DC fast chargers as well as connectivity to power sources and to the infrastructure. The chassis dynamometers at TMNA R&D headquarters and TMNA’s Ann Arbor facility are also being upgraded to accommodate EV evaluations.

While Toyota currently offers 22 electrified-vehicle options in the U.S. across the Toyota and Lexus brands, a shift to U.S.-produced batteries is coming mid-decade. “It’s important that we have boots on the ground that can support local manufacturing,” Makarewicz said, noting the automaker’s first U.S.-assembled EV, a three-row SUV, will be produced at Toyota Kentucky in 2025. “In addition to supporting U.S. manufacturing, battery lab workers also will be looking at new technologies, new designs and new materials, and this provides us with an opportunity to scale up and pilot some of these technologies in the U.S.,” said Makarewicz.

Various battery lab initiatives will address methods to achieve improvements, such as software control. Lab R&D work also is likely to entail devising ways to repair, recycle and reuse batteries. “This lab provides a footprint for us to start building additional capabilities as we build-out our battery electrification ecosystem, so there are a lot of different things that we’ll be able to do here [in North America],” Makarewicz said.

Staffing for the battery lab will involve transitioning certain internal-combustion engine (ICE) engineers and technology specialists to new roles. “We’re definitely not abandoning ICE, but we will transition some of our team members,” Choby said. He noted, for example, that thermal and engine/powertrain simulation workers could apply their skillsets to battery R&D work.

Mixed electrification moving forward
For future vehicles, Toyota is taking a multifaceted approach that includes hybrid, plug-in hybrid, EV, hydrogen fuel cells and alternative fuels. “For Toyota, carbon is the enemy. It’s not a particular powertrain or a particular energy source. So anything we can do to reduce carbon as much as possible and as quickly as possible, we think is good,” Makarewicz explained.

Also announced at the June 8 press conference was a grant of nearly $10 million from the Toyota USA Foundation to Eastern Michigan University and other schools in southeast Michigan in support of Toyota’s Driving Possibilities. The Driving Possibilities initiative promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs.

“We want to help prepare young people for the future workforce where STEM skills will be required by more than half of the economy,” said Chris Reynolds, executive vice president and chief administration officer at TMNA. Reynolds noted that one-third of the automaker’s Michigan engineering workforce hires come from the state.

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