Toyota electric vehicles

Toyota wants to be “the Macy’s department store of powertrains,” officials said.

Toyota will introduce its first two long-range battery-electric vehicles for the U.S. market next year, the automaker announced today, as well as another plug-in hybrid model.

With these and other models now in the pipeline, the Japanese automaker expects to see electrified vehicles – which also include conventional hybrids like the Prius – account for 40% of its U.S. sales volume by 2025, up from 16% last year.

The auto industry, as a whole, is shifting away from internal combustion technology. Unlike some key rivals, such as General Motors, Toyota believes the best solution to address climate change and reduce fossil fuel use comes with offering a mix of alternative powertrain technologies, including hybrids, plug-ins, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and BEVs.

Automaker provides options

Toyota's Bob Carter

Toyota’s U.S. sales chief Bob Carter said the company will be all things to all people when it comes to powertrain options.

“We want to be the Macy’s department store of powertrains,” said Bob Carter, executive vice president of sales for Toyota Motor North America, said during a media web conference on Wednesday.

Carter and other Toyota officials outlined the company’s strategy during the hourlong session, pointing to why they don’t believe pure electric models are the right answer for all buyers.

It’s not a case of “one size fits all (to) achieve the greatest level of greenhouse reduction,” said Gill Pratt, Toyota’s top scientist and the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute.

A variety of factors determine what works best in different circumstances, he stressed, including the source of energy available in a given market or region, the availability of chargers – or alternative fuels, such as hydrogen – the sort of driving a motorist might do, and the amount of money motorists are willing or able to spend.

In places where the electric grid relies heavily on coal power, battery cars are going to yield less benefit in terms of reducing carbon dioxide, said Pratt. And for those who clock relatively low miles during a typical day, Toyota believes that conventional or plug-in hybrids offer a better scenario.

The average American commuter travels about 32 miles a day to and from work, he said, a daily trip that can be handled in electric mode by many of today’s plug-in hybrids without carrying around what he called a large “brick” of batteries that add weight but are seldom used in a long-range all-electric model.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid is a stunning mix of mileage and performance.

“Today, in California,” Pratt suggested, “PHEVs have roughly the same carbon footprint as BEVs – and they cost less.”

Hybrid history

Beyond the data that Pratt and colleagues presented, Toyota’s interest in hybrids would likely surprise few. The automaker introduced the first modern hybrid-electric vehicle, the Prius, in 1997 – bringing the breakthrough product to the U.S. a couple years later.

Today, the company offers hybrid options on a majority of its product lines. That includes the recently launched Venza SUV and updated Sienna minivan, both now sold only in hybrid form. It has begun expanding its plug-in hybrid line-up, as well, including versions of the Prius and the RAV4 crossover. And it recently launched an all-new version of the Mirai fuel-cell vehicle.

All told, Toyota saw a 22% increase in sales of its electrified products last year and, with the debut of Venza and Sienna, demand rose roughly 85% in January year-over-year. According to Carter, Toyota expects its various electrified models to account for 20% of its U.S. demand in 2021 – including both the Toyota and Lexus brands, “and we’re heading to 70% of our entire line-up” by the end of the decade, he forecast.

Company officials were vague on details when asked about the two BEVs coming to the U.S. in 2022, but Carter said one will adopt an SUV body style and be sold through the Toyota brand. He said he will leave as a “surprise” what format the second model will take and whether it will be sold through the Toyota brand or Lexus.

Toyota is widely expected to use next-generation solid-state batteries in an EV in the near future.

While downplaying the role that all-electric models could take in the next decade or two, Toyota is expanding its line-up of BEVs and will soon have 10 available worldwide, according to Carter.

Despite its stand on the need to offer a mix of different powertrain alternatives, there may be no option considering the requirements being laid out by regulators in many parts of the world. Britain recently moved up its target to 2030 for eliminating vehicles running solely on gas or diesel, though it will allow the continued sale of hybrids for another five years. It joins a growing number of countries and regions making similar moves, California aiming for a similar phase-out.

Even then, Toyota believes there will be options, the company putting a heavy bet on hydrogen – and not only for passenger vehicles. It recently announced plans to develop heavy-duty fuel-cell trucks, the automaker arguing that they would have a significant advantage over battery models by providing longer range and quicker refueling. The challenge is that the hydrogen distribution network in the U.S. is even more limited than the public EV charging infrastructure.

Developing the next battery

There are still plenty of unknowns that could impact the way the global market shifts to alternative powertrains, Pratt and Carter agreed. One of the key questions is what will replace the latest lithium-ion technology. Toyota has been investing heavily in one of the most promising technologies – as have many competitors – the solid-state battery.

They are expected to deliver significantly longer range, improved performance, lower costs, faster charging – and reduce the risk of fire, according to industry experts.

“Expect some (solid-state-powered) concepts and prototypes entering the Japanese market in the near future,” hinted Carter, adding that if the technology lives up to expectation “it could be a game-changer.”

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