For Toyota, electrification is proving to be an odd counterpoint.
During a 60th anniversary celebration of its Thai operations, Toyota President Akio Toyoda once again railed against the industry’s swift adoption of pure battery-electric propulsion, reiterating a stance that has brought the company criticism in the past — just before unveiling a new Toyota EV.
“I am often criticized in the press because I won’t declare that the automotive industry should commit 100% to BEV. I believe we need to be realistic about when society will be able to fully adopt battery-electric vehicles and when our infrastructure can support them at scale,” Toyoda said.
“I think BEVs are just going to take longer to become mainstream than the media would like us to believe. And frankly, BEVs are not the only way to achieve the world’s carbon neutrality goals.”
That belief has led the world’s largest automaker to field a variety of powertrains despite strong demand for the few EVs that are currently available, including hybrid, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell models. Toyota’s initial attempt at selling an EV, the bZ4X, saw production stopped after 2,700 units were produced to fix wheels that could fall off. Production resumed in October. Such a bush league engineering mistake only underlined what many see as Toyota’s resistance to producing EVs.
Yet that hasn’t stopped Toyoda from warning against a rush into one technology as the perfect solution for everyone. In a media briefing in Japan last week, Toyoda sounded a similar theme.
“Whether it is a BEV or an FCEV, what matters in achieving carbon neutrality is the energy that the vehicle uses. Whether the vehicles are carbon-reducing vehicles or carbon-neutral vehicles will rely on the energy situation in each region.”
And, as Toyoda points out, EVs will not reduce emissions if the electric power bring supplied isn’t generated from carbon-neutral sources, something Toyoda admits, but few automotive CEOs will. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 61% of America’s electricity is generated by fossil fuels, 18.9% from nuclear power, 19.8% from renewables and 0.3% from other sources.
“If the energy that powers vehicles is not clean, the use of an electrified vehicle, no matter what type it might be, would not result in zero CO2 emissions,” Toyoda said last week.
But that doesn’t mean the CEO isn’t committed to EVs, reiterating that his company is committed to producing 3.5 million BEVs by 2030, comprising of 30 Toyota and Lexus models. As if to prove the point, the automaker introduced its first battery electric pickup at the Thai event, the Hilux Revo BEV, but didn’t reveal any technical details or pricing.
But Toyoda’s belief in a variety of powertrain solutions, while sensible, also comes as hybrid vehicle demand is growing. Through Oct. 1, consumers bought 2 million hybrid vehicles worldwide, a 45% increase from the year-earlier, according to a Bloomberg report. One quarter of Toyota’s global vehicle sales are hybrids. And the company is upping the ante, having just released the fifth-generation Toyota Prius hybrid. Other automakers believe as well. in hybrids as well, as three of BMW’s topselling models can be had as a plug-in hybrid. The story is similar with two of Hyundai’s bestsellers, availabile as hybrid or plug-in hybrid.
EV growing pains
Certainly, the headlong rush by automakers into pure EV production comes from regulation, not market demand, although consumer interest is rising. EVs now command about 6.5% of the market as the number of EVs available is growing. But the EV revolution is running up against realities that make quick widespread adoption questionable.
First, EVs remain exteremely pricey. While the average price of a new vehicle reached $48,281 in October, the average price of an EV was $64,249. By comparison, the average luxury vehicle cost $66,645, according to Kelley Blue Book. And in the past few months, Tesla, Ford, General Motors, Rivian Automotive and Lucid Group have increased prices on their EVs feeding the reality that EVs are only for wealthy customers.
Then there’s the issue of charging. So far, the U.S. has around 124,000 public chargers, most of which take several hours to recharge vehicle battery packs, according to government data. And not all of them work, as maintenance remains poor at best. A University of California, Berkeley, released last March, found that of the 657 public DC fast chargers in the Bay Area, only 72.5% funtioned.