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Monday, December 19, 2016

The Scope Of Toyota's About-Face On EVs Is A Big Deal

Toyota's recent announcement about launching electric vehicles in 2020 is more than just another press release, it heralds a shift in the market.

Toyota recently made an announcement that they were appointing their president to lead their newly formed electric car division. Several automakers have made similar announcements with plans to develop electric cars and this might seem like just another one. This is so much more.

Toyota was one of the major supporters of Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV) and they have been stern in their claims that electric vehicles (EV) will only have a niche market. In their Vision 2050 document (released in 2015) Toyota foresaw that the vehicle make-up in 2050 will be primary hybrid vehicles (HEV and PHEV). With FCVs a growing market to eventually replace HEVs. While EVs would be relegated to short range 3-wheelers and little urban runabouts.

The view that EVs would have a very limited market was not just the view of a few at Toyota; their long-term strategy, the company's future, was based on it. This belief pervaded the company corporate culture at Toyota. Their executives and engineers openly talked about their disdain for EVs with the press (see below).

Deliveries of the Toyota Mirai began in 2015 and it was squarely in competition with Tesla, the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and other plug-in vehicles. Toyota's marketing went on the attack. Anyone that questioned the viability of FCVs was labeled a 'handbrake' and someone that was holding back the future. Toyota's culture of bashing EVs clearly came out in their marketing with campaigns that said "No charging means more driving" and labeled EV parking spots with the slogan "Reserved for someone with 4 hours to kill."

This was not the high-road, our product is great on its own merits, marketing approach, it was mudslinging. To illustrate how anti-EV Toyota was, here are a few of the things their executives and engineers have said to the press in recently years:
  • Electric vehicles have a fundamental physics problem.
  • No one will buy a second Tesla. They'll return to Lexus.
  • Battery-powered electric vehicles don't have a practical future as a long-range alternative to conventional cars even if technological breakthroughs allow them to be charged quickly. 
  • EVs should only be used for short distances during the day.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a more a promising zero-emission alternative [than EVs] to conventional cars because they offer a similar driving range and refueling time. 
  • Fast charging totally goes against the need to stabilize electricity use on the grid.
  • The lithium battery has tremendous shortcomings for cars and there’s nothing promising beyond the lithium battery on the horizon.
  • I don’t expect the battery car to get dramatically better, the internal combustion engine is getting phenomenally better. ~Bill Reinert
  • The cruising distance is so short for EVs, and the charging time is so long. At the current level of technology, somebody needs to invent a Nobel Prize-winning type battery.
  • Batteries are good in short-range vehicles… But for long-range travel and primary vehicles, we feel there are better alternatives, such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and tomorrow with fuel cells.
  • We don’t see any battery technology that would allow us to…give customers a comparable driving experience at a reasonable price.
  • Nobody makes more batteries than Toyota. We’ve been doing batteries longer than anyone in the automotive business. Which is why we’re so bullish on fuel cells.
To see a news report from the company that said all of the above that reads "Toyota Motor Corp is looking at mass-producing long-range electric vehicles that would hit the market around 2020," is a major change in direction.

It can be nearly impossible to change the direction of a large organization the size of Toyota. They may need to 'invite' a few senior executives to retire. They may need to have management at all levels drive EVs. They may need to have internal training on the joys and benefits of EV ownership. We'll see if Toyota really can put this anti-EV attitude behind them and create exciting long-range EVs. They have taken the first step; I hope they can do it. The world will be watching.