Toyota says it’s too early to focus only on EVs – keeps powertrain options open for customers to choose

Electric is the future of cars, right? Most would say so, and almost every carmaker (plus some tech companies and device makers) is putting full resources into EVs, because to not do so would be to risk being left behind in the new era, one where batteries will get us around, not some combustible liquid.

Despite being a pioneer in electrification via its hybrid cars, Toyota has been a slow starter when it comes to pure electric vehicles. Resting on its hybrid laurels? Maybe not. Perhaps the reason why the Japanese giant did not put its full might into EVs earlier (it’s still not doing so now), is because it doesn’t have full conviction that BEVs are the future.

Bloomberg covered Toyota’s annual shareholder meeting in Japan last week, where the carmaker says that its lineup over the next 30 years will contain a myriad of propulsion options beyond just BEVs. In response to a question on why Toyota is taking a different electrification route than Honda, which is aiming at full EV sales by 2040, director Shigeki Terashi said that it’s too early to put all eggs in one basket.

“It’s too early to concentrate on one option,” he said, adding that in the years leading up to 2050, different options including hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles need to compete against each other so that Toyota is left with the best options.

The maker of the Prius also does not see the global auto market being EV-only in the years and decades to come. “Some people love battery-electric vehicles but others don’t see the current technologies as convenient. In the end what matters is what customers choose,” Toyota’s chief technology officer Masahiko Maeda said.

There’s also another aspect that was raised. According to the report, some studies show that the materials needed to make EV batteries could account for a larger share of total greenhouse gas emissions than those from a car’s tailpipes.

When looking at reducing carbon emissions, there’s one school of thought that says we should focus on BEVs, Terashi said. “We’re choosing to look at the whole lifecycle,” including production, use and scrapping-related emissions, he added.

Not mentioned here, but while electric cars themselves are zero emissions on the move, the electricity that powers them might not be so. It will be fully clean from well to wheel, if the source of electricity is renewable. Examples are power generated from biomass, water, wind or solar. On the opposite end is power from coal.

It was presumably not raised at the AGM, but Toyota has always seen hydrogen fuel cell power as the future of driving. Hydrogen is an element that’s abundant in the environment and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) like the Mirai – now in its second generation – emit nothing but water. Toyota is even experimenting a hydrogen engine, which is like an internal combustion engine, but powered by hydrogen instead of petrol.

European campaign group T&E placed Toyota last in terms of readiness in making the transition to electric

At one point, Toyota looked like it was skipping EVs to concentrate on FCEVs (while hybrids hold the fort), but the BEV wave is too big to ignore now. It’s not too late however, and Toyota has been making up for lost time by partnering with battery manufacturers and EV specialists to get up to speed. Premium brand Lexus has confirmed a dedicated EV model for next year, and we expect to see the tech in the Toyota range as well.

In a recent study, European campaign group Transport and Environment placed Toyota last among 10 major brands in Europe in terms of readiness in making the transition to electric by the end of the decade. Can the world’s largest carmaker catch up? We’ll see, but Toyota is not sitting still that’s for sure.

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