Has Toyota seen the electric light? New electric SUV, first of a new BEV line, unveiled in Shanghai

At this week’s Auto Shanghai motor show, Toyota unveiled a concept version of a new electric SUV, the bZ4X, which will be the first in a new line of battery-electric vehicles. The Japanese giant now says it plans to introduce 15 BEV models by 2025, including 7 models in the bZ series (the name stands for “beyond zero”).

Toyota has of course long been a bête noire for EV-boosters, thanks to its periodic pronouncements of disdain for pure EVs, and its touting of ridiculous ideas such as “self-charging hybrids” (aka perpetual-motion machines). Has the apostate automaker finally seen the electric light?

Apparently so, and that’s good news. However, the announcement of the new EV line may be better described as a cautious course correction than as an existential epiphany. Even as its CEO and other spokespersons have been trashing EVs in public speeches (aimed, one suspects, mainly at risk-averse investors), the automaker’s engineers have been quietly working on a number of EV projects.

The company’s current line-up of electrified vehicles comprises 45 hybrids, 4 PHEVs, 4 BEVs (sold in limited quantities in select markets), and 2 FCEVs. The 15 new EVs will bring the total to 70 electrified models by 2025. “Toyota isn’t behind Volkswagen and others when it comes to EV development, it just hasn’t been as vocal as others,” said Bloomberg Intelligence Analyst Tatsuo Yoshida. “The ambitious announcement for new models was a surprise, but it was just Toyota finally revealing what it’s been working on for some time.”

“In the years since we first introduced the Prius, we’ve not pushed forward with any single technology, instead preparing numerous options including fuel cell, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles,” said Toyota Chief Technology Officer Masahiko Maeda.

Toyota’s new bZ4X electric SUV was jointly developed with Subaru, and is based on the e-TNGA BEV-dedicated platform that was jointly developed by the two companies. It leverages Toyota’s electrification expertise and Subaru’s AWD advances. The concept version resembles Toyota’s popular RAV4, and features a distinctive “yoke” in place of a traditional steering wheel, as well as a solar recharging system, which “cleverly recharges the battery while stationary.”

Toyota says the e-TNGA platform will speed up deployment of new EVs, reducing development time by allowing different models to be designed in parallel. The platform can be adapted to a broad range of vehicle sizes, and can accommodate different battery packs and electric motors for different models.

Toyota plans to produce the bZ4X in Japan and China, and hopes to begin worldwide sales by the middle of 2022.

Sources: Toyota, Bloomberg