EV boosters are hopeful that Toyota’s new CEO Koji Sato will preside over a new era at the world’s second-largest automaker, transforming the electrification laggard into a leader.
In a recent “New Management Policy & Direction Announcement,” three of Toyota’s top execs assured us that the company is serious about electrification, but also reaffirmed a commitment to a “multi-pathway solution,” in which hybrids and hydrogen will play leading roles.
“We will thoroughly implement electrification, which we can do immediately,” said new President and CEO Koji Sato. “To steadily reduce CO2 emissions…we will promote the practical popularization of electrified vehicles. We will strengthen sales of hybrid electric vehicles, including in emerging markets, and increase the number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle options. We will expand our lineup of battery electric vehicles, or BEVs, which represent one important option, over the next several years. And we will also accelerate projects for the realization of the hydrogen society that lies just beyond.”
It’s important to understand that, to Toyota, “electrification” includes hybrids and hydrogen vehicles. The way we parse the execs’ statements, what they’re talking about is a gradual shift, not a revolution (to be fair, this vision of a slow and orderly transition seems to be the prevailing view in most automakers’ executive suites).
The execs are certainly talking about pure EVs—in their statements, the word “battery” was used 18 times, and “BEV” occurred 13 times. Meanwhile, “hybrid” was mentioned 11 times, and “hydrogen” reared its head 8 times.
And yes, they do intend to take action. Executive Vice President Hiroki Nakajima, who will be in charge of products, announced that Toyota plans to release ten new BEVs by 2026, and these are expected to deliver 1.5 million units of annual sales. The company also plans to release “next-generation BEVs” with double the driving range of today’s models.
Perhaps the biggest news item in the announcement was that Toyota plans to develop a new generation of PHEVs featuring an electric range greater than 200 km (124 miles), which would allow most trips to be made on electricity (while preserving such features as oil changes and belt and hose replacements).
Hydrogen fuel cells remain very much a part of Toyota’s strategy, although the company may be moving away from their use in passenger cars.
“For FCEVs, we will pursue mass production centered on commercial vehicles,” said Mr. Nakajima, who went on to repeat the same talking points that hydrogen fans have relied on for years: hydrogen is lightweight, so “the vehicle is not as heavy as a battery EV,” and “refueling is also much quicker.” (As battery technology continues to improve, these marginal advantages seem likely to disappear over the next few years.)
Most of our colleagues in the EV media also seem to be underwhelmed by Toyota’s recent announcements. CleanTechnica writes that the slumbering giant “is beginning to stir,” although “it may be they have left it too late.”
Electrek noted that although 1.5 million EV sales may sound like a lot, it would represent less than 15% of Toyota’s total sales, and just barely more EVs than Tesla sold last year.
A 124-mile PHEV does sound intriguing, but Autocar and others noted that there are serious questions about their real-world emissions. A 2022 report from the International Council on Clean Transportation found that real-world CO2 emissions from plug-in hybrids were typically far higher than the measurements given in their approval process.