The Next Big Step in an All-Electric Future
At the end of 2021, Toyota announced plans for a massive transition to all-electric cars. Long a leader in hybrid technology, Toyota had lagged in EV technology, preferring to roll out hybrid versions of almost all its models, reducing consumption and emissions across the board. Regulatory pressures and customer demand, however, forced Toyota to rethink – and the company is now working on introducing over 30 new battery-powered vehicles in the next few years. All of Toyota’s battery-electric vehicles will be branded “bZ,” standing for “beyond zero,” and the company’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality.
The first of those vehicles, the bZ4X, was introduced earlier in 2022, and the first of these crossovers have already been delivered to customers. Starting at an MSRP of $42,000 before incentives, the bZ4X is built on an all-new full-electric platform and offers up to 228 miles of range, according to EPA estimates.
At the Los Angeles Auto show in November, Toyota previewed its next full-electric model, a compact SUV that will slot into the lineup below the bZ4X. It’s called the bZ Compact SUV concept, and to us, it looks ready to go into production.
The bZ Compact SUV Concept is, like the bZ4X, designed from the start as a full battery-electric vehicle – meaning that doesn’t suffer any of the compromises from being adapted from a gasoline vehicle. The bZ Compact SUV sits on an appealingly small footprint, but thanks to its compact electric motors and the batteries being positioned under the floor, it has a remarkably spacious cabin.
It also looks great. Toyota calls the design approach of the bZ Compact SUV “clean-vital,” with the goal of expressing what’s special about battery-electric vehicles. Highlighting the sustainable nature of the car, as well as the electrifying performance, the lines of the bZ compact are simple and unadorned – while also suggesting speed and responsiveness. As you would expect, high-tech elements abound, including sharp LED lighting.
The aerodynamic profile of the bZ Compact SUV enhances the futuristic look by pushing the wheels to the corners to achieve an aggressive stance – making it appear as if it’s moving even when standing still. The electric-first platform has also allowed Toyota’s designers to work in very short overhangs and sweepback angles – giving it a sporty, advanced look. A narrowed-down cabin design gives it an agile appearance as well as a low coefficient of drag.
Sustainable Interior Materials
The futuristic styling of the bZ Compact SUV extends to the interior. While everything you see and touch looks and feels premium, the materials are all eco-friendly. The seats are made from plant-based and recycled materials, in accordance with the theme of carbon neutrality. The dashboard is covered in a wool-like fabric, and controls are minimalist in their appearance.
Like the Lexus RZ electric SUV, and some Tesla models, the bZ Compact SUV has a “yoke” instead of a conventional steering wheel. It’s connected to a “steer-by wire” electronic steering system, and makes the cabin feel more open and airy. The steer-by-wire system means you never have to go hand-over-hand when parking or making tight turns.
Most of the bZ Compact SUV’s functions are controlled using a large central touch screen, perched between the driver and front passenger. There is also an in-car personal agent named ”Yui.” With the use of audio and visual lighting cues that move around the cabin, the digital assistant responds to voice requests or commands from front or rear passengers.
What Does This Mean For Toyota?
“We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of this” said Toyota USA’s vice president and general manager David Christ. “With an aerodynamic design coupled with intuitive tech features never before seen in a Toyota model, the bZ Concept showcases another possible vision of the very near future with our battery electric vehicles.”
Toyota’s Beyond Zero strategy envisions a near future in which its carbon neutrality is achieved through a practical product lineup with advanced, alternative-fuel and zero-emission powertrain technologies. Globally, Toyota plans to expand to around 30 dedicated battery-electric cars, including five carrying the bZ brand. There will be SUVs of every size, family sedans, luxury Lexus models, and even work trucks.
Of any manufacturer, Toyota should be well-prepared to make the transition to electric. It’s been working with batteries since establishing an electric vehicle development division as early as 1992, and even sold a full-electric RAV4 SUV in 1996. The Prius was one of the first hybrids on the market in 1997, and has sold millions of copies globally. So far, Toyota has produced over 19 million hybrid and electric vehicle batteries.
The bZ Compact SUV may be a concept car at the moment – but it’s a demonstration of Toyota’s commitment to electric, and to us, it looks ready to sell. You’ll likely see a production version of it on American roads in the near future.