Electric Vehicles as Part of the Mix
Automakers around the world are betting big on electric vehicles. Regulatory pressure to quickly reach aggressive carbon-reduction targets has driven car brands to invest heavily in electric and battery technology, with hundreds of new electric cars set to debut over the next several years.
Toyota, one of the industry leaders in electrifying its offerings, having introduced one of the first hybrid cars more than 20 years ago, is one company that has made a massive commitment, and will bring up to 30 new EVs to market over the next decade. However, when speaking with reporters at the launch of an electric pickup truck in Thailand, chief executive Akio Toyoda once again reiterated that EVs like its new bZ4X are not everything at Toyota.
The company continues to believe the best way forward is to develop a number of different powertrain technologies, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen vehicles, using both combustion engines and fuel cells. This is contrary to the general direction of the industry, which is increasingly “all in” on battery electric.
Multiple Powertrain Options
“People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Toyoda suggested to reporters at the event. “That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly. The right answer is still unclear, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just one option.”
Toyota’s decarbonization strategy has always involved multiple powertrain options to suit different needs. Electric cars are a great fit for daily use by urban and suburban dwellers, but still have compromises for long trips. For trucks and commercial vehicles, the weight of batteries can compromise payload and towing capacity, making hybrid technology or hydrogen a better fit. And the introduction of hybrid and plug-in hybrid capability into a huge number of Toyota models has helped the brand reduce the carbon footprint of its entire lineup, though without headline-grabbing (but low-volume) EVs.
Carbon, Not Combustion, is the Enemy
“To achieve carbon neutrality, we must remember that carbon is the real enemy, not a particular powertrain,” said Toyoda during the press conference. “BEVs are not the only way to achieve the world’s carbon neutrality goals. At Toyota we believe in creating a full portfolio of carbon-reducing choices for our customers from hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles, battery electric cars, and fuel cell vehicles.”
He acknowledged that his efforts to convoy his point to stakeholders and government officials has been tiring. But there does seem to be growing interest across the automotive industry in developing a broader portfolio of carbon-reduction strategies. Porsche has invested in synthetic fuel production in Chile. Mazda is rolling out hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology across its lineup. Honda expects half of the new CR-V and Accord models it sells will be hybrids – a huge jump from years past. And like Toyota, BMW is also developing hydrogen fuel cell and combustion engines.
“Two years ago, I was the only person making these kinds of statements,” Toyoda said. While all of the world’s largest car companies have made big commitments to electric cars, their profits still largely come from combustion-engine businesses. Decarbonizing the vehicles that are helping fund the zero-emissions revolution is good for everybody involved.