Toyota's North American CEO Isn't Exactly Brimming With Enthusiasm for EVs

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
toyotas north american ceo isnt exactly brimming with enthusiasm for evs

When it comes to electric vehicles, Toyota’s North American CEO seems to be on a different page than the company’s big boss, Akio Toyoda. A different page than Ford and General Motors, too. Maybe it’s because Toyoda has the entire globe in his sights, including many EV-hungry markets, while Jim Lentz can only look around, see low, low gas prices and a niche market dominated by a single player, and feel a rush of meh.

Lentz aired his views on our would-be electric future Wednesday, suggesting it would take draconian measures by the government to pry a healthy slice of Americans away from the gas pump. He’s not too enthused with Tesla, either.

Speaking at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Lentz said the hype surrounding Tesla belies the fact that conditions for EV adoption in the U.S. are terrible, Wards Auto reports.

In Lentz’s mind, nothing short of government regulation could force consumers to step away from sub two-dollar gasoline and nudge the EV take rate up at a reasonable clip. Continued slow growth, led by one manufacturer (Tesla), is what the future holds, he claims.

“There’s not much growth in that industry,” Lentz said, adding that some automakers might be focusing too much on the future and not on the next few years.

Indeed, Wards data shows just over 1.2 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. last year were battery electric vehicles. While EV sales did rise 103.7 percent in 2018, the bulk of that sales tally was taken up by Tesla. Hybrids, both regular and plug-in, still outsold EVs by more than two to one.

As the creator of the first mass-market hybrid vehicle, Toyota has expressed doubt about the rush to field fully electric vehicles before. It’s still bullish on hybrids, but has, especially in the past year or two, shown a willingness to advance its own plans for EVs. There’s now a plan to introduce 10 such models in various markets by early next decade.

Because Tesla is such a big player in America’s still niche EV market, Lentz doesn’t see it as a major competitor to his business, though he admits it could be hurting Prius sales.

“(Musk) is creating an entirely new segment of vehicles,” he said, adding that 70 percent of Tesla buyers are beholden to the brand, and wouldn’t consider a competitor’s product. “And by that, I don’t view Tesla products as luxury products. Those of us who only separate the world between luxury and non-luxury, we’re missing the point. Tesla has created this new category of a technology-driven product.”

While Toyota’s Prius and Prius Prime plug-in do not overlap with any existing Tesla in terms of price, personal finances can change and the Tesla brand has already overtaken the Prius nameplate in eco snob appeal. Sales of the Prius family fell 19.4 percent in 2018.

[Image: Toyota]

Join the conversation
2 of 59 comments
  • Kendahl Kendahl on Jan 17, 2019

    I used to say that it wouldn't bother me if the Ferrari I can't afford got 40, 50 or 80 miles per gallon as long as it still could do 0-60 in less than 4 seconds and topped out above 180 mph. I feel the same way about pure electric cars. They have the acceleration and top speed but their average speed sucks due to the time they must spend recharging on trips that exceed their range.

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jan 18, 2019

    I have insider information that Toyota is working on the car with a small nuclear reactor (like one you saw in "Martian"). You charge it once during manufacturing. So it is superior to any ICE or BEV vehicle. Almost zero maintenance and no need to refuel or charge. You can also use it as the energy source during disaster.

  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.
  • Jeff S Got to give credit to Chrysler for putting the 300 as a rear wheel drive back on the market. This will be a future classic.