Are Toyota, Mazda, and Subaru Doing the Right Thing By Snubbing EVs?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Toyota, Mazda, and Subaru conducted a press event designed to explain why they’re walking away from full-blown electrification. While this is something numerous automakers have done in recent months, the “Multipathway Workshop” faced a predictable amount of criticism from EV acolytes.

The event was hosted by a trio of Japanese CEOs and their top engineers to explain to the world how they planned on tackling emissions regulations without being overwhelmingly reliant on battery electric automobiles. According to Automotive News, the conference lasted roughly three hours and included numerous prototype vehicles and engine designs.

From Automotive News:

But the presentation, led by Toyota, left plenty of questions unanswered. Time frames, costs, investment figures, efficiency gains, plans for corporate synergies — a whole range of concrete details — were left fuzzy or simply not addressed.
The companies' proposition for multiple paths to carbon neutrality is persuasive, assuming the transition to a cleaner future ruled by electric vehicles will be halting and slow.
But room for doubt abounds, from the assumptions underpinning Toyota's calculations on emissions to the lofty optimism in futuristic carbon neutral fuels and the focus on saving jobs.

While each brand was provided time for presentations, Toyota CEO Koji Sato served as the master of ceremonies and focused on the fact that combustion-equipped hybrids are roughly as environmentally friendly as battery electric vehicles — noting that the final results would vary based upon how individual regions sourced their electricity.

Automotive News criticized the company for not being thorough with its presentation by suggesting it didn’t go far enough in terms of addressing supply chains and overseas shipping. It then griped about the automakers not having provided fresh ideas.

Looking at the actual technology plans, only Toyota presented something entirely new. That was its plan for cleaner, downsized 1.4-liter and 2.0-liter engines that can work with hybrid setups and burn a range of carbon neutral fuels.
Subaru focused on its hybrid boxer engine project, something it already announced that enters production this fall. CEO Atsushi Osaki said Subaru remains committed to its horizontally opposed engine because it's a brand-building icon. But he offered little new insight into its future evolution.
Mazda CEO Masahiro Moro said his company will develop future versions of its trademark rotary engine to run on carbon neutral fuels and combine with electrified hybrid setups.
But that too was something the company has already outlined. However, Moro did shed a little new light, saying there will be one-and two-blade variants. The latter would be geared toward extra power and a lower center of gravity for sporty applications.

The rest focused on setting up tomorrow’s vehicles to run on synthetic e-fuels. E-fuels, which are typically made by combining hydrogen with captured carbon dioxide, are something German automakers are exploring aggressively right now. But they’re extremely expensive to produce in comparison to both regular and ethanol-blended gasoline. If they were being sold at your local filling station today, e-fuels would cost ten times as much on average.

Despite these fuels being presented as green by the companies developing them, they still produce emissions when burnt and require traditional engine designs that utilize the same fluids as whatever combustion model is presently sitting in your driveway. However, we could also say the same thing about the necessary battery mining for all-electric vehicles.

That said, anyone telling you that something is totally carbon neutral is probably lying. Everything has an environmental cost and entire industries have attempted to delude us into thinking that doesn’t have to be the case.

But government regulations and air quality aren't the only things the Japanese brands are worried about. They’re concerned with their own supply chains and the prospective job losses that would accompany a total shift to all-electric vehicles. The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association has likewise stressed its concern that a blind push toward EVs endangered the jobs of 5.5 million people in Japan who depend on the automotive industry to earn a living.

Japanese automakers seem less prone toward the sweeping layoffs associated with electrification and have even suggested that taking those steps could destabilize the country and usher in chaos. Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda has even suggested that it’s everyone’s patriotic duty to try and preserve jobs as a way to maintain quality of life and ensure towns dependent upon manufacturing continue to thrive.

While Automotive News stated that Toyota’s plan was likely a safe bet, it also suggested that the Japanese way of thinking was “a drag on the creative-destruction mantra that has powered some EV and autonomous driving startups to technological breakthroughs and rapid growth.” It also suggested that it could fall behind global innovators in China and Silicon Valley, potentially endangering jobs on a longer timeline.

Barring global improvements in energy production and battery efficiency, I’m inclined to disagree. Your author has been shouting from the rooftops for years that some automaker, likely Japanese, would just balk at every industry trend established over the last 10 years by refocusing on affordable automobiles with the kind of practicality the world expects from more traditional powertrains. The bottom line is that all-electric vehicles just aren’t working out for the masses and were effectively foisted upon us without the kind of preparation required to adhere to government targets. Consumer satisfaction surveys repeatedly show that the masses remain skeptical of EVs and broadly dislike most other modern vehicle trends (e.g. touch screens, advanced driving systems).

A lot of that is the fault of the industry for engaging in relentless double speak, rather than being objective about the matter. But some of it is our own fault for listening to out-of-touch bureaucrats, buying into the industry hype, and not realizing that the established timetables were utterly ridiculous. EVs certainly could work someday. But not in the manner that they’re currently being implemented and certainly not without improved battery efficiencies and more-comprehensive charging solutions. Regulatory pressures not withstanding, the automotive sector seems to have shot itself in the foot.

Toyota, Mazda, and Subaru appear to be trying to dodge that bullet while also developing the kind of powertrains that would avoid any excess government scrutiny. But that’s going to be easier said than done, based on the content of the AN article. The piece sounds skeptical of the companies “perpetuating internal combustion into the EV age” and gently framed the brands’ scheme as unrealistic and half baked.

Criticisms about how the plan likely will not fundamentally reshape the industry are certainly valid. While the automakers talked a good game about how these changes would result in exciting new designs that were EV adjacent due to hybridization, the resulting vehicles sound as though they’ll have more in common with the vehicle’s we’re driving today. However, that’s likely to be more feasible than literally every manufacturer quickly pivoting to expensive battery electric vehicles that depreciate swiftly and are now seeing weakening market demand.

You may feel differently about how things should be. But these are the realities we’re presently confronted with.

[Image: Toyota]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Namesakeone Namesakeone on Jun 05, 2024

    I read somewhere that Mazda, before the Volkswagen diesel scandal and despite presumably tearing apart and examining several Golfs and Jettas, couldn't figure out how VW did it and decided then not to offer a diesel. Later, when Dieselgate surfaced, it was hinted that Mazda did discover what Volkswagen was doing and kept quiet about it. Maybe Mazda realizes that they don't have the resources of Toyota and cannot do it as well, so they will concentrate on what they do well. Maybe Mazda will decide that they can do well with the RWD midsized sedan with the inline six they were considering a few years ago

  • CanadaCraig CanadaCraig on Jun 07, 2024

    VoGhost - you fool.

  • Theflyersfan Well, if you're on a Samsung phone, (noticing all of the shipping boxes are half Vietnamese), you're using a Vietnam-built phone. Apple? Most of ours in the warehouse say China, but they are trying to spread out to other countries because putting all eggs in the Chinese basket right now is not wise. I'm asking Apple users here (the point of above) - if you're OK using an expensive iPhone, where is your Made in China line in the sand? Can't stress this enough - not being confrontational. I am curious, that's all. Is it because Apple is California-based that manufacturing location doesn't matter, vs a company in a Beijing skyscraper? We have all weekend to hopefully have a civil discussion about how much is too much when it comes to supporting companies being HQ-ed in adversarial countries. I, for one, can't pull the trigger on a Chinese car. All kinds of reasons - political, human rights, war mongering and land grabbing - my morality is ruling my decisions with them.
  • Jbltg Ford AND VAG. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Leonard Ostrander We own a 2017 Buick Envision built in China. It has been very reliable and meets our needs perfectly. Of course Henry Ford was a fervent anti-semite and staunch nazi sympathizer so that rules out Ford products.
  • Ravenuer I would not.
  • V8fairy Absolutely no, for the same reasons I would not have bought a German car in the late 1930's, and I am glad to see a number of other posters here share my moral scruples. Like EBFlex I try to avoid Chinese made goods as much as possible. The quality may also be iffy, but that is not my primary concern