Toyota Still Isn't Sold On An All-Electric Future

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Despite helping mainstream electrification with the hybridized Prius, Toyota still isn’t “all-in” on EVs. This is counter to the corporate rhetoric shared by many automakers and governments around the world. But CEO Akio Toyoda doesn’t see customers jumping onto the bandwagon as quickly as Toyota’s industrial rivals originally assumed. 

That’s not to suggest the Japanese company is completely snubbing EVs, however. Toyota plans on offering a mix of all-electric, hybrid, and traditional gasoline vehicles for the foreseeable future. It’s even throwing some hydrogen-powered cars into the mix for good measure. But an all-electric lineup seems to have been taken off the table of possibilities. 

“[Battery-electric vehicles] are just going to take longer than the media would like us to believe,” Toyota was quoted as saying to dealers gathered in Las Vegas. 

The grandson of Toyota’s founder added that the company would offer the “widest possible” variation of powertrains, noting that it's what consumers would want before adding that the matter was not subject to change. 

“That’s our strategy and we’re sticking to it,” he said.

Bloomberg noted that this stance has gotten Toyota into trouble with select groups. Greenpeace has placed the company at the bottom of its ranking of global automakers’ “decarbonization efforts” and the business has gotten pushback from pro-EV shareholders. But Toyota leadership has held firm on the position, often reiterating that the industrial landscape may not be as clear as its rivals assume or that it’s just thinking about the needs of today’s customers. 

Criticisms have also been made about the Prius, a vehicle that formerly served as the poster child for green automobiles. In 2014, anybody who wanted to look like they were saving the environment bought a Prius. Today, those people buy EVs – leaving the Prius to be consumed by Uber drivers and regular commuters focused on maximizing fuel economy. 

“The fact is: a hybrid today is not green technology,” Katherine Garcia, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation For All campaign, alleged in a blog post last month. “The Prius hybrid runs on a pollution-emitting combustion engine found in any gas-powered car.”

Presumably, Garcia is unaware that EVs also produce pollution-emitting combustion when their batteries are being manufactured and whenever they’re charging on a grid that’s reliant on fossil fuels. But that hasn’t stopped critics from suggesting Toyota is clinging to the vehicle like a shield, whereas companies like General Motors have made formal commitments to phase out anything that isn’t battery-powered by 2035. Of course, GM’s next big electric will be the three-ton GMC Hummer – a vehicle that seems to wallow in its own excessive nature. 

Meanwhile, CEO Toyota Toyoda has expressed an ongoing skepticism that manufacturers will be able to achieve the California mandate that will effectively ban gasoline-fueled vehicles by 2035 and require a substantial portion of every company’s sales to be EVs by 2030. The European Union has a nearly identical timeline in place with New York State introducing similar regulations just this week. But while the pressure mounts, Japan’s largest automaker doesn’t seem interested in changing course.

“Toyota is a department store of all sorts of powertrains,” Toyota explained in Vegas. “It’s not right for the department store to say, ‘This is the product you should buy.’”

“We have to look at the current price range and infrastructure availability and at what pace they’re going to be upgrading,” he continued. “Realistically speaking, it seems rather difficult to achieve.”

Last year, Toyota pledged to spend 4 trillion yen ($28 billion USD) to deliver 30 electric vehicles by 2030. While that’s hardly chump change, Bloomberg reported that the figure is less than half of the $50 billion pledged by Ford Motor Co. through 2026. Toyota is well aware of this and has previously suggested that his company may just be better at spending its money wisely. 

“Our investments may appear smaller than others’, but when you look at what Toyota has been doing over the last 20 years, the total amount might not necessarily be small,” he said.

While we cannot say with any certainty that Toyota-san is correct, there have been a lot of logistical issues standing in the way of global electrification. Despite years of heavy government incentives and mounting social pressure, procuring the resources necessary for battery production has remained difficult. It’s actually been so troublesome that EV prices have remained substantially higher than their internal-combustion counterparts. Meanwhile, charging technologies seem to be advancing at a slower pace than originally hoped and much of the planet presently lacks a comprehensive charging network that would work for places where people tend to cover a lot of ground in a personal conveyance. 

We’ve likewise been getting hints that other automakers may be losing faith in near-term electrification as well. While Volkswagen Group was among the first legacy automakers to formally commit itself to fleetwide electrification, it has had serious issues bringing its first EVs to market. The VW subsidiary that was supposed to be leading the charge – Audi – has also started to soften its language on the matter as well. 

Earlier this week, the Technical Project Manager behind the Audi RS5 also told CarBuzz in an interview that he believed internal combustion engines would remain in play well beyond 2030. But this was roughly a year after the brand had announced it had already stopped developing new combustion engines in order to meet the upcoming Euro 7 emission standards. The company is also working on synthetic fuels that may help it circumvent regulations by delivering an allegedly cleaner-burning alternative to gasoline or diesel. 

Considering the failures of earlier bio-fuels (e.g. corn-based ethanol), it may be wise to be skeptical. But it’s an alternative route for Volkswagen Group to take – and one the automaker seems quite interested in.

As for Toyota, nothing seems to be off the table just yet.

[Image: James Hime/Shutterstock]

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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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11 of 138 comments
  • Cprescott Cprescott on Oct 04, 2022

    For once I'm with Toyoduh - I believe the real future is hybrid technology that doesn't enslave customers to the grid and to exclusive and expensive to replace battery packs.

    • See 7 previous
    • EBFlex EBFlex on Oct 06, 2022

      How about those FCA sales figures you said didn’t exist? Any comment on those or are you just going to try and avoid them by making up more lies about what I said?

  • Heron Heron on Oct 05, 2022

    What the mighty F-150 is capable of.

    • EBFlex EBFlex on Oct 06, 2022

      Lol. What an absolutely pathetic excuse for a truck. The range is laughable and it’s only pulling about a third of what it’s rated for. Electric vehicles are such a political boondoggle. All the resources and damage to the planet to come up with a truck that’s good for about 100 miles while towing. Ford should be embarrassed

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.