The "father of the Prius" said this week that his company plans to continue to push the state of the art in hybrid technology, and added that most consumers aren't yet ready for pure electric vehicles.
"The reason why Toyota doesn't introduce any major (all-electric product) is because we do not believe there is a market to accept it," Takeshi Uchiyamada said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal following a speech at the Economic Club of Washington D.C. on Monday. Uchiyamada, now serving as chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., added that electric vehicles still need breakthroughs in battery technology before they can lock down a position as mainstream products.
Toyota says it will continue to invest in the Prius family of hybrids.
(Source: Toyota Motor Corp.)
Uchiyamada's comments were consistent with Toyota's longtime message. Over the past few years, the giant automaker has repeatedly insisted that pure electric vehicles don't offer the range and cost necessary to appeal to mainstream consumers, which is why its engineers opted to design a plug-in version of the Prius in 2011, rather than a battery-electric. "We think that a very, very small number of people will buy a car for their average use, rather than their exceptional use," Bill Reinert, national manager of advanced technology vehicles for Toyota Motor Sales USA, told Design News in 2011. "Even if you're covered in 90 percent of the cases, you're unlikely to buy a car that leaves you uncovered 10 percent of the time."
Toyota currently offers one pure EV to the automotive marketplace. The RAV4 EV uses a lithium-ion battery and electric powertrain from partner company, Tesla Motors. When the vehicle rolled out in 2012, Toyota stated it would build just 2,600 of them over three years.
In contrast, Toyota is investing heavily in its next-generation Prius. The company plans to boost the Prius' fuel economy by 10 percent or more, meaning it could have a combined fuel economy rating of 55 mpg or more.
Over the past year, the world's biggest automaker has increasingly become a minority in its reluctance to go pure electric. This year, BMW rolled out its i3 electric car and Volkswagen announced plans to make a serious step toward electrification. Tesla and Smart also have pure EVs coming out next year.
In the past, Toyota has credited itself with laying much of the groundwork for today's electric car movement, especially in terms of motors, batteries, and electronics. The company has also said many times that the pure electric car has never been off its radar, but it has nevertheless insisted that the hybrid is more than just an interim solution. "Some people say hybrid vehicles such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future," Uchiyamada reportedly said this week. "But we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one. There are many more gains we can achieve with hybrids."