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."
Toyota built its reputation on long-lasting, reliable cars with low repair cost. In 2010, Toyota claimed "80% of all Toyotas sold in the last 20 years are still on the road today."
The more accurate truth is that about 45% of Toyotas sold between 1990 and 1998 are still on the road. That's still impressive. Toyota may be smart enough to wait and see what dominates the market and has longevity.
Many of the EV vs Hybrid discussions take me back to the beta vs VHS debates.
GTOlover, this is generally the case with the Japanese companies. Their approach is mass market. Many car companies make marque cars to stimulate interest, but the real money in cars is the mass market vehicle.
The comment about bail outs is interesting as well. Don't forget, it is the union benefit kicker of $2K per vehicle that put American companies at risk. Toyota, and many other foreign companies are doing very well in their US plants.
Rob, this also seems to align to an earlier DN article about Japanese cars waiting on the newest tech until it is reliable and affordable. Maybe Toyota is just able to see the big picture of profitibility. I also do not recall Toyota accepting a government structured bailout.
Interesting article Chuck. Looks like Toyota has concluded that EVs will not catch on any time soon. Perhaps Tesla has cornered a narrow niche and that's it. It says a lot that a company like Toyota doesn't envision a world of EVs.
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