Almost two decades ago, Toyota Motor The US automaker became a favorite among environmentalists and eco-conscious consumers with its Prius Hybrid, an “electrified” vehicle that was among the cleanest and most fuel-efficient cars ever produced.
Amid rising gas prices, demand for the car has soared and inspired other automakers to roll out a litany of hybrid models. Prius vehicles, including plug-in hybrid electric models, are among America’s most fuel-efficient, gas-powered vehicles.
But as the auto industry transitions to a battery-powered future, the Japanese automaker is on the side of some of its once-core supporters, ironically, because of the reluctance of the Prius and Toyota to invest in all-electric vehicles.
Kathryn Garcia, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, wrote, “The truth is: A hybrid is not green technology today. The Prius Hybrid runs on the same pollution-emitting combustion engine found in any gas-powered vehicle.” Recent blog posts.
Greenpeace last week ranked Toyota near the bottom of a survey of 10 automakers’ decarbonization efforts, citing slow progress in its supply chain and sales of zero-emission vehicles such as EVs that account for less than 1% of total sales.
While automakers such as General motor, Volkswagen And others have pledged to invest billions of dollars in recent years to build all-electric cars that don’t need gas-powered engines like the Prius, with Toyota lagging behind, recently announcing similar investments. It also continues to invest in a portfolio of “electrified” vehicles – from traditional hybrids like the Prius to its recently launched, yet understated, bZ4X electric crossover.
The strategy has put the world’s largest automaker at odds with many of its rivals, and raised questions about its commitment to a sustainable path for the industry, despite the company’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Toyota is not alone in such plans. Stellantis, Ford And other Japanese automakers are similarly investing in electrified hybrid models. But at the hands of the parent of mainstream hybrid vehicles, a conservative approach to EVs is notable.
Toyota executives, while increasing investment in all-electric vehicles, the company’s strategy is rational – not all regions of the world will adopt EVs at the same pace, they say, because of the high cost of the vehicles as well as a lack of infrastructure. .
“As much as people want to talk about EVs, the marketplace is not mature enough and not ready enough … to the level that we need to have a mass movement,” said Jack Hollis, executive vice president of sales at Toyota Motor North, America, during a virtual Automotive Press Association meeting last month.
In December, Toyota announced plans to invest 4 trillion yen, or about $28 billion now, in a lineup of 30 battery-powered electric vehicles by 2030.. At the same time, it continues to invest in hybrids like the Prius and other potential battery-electric vehicle options.
“We want to give every person a way to make the most of their contribution to solving climate change. And we know that the answer is not to treat everyone the same,” said Gil Pratt, Toyota’s chief scientist and CEO of Toyota Research. Institute, during a media event last month in Michigan.
Weeks ago, the company announced it would spend up to $5.6 billion on hybrid and all-electric battery production in Japan and the US to support its previously announced plans. That may sound like a lot, but it’s dwarfed by others like GM and VW.
GM, for example, has set a goal of offering exclusively zero-emission, electric vehicles by 2030, including its Cadillac and Buick brands. Several other automakers have made similar promises or set sales targets of 50% or more of their cars. All North America will be electric.
Toyota aims to sell 3.5 million electric cars per year by 2030, which would be more than a third of its current sales. Those sales include about 1 million units of its luxury Lexus brand, which then plans to offer the EV exclusively in Europe, North America and China.
Toyota Motor Corporation vehicles are seen at a briefing on the company’s strategies for battery EVs on December 14, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Kim Kyung-hoon Reuters
Paul Watti, manager of industry analysis at AutoPacific, believes that Toyota is “definitely on the conservative” side when it comes to electric vehicles, but that’s not a bad thing for such a large automaker.
“I think they’re hedging their bets,” he said. “From a global perspective, a lot of markets are moving at different speeds. The US is slower than Europe and China in EV adoption but there are other markets where there is no infrastructure. Taking a diversified approach to powertrains makes sense globally. Automakers.”
In 2021, Toyota sold 10.5 million vehicles in approximately 200 countries and regions, more than any other global automaker, including subsidiaries Daihatsu Motors and Hino Motors. Volkswagen – the world’s second-largest automaker – sold 8.9 million vehicles in 153 countries, and GM and its joint ventures sold 6.3 million vehicles, primarily in North America and Asia.
Just one solution
Toyota believes that all-electric vehicles are one The solution, not the solution, is the company’s goal to become carbon neutral.
“For the foreseeable future, I’m not investing on the assumption that battery electrics are 100% of the market. I don’t see it,” said Jim Adler, founding managing director of Toyota Ventures, the automaker’s venture capital unit. “It will be a really mixed market.”
Toyota executives expect different regions of the world to adopt electric vehicles at different rates, based largely on available energy, infrastructure and the raw materials needed for batteries to power the vehicles.
2022 Toyota Mirai hydrogen powered fuel cell electric vehicle
Beyond hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles, Toyota has invested heavily in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, including the second generation of its Mirai.
Hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles operate much like battery-electric vehicles but are powered by electricity generated from hydrogen and oxygen, with water vapor as the only byproduct. They are filled with a nozzle just like traditional gas and diesel cars.
“BEVs, fuel cells, plug-in hybrids, all of these mitigation tools are going to happen and they’re all important,” Hollis said.
Still, fuel cell vehicles face the same challenges as all electric cars: cost, lack of infrastructure and consumer understanding.
Toyota said it is also looking into e-fuel, which officials say is a climate neutral fuel that can replace gasoline in non-electric vehicles.
Costs and materials
And middle-ground options come with lower price tags.
For example, a 2022 Toyota Prius Hybrid with an EPA rating of up to 56 mpg starts at around $25,000. That’s about $17,000 less than the automaker’s all-electric bZ4X crossover.
A 2023 Toyota bZ4X electric vehicle (EV) during the Washington Auto Show on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Washington, DC.
Al Drago Bloomberg | Getty Images
Electric vehicle batteries are very expensive, and prices continue to rise due to inflation and demand for materials such as lithium, cobalt and nickel needed to make battery cells.
According to consulting firm Alix Partners, raw material prices for electric vehicles have more than doubled during the coronavirus pandemic.
This makes Toyota’s hybrid strategy somewhat economical – relatively speaking. Toyota also claims there aren’t enough minerals to go around.
“For the next 10 years or so, there’s going to be tremendous disruption in the supply of lithium around the world,” Pratt said. “Just look at how many mines need to be built. Battery-grade nickel is also going to be a bottleneck because the number of refineries will have to pay if demand grows so fast.”
The Metal Co.A Canadian-based start-up, estimates that there is significantly insufficient production of battery-grade nickel, cobalt and manganese sulfates to reach US EV targets by 2030.
The publicly traded mining company predicts that even if all of the U.S.’s projected nickel sulfate production through 2030 is met and free trade agreement countries move to producing electric vehicles, it will deliver less than 60% of EV targets set by automakers by that time frame. .