Opinion: Five minutes that could make Toyota a leader in EVs

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Unveiling 15 upcoming cars at once was a bold move by Akio Toyoda – but it wasn’t all bluster.

Toyota’s decision to unveil an entire motor show’s worth of new cars in a single presentation yesterday was as remarkable a public insight into a company’s future model plans as any in living memory.

It’s one thing to say the cars you’ll be making in the future, quite another to show them all. Unprecedented, even. The best we could muster was Dany Bahar’s Lotus a decade ago, when seven concepts were unveiled at the Paris motor show – about as unfair a comparison to what Toyota has done as Peckham Spring to champagne.

This is the way now at Toyota, a company that only a decade ago was about as large a corporate machine as you could imagine but is now a car maker packed full of surprises and bold statements backed up with actions, all in the image of its leader, Akio Toyoda.

Toyota is not a brand to dip its toe into something to see how it goes. It goes in big, having carefully weighed up the merits of doing so to avoid merely jumping on a bandwagon.

To that end, there had been rumblings that Toyota had been slow to move towards full electrification, something that legislation has made an inevitability. Yet those rumblings will be no more after the unveiling of the 15 concept cars that are likely to form the basis of many of the production cars needed for Toyota to hit its target of selling 3.5 million electric cars per year by 2030. Toyoda said he is now “interested in future EVs”, having not been so until now.

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It was also announced that Lexus would be an electric-only brand in Europe by 2030 and everywhere by 2035, a logical step given its market positioning. Intriguingly, though, the same will not happen to Toyota.

Toyoda said his company is not yet wholly sure what the ultimate uptake and technology direction will be for electric cars and, as such, is keeping all future technology options on the table to respond to the needs of customers as different solutions emerge.

For example, Toyota is still very much backing hydrogen as a fuel of the future, and the company’s engineering prowess and influence over Japanese industrial strategy gives that fuel a high chance of more widespread commercial success and uptake in the longer term.

Toyota is unlikely to want to turn its back on more than two decades of development of hybrid technology, either, which it remains convinced offers significant emissions benefits at a much lower cost.

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Hydrogen and hybrids aren’t the only options, either, as Toyota is one of several major car makers investigating e-fuels. “Banning internal combustion engines might be picking a fight with the wrong enemy,” Steve Sapsford, managing director of consultancy firm SCE, told a recent Autocar Business webinar on the topic. “Stopping our dependence on fossil fuels is where we should be focused.”

It’s this kind of holistic and indeed realistic approach to future powertrains that we need, and once again Toyota is leading the discussion not just with words but with actions, too. It might well produce 15 electric cars within the next few years to satisfy that particular trend, but you can be sure these won’t be the only Toyotas you can buy.

Mark Tisshaw

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