Toyota, once a world leader in automotive electrification, has long since lost its crown, after hybrids began taking back seat to plug-in hybrids and fully-electric vehicles. Now that many governments are requiring automakers to drop their range-wide CO2 emissions, EVs are becoming a necessity, which is why Toyota has given in and announced its first mass-market BEV, the bZ4X.
And if you were wondering why no other electric Toyotas are expected to be launched in the near future (even though many manufacturers already have more than one EV on sale and several more planned to be launched soon), it’s because the Japanese giant doesn’t seem to be committed to the idea yet.
How do we know this? Well we don’t directly, but we can infer it by observing what the manufacturer is spending its resources on. For instance, instead of launching a BEV, Toyota opted to offer the Mirai FCV instead and now the automaker debuted a hydrogen-burning engine (albeit in a racing application, for now) after developing it for over six years.
It’s an internal-combustion 1.6-liter three-cylinder engine that’s currently still just a prototype made its public debut in a Toyota Corolla race car, with none other than company CEO, Akio Toyoda, at the wheel. The engine itself is related to the three-banger powering the hot new GR Yaris, but by burning hydrogen instead of gasoline, Toyota says it is far cleaner as a result, emitting much less carbon dioxide.
Toyoda drove the Corolla racer with the hydrogen engine in a 24-hour endurance race after which he was quoted as saying
The ultimate goal is carbon neutrality. It shouldn't be about rejecting hybrids and gasoline cars and only selling fuel cells and battery-electric cars. We want to expand the choices available in the path to carbon neutrality. This is the first step.
Automotive News also quotes Takaki Nakanishi, head auto analyst at the Nakanishi Research Institute, as saying
Toyota isn't doing this because it's behind in EVs. Toyota's doing this to save Japan's auto industry and its domestic supply chain. This is a performance by Toyoda to influence policy in a better direction.
Akio Toyoda’s view is that a sudden shift from making ICE vehicles to full EVs would seriously disrupt Japan’s domestic car building industry. It would leave thousands of people without work and it may even spell the end for some companies with insufficient resources to adapt. His reasons are therefore more pragmatic than dogmatic and they have more to do with keeping Japan’s car building centers going than anything else.
However, there are no other manufacturers treading the same path as Toyota. Governments are putting pressure on companies to make zero tailpipe emissions vehicles and many have embraced the trend, launching or announcing multiple fully-electric models. If Toyota doesn’t change course within the next few years, when it does decide it’s okay to finally really focus on EVs, it may be too late.