Toyota’s new slate of upcoming EVs offers a new narrative for a company that’s fallen behind in the race to electrification.
Unlike GM, VW, Ford, and other major carmakers, Toyota, once an industry leader in electrification, has set a conservative pace in their transition away from internal combustion. In fact, the company has said they don’t foresee an EV-only future anytime soon and as actively lobbied world governments to soften electrification targets.
And yet, Toyota recently unveiled over a dozen new electric concepts for both the Toyota and Lexus brands that marks a major shift for the company. Compared to their industry rivals, Toyota has been behind on pushing out new EVs. Their first electric-only vehicle, the bZ4x, released earlier this year.
Toyota has planned a $60 billion dollar investment into electrification through 2030, with half of that sum going to hybrid vehicles and half dedicated to electric-only vehicles. The company has said they believe hybrids still have a significant role to play in the near term, along with hydrogen fuel-cell and synthetic fuel technology.
Toyota’s gradual approach to electrification hasn’t sat well with all stakeholders.
Recent reporting by Reuters and other news agencies have highlighted lobbying efforts by Toyota to weaken or delay EV targets both in Japan and internationally. Company investors, including Dutch pension fund Akademiker Pension, have publicly criticized Toyota. Akademiker Pension CIO Anders Schelde said Toyota has earned “global laggard status” thanks to slow EV adoption and the company’s lobbying efforts.
Toyota’s recently debuted bZ4x crossover rests atop the company’s e-TNGA BEV (battery electric vehicle) platform. That platform will serve as the basis for much of Toyota’s forthcoming EV lineup. The odd alphanumeric name, bZ4x, stands for “beyond zero four-wheel drive,” with the bZ badge applied to Toyota’s new line of BEVs. Toyota has so far revealed four additional bZ vehicles: compact, small, and large SUVs, and a bZ sedan (looking about Camry-size). The smallest of the SUV is planned for European and domestic (Japanese) markets, while the largest SUV slated for the North American market.
While the bZ line looks good, they also aren’t a major departure for Toyota or current EV design aesthetics. More compelling was the new off-road oriented Compact Cruiser concept, the design language of which references the beloved FJ Cruiser. Also intriguing were a new electric sports car concept (!) and an electric pickup which looks very much like a Tacoma with a blanked grille.
Other new EV concepts include a pair of compact and subcompact vans, named the Mid Box and Micro Box respectively. As you might have guessed, both are quite boxy and a bit sci-fi looking. Lexus will get their own line of EVs, starting with a bZ4x equivalent in the Lexus RZ along with a new EV sports car, a sedan, and a three-row SUV. Toyota’s luxury arm says it will fully electrify its lineup (as in, both BEVs and hybrids) in major markets (US, China, and Europe) by 2030.
Toyota’s upcoming EV lineup and ever-expanding list of hybrid offerings look to take the company forward into a more electrified future. Yet, the company is currently laying out a more gradual transition than those of other industry players and actively lobbying against stringent benchmarks for EV production.
Toyota’s skepticism is widely shared within the industry, even by dedicated EV manufacturers. The likes of Stellantis’ CEO Carlos Tavares, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe have all recently voiced doubts about the industry’s ability to scale into an EV-only future within timelines put forth in current regulations and trade pacts. Without more investment, both public and private, into more raw materials procurement and battery production, the world’s major carmakers can’t get what they need to transition the global fleet from internal combustion to electric-only vehicles. The gulf between current (EV transition) targets and the ability of the industry to deliver on them is real.
Considering this, Toyota’s conservative approach is, from a business perspective, wise if self-serving. Toyota executives have repeatedly emphasized that their transition toward electrification is predicated on consumer enthusiasm and generating that buy-in from customers is a major hurdle (especially in the North American market). It would seem, Toyota is happy to build hybrids and EVs and let their customers decide how quickly the company shifts away from internal combustion. Like a lot else in capitalism, car buyers will be voting on an electric future with their wallets.