In a recent interview with Automotive News, the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, was quoted discussing the company’s electric vehicles plans — seemingly making it clear that the CEO (and company namesake) remains somewhat ambivalent about the tech.
This isn’t too surprising, as the company has been taking its time entering the plug-in electric vehicle market in a serious way. Though, the new 2017 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is by most counts a very solid offering.
As we reported a few months back, the CEO is now heading a special project team focused on the development of an all-electric model to be released by 2020 (in time for the Tokyo Olympics, presumably). This project was reportedly started partly because of Tesla’s rapid market growth in recent years.
In the article mentioned above, the CEO made the comment that building an electric car that people would “love” didn’t seem to be a simple thing to do. I suppose that means that he believes building an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle that people love is simple? Do people love Toyotas? Do people love cars? (I was under the impression that cars were mostly about practical transport needs, and impractical status and wealth signaling.)
Green Car Reports provides more: “The story opens with the presentation of an all-electric version of the Toyota 86 sports car (nee Scion FR-S) to Toyoda by his engineering team as a gift. The CEO, it appears, was less than impressed. Asked for his impressions, he said plainly, ‘It’s an electric car.’ We’re not sure how you would translate the sentiment ‘Meh’ into Japanese, but that’s the feeling conveyed. …
“The structure he created as head of the electric-car group is flat, with only four leaders: Toyoda, plus representatives from Aisin Seiki, Densu, and Toyota Industrial, three suppliers within the company group.
“Toyoda is aware that electrifying the powertrain is not the only challenge: the company must also include connectivity with other vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure, and continue to integrate more electronic safety systems to move toward what will one day be a self-driving car.
“The answer to Toyoda’s question may be Tesla, and it’s clear that he’s aware of that company’s disruptive role over the last decade. ‘Think about Tesla,’ he told Automotive News reporter Hans Greimel. ‘Tesla is producing cars. And Toyota is producing cars. But what Tesla is producing is something close to an iPhone.'”
The Toyota CEO noted in the interview that the embrace of electric vehicles represented a “paradigm shift,” and that patience was needed while the company transitioned — so it seems clear that the CEO knows which way the wind is blowing.
Considering that developing and entering a completely new field of vehicle tech is in some ways likely to be a costly proposition, the CEO’s seeming reticence to do so makes some sense, but … better earlier rather than later, right? If a serious and relatively low-cost Toyota EV does hit the market in 2020, then the company could well steal market share from rival manufacturers. If it doesn’t, what’s Toyota’s fate?
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