Toyota Says It May Finally Be Ready To Make An Electric Car

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Be still, my beating heart. Toyota, which is heavily committed to hybrid and fuel cell technology, announced this week that it has developed a flexible, scalable chassis for electric vehicles called e-TNGA and will take the wraps off an all new electric SUV destined for European customers in a few months.

Toyota electric SUV
Courtesy of Toyota

There are a couple of interesting things to note about this announcement. One, it doesn’t say anything about when this alleged electric SUV might actually go on sale. Two, the press release appears on Toyota’s European media site but is nowhere to be found on its global press site. Three, the press release, such as it is, is a total of 7 sentences long.

Most manufacturers pack such announcements full of details about range, battery size, horsepower, torque, charging times and how the the interior trim is made from recycled footwear. It’s almost as if this announcement is an afterthought, which pretty much describes the company’s approach to the EV revolution in general. Here’s what we know:

Toyota announced today that it will preview a brand-new model for its European Battery Electric line-up – a mid-sized battery-electric SUV based on the forthcoming the e-TNGA platform. Further details are to be announced in the coming months. At this stage, only a stylized silhouette and details of the platform architecture have been released.

The unnamed preview model will be based on Toyota’s new e-TNGA platform. Thanks to its clever design the new platform is both highly versatile and easily adaptable for a range of product types. The basic architecture principle is that a number of key elements remain fixed whilst others vary. This approach allows variance in vehicle width, length, wheelbase and height. e-TNGA can also be defined with front, rear, or four wheel drive and with a wide range of battery and electric motor capacities to suit various vehicle types and usage profiles.

By using this versatile approach, the development time of different product variants can be reduced and individual models can be developed in parallel. The first e-TNGA based model has already been developed and is being readied for production. Manufacturing will take place at Toyota’s ZEV Factory in Japan.

Toyota electric SUV
Courtesy of Toyota

Talk about dipping a toe in the water. Toyota’s embrace of EV technology reminds of us of the old joke about how to make love to a porcupine. The answer? Carefully. Very, very carefully. Car and Driver reports that in Europe this week, Koji Toyoshima, Toyota’s deputy chief officer at its ZEV Factory, said his company intends to sell 5.5 million electrified vehicles globally every year by 2025 and would introduce 60 new electrified vehicles by then. These numbers include hybrids, plug-in hybrids, EVs, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and probably a few special models powered by moonbeams and/or pixie dust.

Asked why Toyota is moving so slowly to bring electric cars to market, Andrea Carlucci, director of product and marketing for Toyota Europe, said Toyota’s hybrid technology has made it possible for the company to comply with Europe’s emissions standards so far without jumping too early into EVs. “However, hybrid success has given us the foundation we need, for other electrified powertrains — which will be introduced when the time, the market, and the infrastructure are right. And that time is getting closer.”

As is the end of the world as we know it, Andrea. Toyota apparently is quite content to muddle through with its business as usual approach for as long as possible, much as most of the world’s oil companies plan to keep selling their liquid death until the seas close over Manhattan. When it comes to exhibiting leadership in the effort to reduce global emissions from transportation, Toyota is missing in action and more than happy to let others do the heavy lifting.

Meanwhile, back in the US, back in the US, back in the US of A, Toyota North America CEO Tetsuo Ogawa tells Automotive News that an electric vehicle — as in one — will appear in American showrooms in the “short term.” He added that hybrid powertrains will remain the automaker’s core technology. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it seems to be the company’s attitude. Remember that Toyota is one of the auto companies that joined the efforts of the Tramp administration to strip California of its ability to set its own exhaust emissions standards.

Nevertheless, Toyota says it is hard at work developing solid state batteries and once that technology is perfected, it might consider offering some battery electric vehicles, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Toyota presumably is content to lead from the rear where it can safely benefit from the status quo for as long as possible.

In Other News…..

There is a corollary to this story. The Guardian reports that Toyota will not invest in building electric cars in the UK until after 2027, thanks to the market uncertainties brought about by Brexit. The company builds Corollas for the UK and European markets at its factory in Burnaston but 90% of those are exported. As things stand at the moment, on January 1, 2021 the cars made at that factory will be slapped with a 10% import duty by the EU.

The latest generation of the Corolla began production this year. Typically, the industry plans to produce each generation of cars for 7 years, which means the Corolla in its present form should remain in production until 2027. But Toyota says it won’t plan to invest in the next generation car until after 2027, which means the first Corolla with a zero emissions powertrain won’t be ready for market before 2034.

Sharp eyed readers will recall that the UK now plans to ban the sale of all cars with internal combustion engines by 2035 and is seriously considering moving that date forward to 2030. Where does that leave Toyota and production in the UK? If you said nowhere, go to the head of the class. It appears it will have to produce cars for the UK market elsewhere, which will mean higher prices for people living in the UK.

Toyota says its decision whether or not to invest in future production in the UK will depend on how market forces align after January 1 of next year. That brings to mind an old adage which the UK has conveniently ignored up to this point — be careful what you with for. You just might get it.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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