Last week, Toyota put out a press release telling us that there’s a battery-electric crossover SUV that the company is going to announce “in the coming months.” Yes, that’s right: they announced that they’re going to announce something sometime.
It might be somewhat exciting if another automaker did this, but Toyota has a bad track record with fully electric vehicles (BEVs) that makes it tough to extend much faith in the company’s announcement of a future announcement.
First, let’s go over the limited details.
Toyota released a very generic and vague silhouette of the SUV they plan to eventually, someday announce. I’m trying to get excited about this, but it’s just a very common shape for an SUV.
I could have written an article about the Chevrolet Blazer and claimed that the silhouette was for it, and people wouldn’t suspect that it wasn’t. It’s simply too generic of a shape for a crossover, and tells us nothing about Toyota’s approach to the upcoming (eventually) BEV other than it’s going to be generic and boring, like many of Toyota’s vehicles. They’re not helping to dispel any skepticism with the complete lack of detail.
Other than that, they are telling us that it’s going to be based on the e-TNGA platform. That’s cool, in many ways, but again tells us roughly nothing. The vehicle could be front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and could have battery packs and motors of various sizes.
“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.”
That’s a whole lot of words for “We aren’t telling you what the plan is here.”
In the end, Toyota’s press release is basically a non-announcement. We don’t know what the vehicle will look like, what the underpinnings will be like, when it will be announced, when it will be produced, or when it will be sold. There was no point in making this press release other than for it to be mocked by any serious EV publication.
Perhaps worst of all, they committed to nothing.
Why We Don’t Trust Toyota Anymore
Toyota has a lousy track record of committing to battery-electric vehicles, and a very solid track record of trying to not build them.
When California basically forced automakers to build a few electric vehicles in the late ’90s, Toyota did come out with a RAV4 EV. For its time, it was actually pretty solid. It had a nickel-metal hydride battery pack when most of the other EVs were running on lead-acid batteries. Range was 95 miles, and it had better durability than many other California-only EVs. A total of 1,484 units were sold.
This first generation of the RAV4 EV was killed by two things. First, California stopped requiring EV sales because automakers took the state to court. Also, Chevron held patents to nickel-metal hydride vehicle batteries, and wouldn’t allow continued production unless the batteries were very small (such as in a hybrid).
In 2012, Toyota put out another RAV4 EV. This second time, the vehicle was based on Tesla technology. Toyota built the car’s body, and Tesla supplied the battery pack, drivetrain, and other components to make it move. That version was produced until 2014, and was then discontinued.
Whenever there wasn’t much incentive to build EVs, Toyota did not do it. Instead, the company has been pushing hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and anything else that it could build to convince people that it’s got green credibility.
If there was any doubt that Toyota had hostility toward BEVs, its 2019 commercial made the truth clear:
Their “self charging” car is shown passing historical cars, a sports car on a tow truck, and then an impatient EV driver who’s looking at his watch to imply that he’s just sitting at the charger watching his car charge for a long period of time. Not only does Toyota not do EVs, but its marketing is even hostile to them.
In Toyota’s defense, the company later said that it think it’s better to sell a bunch of hybrids than just a few EVs given Toyota’s available battery supply, but that’s a punt. While other automakers are working to increase supply, lower costs, and improve working conditions for miners, Toyota is waiting to jump in until the work is done by other companies, assuming the automaker really intends to ever do that.
Given all of this history, it’s not unreasonable for us to receive Toyota’s non-announcement with a 50 pound bag of salt. Toyota has proven itself to be flaky with EV production, committed to other technologies with no future, and even hostile to 100% battery electric vehicles. In the new announcement, Toyota has committed itself to nothing and announced next to nothing.
If Toyota wants an EV announcement to be taken seriously, it’s going to need to actually build some EVs.
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