Toyota is well known in the world of EV enthusiasts as one of the top foot-draggers in the auto industry. Ironically, outside of the world of EV enthusiasts, when people think “electric,” Toyota often comes to mind. The two realities are not unrelated. Everything is related, we’re all connected — we all know that, right? More directly, though, there’s a clear link between the competing viewpoints.
There are different theories for why Toyota has been such a laggard on fully battery-electric cars (BEVs) — and it doesn’t yet sell any, mind you. Perhaps it’s a mixture of these various reasons that causes the slow approach to BEVs, but one thing always stands out in my mind. That one thing is that the leaders of one tech transition are often the laggards of the next one. Logically, companies that have a leadership position don’t want to give it up by admitting that what they were great visionaries with one technology and successful at selling it but that it is old news now.
Another top laggard in BEVs is Honda. While there may be certain Japan-related things going on (i.e., a geopolitical obsession with hydrogen), I think it’s most noteworthy that Honda was also a leader in hybrids — not to quite the degree Toyota was, but not far behind. So I think it suffers from the same problem.
No matter the reason, though, what we do know is that Toyota has been one of the slowest to accept that BEVs are the future, and it’s not even clear if the company execs realize it today. (But how can you not?) The most shocking, bewildering comments you see come from Toyota execs. And Toyota, as I already noted, isn’t even selling a single fully electric car yet.
The good news for Toyota is that most consumers still aren’t thinking deeply about BEVs, and because they know Toyota has long been a leader in hybrids, and consumers often conflate the two, they think Toyota is a BEV leader. If Toyota doesn’t take too long to get rolling in the BEV game, it could still take advantage of that.
With all of that in mind, below is an eye-popping Toyota ad running on Twitter that caught my attention yesterday.
Global EV sales set a record in June. And the U.S. is on course to sell more #EVs in 2021 than ever before. @Toyota plans to launch a fully electric fleet by 2025 and hybrid options for every car in its lineup. Here's a look inside the transition from gas to electric.#sponsored pic.twitter.com/hO6lTpYw5o
— Pattrn (@pattrn) August 29, 2021
In case that gets removed or you can’t see it for some reason, here’s the text of the tweet: “Global EV sales set a record in June. And the U.S. is on course to sell more #EVs in 2021 than ever before. @Toyota plans to launch a fully electric fleet by 2025 and hybrid options for every car in its lineup. Here’s a look inside the transition from gas to electric.”
And then after the text there’s a video about Toyota’s “leadership” in “innovation.” The pitch they make: hybrids and plugin hybrids have a big role in the future. I found the whole thing depressing, sad, and lame while listening to it. It’s such greenwashing and so weak that it’s hard to not pull out some expletives to react to it.
Toyota: we're investing $13B in batteries over the next 10 years.
Tesla: we're investing $8B in batteries at *one* of our locations over the next 10 *months*. https://t.co/uySgArEN2P
— Kyle Field (@mrkylefield) September 8, 2021
"Toyota has announced that while it is delaying its electric vehicle launch, it will have two hydrogen car 2023 models – a Prius and Corolla – ready for showrooms by the end of next year."https://t.co/A31VjSLSZx
— Kyle Field (@mrkylefield) September 8, 2021
Aside from the unabashed hybrid pumping in the ad (it may as well have been sponsored by Exxon or BP rather than Toyota), you have to appreciate this gem: “@Toyota plans to launch a fully electric fleet by 2025.” This is typically confusing framing that I assume PR people crafted to try to make BEV laggards look like BEV leaders, but even then, boasting about a 2025 lineup is completely meh.
I also find it funny that the tweet starts off by noting the EV sales records being set globally and in the US. It then basically uses that truly exciting progress and enthusiasm around growing BEV sales to slide into chatter about hybrids. The goal is not hidden at all: try to get consumers to think “hey, hybrids are EVs too, maybe I’ll just get a hybrid and not have to think about charging.” As everyone who has a BEV knows, one of the big benefits of BEVs is the ability to “fuel up” at home, work, or the store. Not having to hunt out smelly gas stations on a routine basis is a plus, not a minus. However, non-BEV owners are often concerned, or even downright scared, about changing their patterns. So, many of them are more than happy to be told that hybrids are EVs too and that’s all you really need. And maybe in 2025 you can think about a BEV.
Personally, if I was associated with that ad campaign in even the slightest way, I would feel almost as ashamed as if I tried to overthrow democracy. Well, maybe not that ashamed. Oh, well, Toyota can relate to that too. ….
— Matt Thompson (@mvthomster) September 1, 2021
Is this the same Toyota that financially supports insurrectionist lawmakers, even after promising not to?
NEVER BUYING ANOTHER TOYOTA EVER EVER EVER.
— Matt 💎 (@MabusMatthew) August 31, 2021
Toyota continues to give money to Fox News and supports insurrectionists. No thanks. I bought my last Toyota,
— Robot 2.0 (@JamesWe87861221) September 7, 2021
If Toyota is planning on a fully electric fleet and hybrid options for every vehicle by 2025, why was it spending so much money and political capital opposing rising fuel efficiency standards? I don't suppose you want to explain that one to us?
— NPCinNV (@NPCinNV) August 30, 2021
Getting my Tesla delivered this Saturday. Goodbye to my gas-eating hybrid Prius. Toyota, besides supporting insurrectionists, is late to the EV party.
— Yvonne 💙🇺🇸🏳️🌈 (@Yves42) September 2, 2021