Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder of Toyota, has gone into full frontal assault mode on proposals by the Japanese government to slash carbon emissions from the transportation sector by transitioning to electric vehicles. In addition to being the CEO of Toyota, he is also the chairman of the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), which means he has a lot of clout in his home country. (He also has a significant impact on policies in the US and other countries.)
The Japanese government is committed to dramatically reducing carbon emission by 2030 (that’s just 8 years from now, for those of you who don’t regularly consult a calendar). The government also has announced a goal for Japan to be carbon neutral by 2050.
At the most recent regular meeting of JAMA, Toyoda teed off on the proposed emission goals. “Japan is an export-reliant country. Thus, carbon neutrality is tantamount to an issue of employment for Japan. Some politicians are saying that we need to turn all cars into EVs or that the manufacturing industry is an outmoded one but I don’t think that is the case. To protect the jobs and lives of Japanese people, I think it is necessary to bring our future in line with our efforts so far.”
According to Inside EVs, he told his colleagues that transitioning to all EVs would be an expensive mistake. “This means that production of more than 8 million units would be lost, and the automotive industry could risk losing the majority of 5.5 million jobs. If they say internal combustion engines are the enemy, we would not be able to produce almost any vehicles.”
He argues that each country should be free to reduce emissions in any way it sees fit, as long as the goal is met. Clearly, he thinks that means more and more Synergy Drive hybrids based on 25-year-old technology coupled with lots and lots of hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars. Toyoda doesn’t seem to realize that nobody is buying his stupid Mirai. He also seems oblivious to the fact that Japan is an island nation more exposed to the risk of rising sea levels than most countries.
“In achieving carbon neutrality, the enemy is carbon dioxide, not internal combustion. To reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it is necessary to have practical and sustainable initiatives that are in line with different situations in various countries and regions.”
Unsurprisingly, Toyoda says that hybrid vehicles still have significant contributions to make toward carbon neutrality, even though they are equipped with internal combustion engines. That’s because hybrids are more affordable than EVs and can penetrate markets where charging infrastructure is nonexistent. In addition, technical improvements are making hybrids cleaner each year. He insists hybrids can be used as a bridge technology that moves the world toward EVs and zero emissions, which will soften the blow to the workers who make parts for engines and transmissions.
That “bridge technology” nonsense is the same codswallop that gets passed around by proponents of unnatural gas. Because it burns cleaner than coal, they call it a “bridge fuel to the future” while ignoring the damage done to the land by fracking, the diesel emissions associated with compressing it and pumping it through thousands of miles of pipelines, and the environmental destruction caused by methane leaks.
Jobs Versus Survival
Akio Toyoda is right about one thing — Japan’s economy is heavily reliant on exports. It is common knowledge that manufacturing electric cars requires fewer workers than manufacturing vehicles with infernal combustion engines. Fewer parts means fewer workers. It’s as simple as that.
But the problem doesn’t just affect Japan. The global love affair with personal transportation means automobile manufacturing is one of the predominant source of jobs in most countries. It’s more than assembly line workers, too. For every job at the factory, there are 6 more among suppliers, sales people, clerical workers, banks and loan companies, and service operations, to name a few. Electric cars, with their lower demand for service and repairs, are going to play havoc with service departments at dealerships and with independent repair shops.
Akio Toyoda is looking to save his own skin. He chooses to ignore the IPCC 6 report and all the other scientific studies that warn the Earth is getting dangerously hot for human beings. He is worried about his munificent salary and the value of his stock options instead of focusing on the problem — a lot of people are going to wake up dead over the next several decades because of global heating and the pollution from burning fossil fuels that shortens life spans.
Yes, workers need to be protected during the transition. Volkswagen has made fairness to its workers a central part of its transition to electric car. It has set the standard other automakers will be judged by.
Akio Toyoda, you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The only constant in life is change and those who fail (or refuse) to recognize that fact are doomed to be swept away by the incoming tide of new ideas. You can weep and wail and gnash your teeth while wishing for a return to the good old days, but it won’t do you any good. Adapt or die. The choice is yours. There are no guarantees that the world’s largest automaker will still be around in 2050, or 2030 for that matter.
Effective leaders recognize change and embrace it. Failed leaders are always looking to the past and are likely to get run over by change. Bill Watterson is the brilliant cartoonist who created Calvin and Hobbes. On November 21, 1990, he penned a cartoon in which Calvin says , “Live for the moment is my motto. You never know how long you’ve got. You could step into the road tomorrow and — WHAM! — you get hit by a cement truck. Then you’d be sorry you put off your pleasures. That’s why I say live for the moment.” Then he asks Hobbbes, “What’s your motto?” To which Hobbes replies, “Look down the road.” Someone should share that bit of wisdom with Toyoda-san.
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