For much of the last two decades, the Toyota Prius was the poster child for the environmental movement. It wasn’t sexy, standing instead for efficiency, environmentalism, and ultimately, emission reductions. Toyota built on the success of the internal combustion-powered hybrid Prius, introducing new hybrid powertrains in other vehicles, eventually adding a larger battery and a plug in vehicles sporting the Prime badge.
In parallel to the Prius, which means “to come before,” Toyota’s engineers were hard at work developing the zero emission powertrain of the future. The Mirai, which literally means “the future,” introduced the world to Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. The hydrogen tanks in the vehicle were combined with oxygen from the atmosphere in the fuel cell, producing electricity and water as the only to products of the process. The resulting electricity was then stored in a smaller traction battery that ultimately powered an electric motor to propel the vehicle.
In sunny Southern California this week, Toyota brought the latest evolution of its zero emission strategy to North America for the very first time. The Toyota bZ4X is the first of 15 new battery electric vehicles that will be rolled out by 2025. The first vehicle in Toyota’s new “Beyond Zero” line was first unveiled to the world at the Shanghai Auto Show back in April and is eager to show it off to the world.
Disclaimer: Toyota paid for the hotel and food for the author while attending the North American reveal of the bZ4X.
The bZ4X is the first of seven battery electric vehicles to be introduced under the Beyond Zero banner and will form a solid zero emission foundation for the automaker’s plan to have a full 70 “electrified” vehicles available for consumers by 2025. The nebulous “electrified” nomenclature is one of our least favorite words around these parts as it includes everything from mild hybrids aka internal combustion vehicles that shut the motor off at a stop light all the way on up to fully electric zero emission vehicles.
The battery electric Toyota bZ4X is expected to come to market with around 250 miles of range per charge and with Toyota’s strong environmental brand, it should sell well. It is roughly the size of one of the best selling SUVs in North America, the RAV4 and will introduce an entirely new segment of the market to electric vehicles. We’re expecting the price to be in the $45-60k range but that’s pure speculation as Toyota has not uttered a word about official pricing for the bZ4X yet.
Few specs for the vehicle have been released so far, but we should learn more as we get closer to the official launch sometime in the middle of next year. Steve Hanley shared the sparse details:
“This week, Toyota provided some details about the car. It will have a 71.4 kWh battery. One version will offer a single front-mounted motor with 201 hp (150 kW), a 0–100 km/h time of 8.4 seconds, and a range of 310 miles. The dual motor version will have 214 hp (160 kW), a 0–100 km/h time of 7.7 seconds, and a range of 285 miles. Those range numbers are estimates based on the WLTP standard. EPA range numbers, when available, will likely be lower. Maximum charging power is 150 kilowatts, and Toyota says the battery can be recharged to 80% capacity in 30 minutes.”
Toyota’s strategy will see the brand introducing more “electrified” vehicles over the next few years as part of a steady march towards its 2030 goal of achieving 80% of global vehicle sales being electrified out of a total vehicle sales number of 10 million. Out of the 8 million electrified vehicles, Toyota expects to sell 2 million zero emission vehicles. That number is a combination of both hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and battery electric vehicles and is right around the number of zero emission vehicles Tesla will sell next year.
Toyota’s strategy focuses on leveraging its existing hybrid, plug in hybrid, fuel cell, and battery electric vehicle competencies to drive emissions down as quickly as possible. Toyota VP Mike Tripp talked about how the emission reductions achieved by the 8 million new “electrified” vehicles Toyota plans to sell in 2030 are roughly the equivalent of the emission reductions of 5.5 million fully electric vehicles.
That may be true, but all hybrid vehicles still require gasoline to burn. Electricity, on the other hand, is only getting cleaner as the grid electricity mix shifts to renewables (the power sources that won’t run out). A hybrid or plug in hybrid sold in 2030 should last a solid 10 or 20 years meaning each and every single hybrid sold translates to a few more decades of emissions. It’s a long tail and the sooner we cut it off, the sooner we can kick our addiction to foreign fossil fuels and the carbon they contribute to the surface carbon cycle.
Climate change is real.
Climate change is caused by humans.
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re a human.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room is all the “electrified” vehicles in Toyota’s 2030 plan that still produce emissions and run on gasoline. It’s easy to say “electrified,” talk about emission reductions, and maintain that shiny green eco image but the ugly truth is that even in this aspirational, vision casted 2030 future, 80% of Toyota’s vehicles will still burn gasoline. The only power source in a hybrid vehicle is gasoline. Adding a plug and a larger battery is nice, but the primary power source is still at the gas pump. And that’s in 2030.
I propose that Toyota’s 2030 plan is a complete cop out. They missed the boat on battery electric vehicles and are now feverishly attempting to paddle upstream against the tidal wave of zero emission battery electric vehicles from Tesla, Kia, Hyundai, VW, Polestar, and Volvo. I expect Toyota’s forecasted blend of “electrified” vehicles to zero emission vehicles to gradually shift towards more and more zero emission vehicles. As the fantasy of hydrogen-powered passenger vehicles plays out in the market, the zero emission vehicle slice of the pie will be replaced with battery electric vehicles.
The (distant) future may be hydrogen-powered, but the zero emission vehicles of the 2020s will be powered by batteries. I refuse to purchase another vehicle that produces tailpipe emissions and I’m not alone. Broad swaths of buyers from around the world are ushering in a zero emission future today with each and every battery electric vehicle purchased.
The future is electric.
The future is now.
As it stands today, even the cleanest “green” hydrogen gas used in fuel cell vehicles is extremely inefficient. Using hydrogen as the onboard storage mechanism for energy in a passenger vehicle is 42% efficient compared to the 81% efficiency for battery-powered electric vehicles. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will use twice as much electricity to go the same distance. And that’s not even taking into account the additional emissions that are generated from using “blue” hydrogen produced from natural gas and “gray” hydrogen produced from coal.
I’m not totally writing off hydrogen vehicles, but for now, it feels like they are destined to remain a future technology. We need to fight climate change today by eliminating emissions from our daily lives as quickly as possible. Buying vehicles that still produce tailpipe emissions feels counter productive.
For now, we’re thankful Toyota will be rolling out the bZ4X in North America starting next year.