Is This Why Toyota Is Really So Anti-BEV?

 

I’ve been planning to write this article for months. Maybe a year? Toyota has been perhaps the most anti-EV mass-market car company out there by some standards (perhaps excluding Fiat due to Sergio Marchionne). As I noted yesterday, its foray into plug-in electric cars was essentially the lamest of all, bringing a Prius Plug-in to market that just has 11 miles of battery-electric range, or 6 actual miles. It has been promoting the heck out of its lame, over-priced Mirai, while talking smack about battery-electric vehicles that are soooooo much better. And then it drops this kind of nonsense on the “limits” of battery-electric vehicles.

I wasn’t going to even address that Forbes article and just jump into why I really think Toyota is so anti-EV, but I can’t resist, so here’s a simple bullet list on the most ridiculous comments from Craig Scott, national alternative fuel vehicle manager at Toyota:

  • We don’t see any battery technology that would allow us to…give customers a comparable driving experience at a reasonable price.”
    Are you f***ing kidding me? I’ve driven dozens and dozens of cars, and none of the gasmobiles I’ve driven even compare to a BMW i3. A gasmobile for the price of a Nissan LEAF is a joke I wouldn’t tell my grandmother. The big story about electric vehicles is how much of a better driving experience they are. Yes, the rather expensive Tesla Model S is not for the 99%, but it crushes other premium sedans, and in terms of performance it even crushes $1 million cars! The lower-priced electric cars on the market don’t compete with the Model S, but they still offer a much better driving experience than their gasmobile equivalents. I recently rented a fossil-powered Mercedes and a BMW, and I felt like I was driving Power Wheels. But maybe I’m misunderstanding Mr Scott’s use of the word “comparable.”
  • We don’t see anything for the next ten years because if there was something in the laboratory today it would probably take seven to ten years to get into a production vehicle. With batteries there is a fundamental science problem that we don’t know how to solve. It’s going to require a new material that doesn’t yet exist. How long that takes is anyone’s guess.
    Hmm, Tesla has been pretty clear about the battery cost drops it has seen in recent years, and the continued cost drops it is certain it will see based on improvements it is already starting to implement and has in the works. Maybe Toyota should go do a little peeking around Fremont and Electric Avenue in Nevada. And btw, independent research has also found that battery prices are falling faster than expected, with prices today already lower than 2020 projections.
  • Nobody makes more batteries than Toyota. We’ve been doing batteries longer than anyone in the automotive business. Which is why we’re so bullish on fuel cells.
    Ahem, there’s a difference between “more” and “better.” Toyota may make and use a lot of crap nickel-metal hydride batteries, but Tesla & Panasonic (as well as Nissan, LG, and others) are leading the lithium-ion revolution. I see “market leaders” on this chart as being Tesla & Nissan… no Toyota around for some reason. Hmm. Looks like Toyota has been doing batteries wrong for a long time….
  • Then you have the challenge of charging because you can’t charge batteries too quickly.
    Well, first of all, let’s remember one thing: you typically charge an electric car overnight while sleeping! Last I checked, I didn’t need to jump in a car in the middle of my sleep. But anyhow, for those few times when you need to charge away from home, an 80% charge from 10% in 40 minutes seems plenty fine for plenty of current Tesla owners, and that just keeps getting better and better… you know, because Tesla is trying, unlike some companies.

electric car batteries

Anywaaaay…. yeah, Toyota either doesn’t think plug-in electric cars are the future or doesn’t want other people to think they’re the future. So now I’ll get to what was originally supposed to be the focus of this story.

Someone intelligently informed me within the past year that it’s typical for leaders of one tech generation to be laggards in the next. Basically, the point is that they are fond of their existing leadership and market status, so they deny the relevance and superiority of the coming wave of technology. This can be done consciously and/or subconsciously.

toyota prius


 

I don’t know if this is something Toyota leadership is doing consciously or subconsciously, but I do think this is the reason it is so far behind in the plug-in car market and revolution. If you think of hybrid cars, the first thing you probably think of is the Toyota Prius. Toyota far and away led the rise of the conventional hybrid car market, and it still dominates that market. It doesn’t want that to change, and it doesn’t want the conventional hybrid market to get cannibalized by electric cars (or fuel cell vehicles, by the way, but fuel cell vehicles are hopeless, so there’s no real threat).

Toyota actually “wants a 30% take-rate for hybrids out of the vehicles it will sell in China in 2020.” That’s the largest car market in the world. It also wants its hybrids to pull in a lot of cash in the US and Europe as environmental regulations get tougher and tougher.

It’s no crime wanting to be #1. But it’s a big folly to say in a football (soccer) match that you’re going to keep attacking the same goal in the second half because you like that one.

Toyota could take a lesson from Kodak and not have its own Kodak moment. It could take a lesson from dozens of companies that crashed and burned when they were too slow to move into the next technological revolution. From 8-tracks to cassette tapes to CDs & DVDs to MP3s and so on, from letters to telegraphs to landlines to cell phones to smartphones, we’ve seen plenty of technological revolutions in the past century. To assume that gasmobiles and conventional hybrids won’t make way for plug-in electric cars despite the many big advantages of plug-in electric cars is ludicrous.

I don’t know if I feel bad for Toyota executives or if I am angry at them, but I definitely think they’re running the wrong way right now, and would be better off keeping their mouths shut about the future of transportation until they figure out what’s actually going on.

Oh, and by the way, Toyota is aiming to sell 3,000 Toyota Mirai fuel-cell cars in the US by the end of 2017. Renault-Nissan has already sold 250,000 electric cars worldwide. Nissan has sold ~70,000 Nissan LEAFs in the US. Tesla is on track to sell ~55,000 electric cars in 2015 alone, and is leading the premium car market in the US. Which technology is ready and which isn’t?

Images via Nykvist et al. and Teddy Leung / Shutterstock.com





About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.
  • Mike R. Ludite

    Toyota = Kodak

    When you thought of film you thought of Kodak.

    Even though Kodak had most of the patents on CCD technology and showed working digital cameras to employees as far back as 1983 they did not bring serious cameras to market for fear of cannibalizing their very profitable film business,

    As you said when you think of Hybrid you think of TOYOTA.
    We sold our Toyota Prius and now drive a Nissan Leaf.
    The Nissan Leaf costs us 1/4 the operating price that the Toyota did as it uses only $3 worth of electricity every 100 miles while the Toyota used $12 worth of gasoline.
    Both cars had the same original purchase price.
    Fossil Fuelled cars will soon be history and so will Toyota just like KODAK.

    • “Even though Kodak had most of the patents on CCD technology and showed working digital cameras to employees as far back as 1983 they did not bring serious cameras to market for fear of cannibalizing their very profitable film business.”

      -Interesting. Didn’t know that.

      “Prius -> LEAF”
      -Yeah, a lot of Prius drivers switching to LEAFs, and Teslas, and surely other BEVs. Compared to the 3 million or whatever Prii that Toyota sells each year, it probably looks insignificant, but Toyota should know the growth curves of new car technology and disruptive technology. I won’t pity the company if it doesn’t change course fast.

  • Paul Govan

    Let’s not forget that Toyota were the long-range BEV market leaders – defiant disruptors with the original 1997-2004 RAV4 EV.
    But boy, were they whipped by the ICE & OIL mob for daring to defy the “Kill Electric Cars” corporate-diktat-consensus.
    Once bitten…
    Just ask Tom Hanks and Begley Jr. Or even Chris Paine.
    Paul GOVAN Editor: EVUK.co.uk

    • Good points. I would love to do an in-depth study of how corporate culture changed from then till now, who is still on board who worked on that, etc.

      Of course, all of the automakers (I think all of them) fought to reduce and kill California’s ZEV standards/requirements. And they won. And BEVs were gone until Tesla came along.

      • sean t

        You THINK all of them?

  • Paul Govan

    Oh – and why just lambast Toyota ? What of…Mazda ?

    Andrej Pecjak’s Kokam-powered Metron Institute Mazda5 achieved 736 km at near-normal highway speeds in 2014 (we all know that, right ?) With half the battery pack it would still manage circa 380 km. A 7-seater, full luggage-space still available.
    See our excl. Q&A with video links.
    PG EVUK

    • Good call. And Honda.

      • sean t

        Mazda concentrates on their SkyActiv technology. They’ll buy some licence from Toyota.

    • Zobeid

      Mazda is a small company without a lot of resources to invest in BEV technology, even if they are savvy enough to wish to (which is anybody’s guess). It’s a sadly familiar story in the car business. Chrysler’s R&D was hamstrung for many years by the same problem — how to invest in future architectures when you’re worried about making next month’s payroll.

      Honda is a different story. They see don’t see themselves as a car maker. Honda is a maker of internal combustion engines and products powered by internal combustion engines: cars, motorcycles, aircraft, generators, etc. Thus their lack of enthusiasm for EVs.

  • jjaayyzz

    Mr. Zachary Shahan, you seem to be so self confident in your ability to make better sense of the Automotive market than good old Toyota. Hmm, lets think a bit.. if any old Joe on the street can challenge the strategic roadmap created by the many wise folk at Toyota, that is indeed very strange. Now we should not forget Toyota is the biggest car company in the world and they did not get there taking advice from Bill and Joe from next door.

    Toyota is not Anti-EV. However, they have decided that for the time being (considering current battery technology, their own expertise and expectations) that EVs don’t make sense (to them) – it is as simple as that. If however, there is a major discovery that changes the EV landscape, they are well equipped to produce cars within short timescales.

    Now any old idiot can jump up and down about Toyota’s EV stance but they will take no notice, none at all. When the time is right and they think they can make EVs work – meaning they can produce EVs in millions and make a good profit on them, and the tech is mature enough for EV cars to last decades, the giant with rise, this is as definite as science itself – nuff said.

    • Haha, markets change all the time. Sometimes the leaders have the most difficulty seeing it coming.

      Aside from not being some “Joe on the street,” it really doesn’t matter to me. I’m not a Toyota investor and don’t think the EV revolution depends on Toyota at all. I’m just trying to make sense and help explain the story to those who are bewildered by Toyota’s lack of leadership… er, spot practically dead last in the EV revolution.

      There have been many “major discoveries.” Toyota doesn’t seem to be digesting that. Their loss, not mine.

      Enjoy your Toyota. And enjoy your Kodak film as well.

    • Oil4AsphaltOnly

      it’s generally bad form to upvote yourself.

      As to your support of Toyota and claim that they are NOT Anti-EV? Have you seen the Lexus ads? When a major automaker produces and release ads with false claims, just to support its own position, it’s most definitely Anti-EV!

      By the way, Toyota buys their NiMH cells from Panasonic, and at the beginning of 2014 (when Tesla had sold less than 30k model S per year at that point), they made up ~28% of Panasonic’s sales, while Tesla were at 24%. Tesla’s set to produce 70% more cars this year than they did last year. Logic would dictate that there’d be a corresponding increase in cell consumption. While Toyota’s prii sales have actually dropped.

      Do you really think Craig Scott had his facts straight when he claimed to be the largest producer of batteries?

      It’s pretty clear Toyota has their heads in the sand, because they’re not even working with good data, and your rebuttal of Mr Shahan falls under the same lack of good data.

      • Ben Helton

        “When a major automaker produces and release ads with false claims”

        Toyota doesn’t do much to sell their own cars. Localized marketing firms and dealerships are the ones responsible for this kind of attack.

        I’m sure you knew that anyways; so how does that face up to Elon Musk’s CONSTANT hatred and mockery of fuel cells? We certainly know the marketing firms were remote controlling his mouth. Maybe he had something to do with why both Mercedes and Toyota selling their lion’s share of stock in Tesla.

        • Oil4AsphaltOnly

          Ben,

          This is the most disingenuous cop-out I’ve ever seen. First, you reply almost a month after the topic’s been discussed and settled … in hopes that no one would debunk your claim? And then you have the nerve to claim something that’s patently false.

          Not only was this ad from Lexus’ ad agency:
          http://www.autoblog.com/2014/05/12/lexus-apologizes-for-anti-ev-ad-plug-in-america/

          But they also went back on their apology and released ANOTHER anti-ev ad:
          http://insideevs.com/lexus-anti-ev-ad-lives/

          It’s a good thing the internet remembers, since Toyota’s apologists don’t seem to.

          Your hatred for Tesla and Musk is a bed of your own making, I won’t try to change your mind there. But at least have the decency to admit you were wrong about Toyota.

          • Ben Helton

            “This is the most disingenuous cop-out I’ve ever seen”

            Easily claimed and never proven; it’s simply your opinion.

            None the less, you just reiterated exactly what I said. It was performed by an ad agency, not directly from Toyota.

            This is what you said “When a major automaker produces and release ads with false claims, just to support its own position, it’s most definitely Anti-EV”

            The automaker (Toyota) is not Anti-EV. In fact, if you compare them side by side every other auto manufacturer in world; not only do they have the one of the longest track records of EVs in the last 2 decades, they also have more KWh worth of electric drivetrain battery out on the road than ANY OTHER MANUFACTURER.

            Toyota is not Anti-EV. They just don’t see a business path for BEVs right now. To store the amount of energy they are looking for in an automobile is not going to economically happen with current day lithium ion batteries, and that’s completely ignoring the weight penalty as well as temperature sensitivities, and recharge times. Their ‘electrification’ portfolio is larger than any other vehicle manufacturer, and it shows in their obvious domination of the hybrid market sector.

            If the right battery, or super capacitor came out, Toyota would certainly be there to push it in a vehicle in small numbers and see how the math turns out.

            Do you really think YOU have your facts straight when you’re questioning whether Toyota is the largest maker of EV batteries in the world?

            You think counting Prius sales does much? What about all the new hybrid models? Camry, Avalon, Highlander, Sienta?

            How about all the new Lexus Hybrids? The RXh series, LSh, ESh, CTh, NXh, and the GSh.

            In 2014, Toyota sold over 7 million hybrid vehicles. At 1.6KWh / vehicle. That’s 11.2 million KWh worth of battery. (Doesn’t count the plug-in Prius’ that had much bigger packs)

            Tesla needs around 131,764 Vehicles sold with 85KWH packs to match that!

            Did you even think about this?

    • super390

      I remember when Toyota used to make the most reliable cars in the world. I guess the market for those died out and Toyota adapted by making cars that get media-messy recalls.

  • Marcel

    They certainly sound bitter that they didn’t adopt newer and better li-ion tech even if it’s just for the prius. On the other hand, in my country the grid isn’t nearly as dirty as the US, so producing H2 wouldn’t pollute here since it’s mostly done with renewable energy (our electric system does not emit any CO2 and we’re not hot on natural gas since we have cheap clean and reliable electricity to do everything).

    However, at present it seems that FCEV running costs would have a hard time competing with BEV especially if they don’t offer FCEV charging systems for home.

    Plus their production forecasts are way too low even into the 2020s when BEVs will be mainstream. So if they say FCEVs are the way to go, produce more of them and follow Tesla’s model and invest in charging networks the way they did. After all, aren’t they the biggest car maker in the world? Surely they have the means to do what Tesla did?

    • Hydrogen isn’t produced from the electricity grid. It comes from natural gas reformation. There’s no underlying economic case to make it from electricity. If that is going to be done, it will have to be forced via regulations.

      But yeah, aside from that, FCEVs have no hope from a $$ or performance or convenience standpoint.

      • sean t

        Zach,
        Hydrogen can be produced using electricity. Of course, there’s no process on this planet has efficiency of 100% so, when you use electriciy to produce Hydrogen and later on use hydrogen to produce electricity, you never get the same amount of electriciy back. With time, the process will improve. Too eraly to write it off mate.

        • IronicSuperDave

          True, no process is 100% efficient, but BEVs are a LOT more efficient than FCEVs. I understand it is about 30% more i.e. 90% BEV as opposed to 60% FC

  • Tom Moore

    To be as generous as possible to Toyota and other reluctant Japanese EV manufacturers, they recently have had a major chunk of their nuclear electric capability taken out by a Tsunami, with significant national tragedy and loss of face resulting, so they may not feel that a big switch to EVs would suit their energy supply position. I can’t point to any real evidence of this, but it might help explain some irrationality.

    • sean t

      The author seems to be Tesla’s fan. He got it completely wrong. The main reason Toyota’s playing down BEV is that they need resources to concentrate on FCVs. Full stop. No BUTs, no IFs. He thinks he knows everything. Poor guy. I’m also a fan of BEV but I still see the point of Toyota/Honda/Hyundai in FCVs and other car companies, including Merc, BMW, Audi) start developing FCVs. Yeah, they’re all stupid, only Elon Musk and Zach are smart.

      • Jim Seko

        What we have with FCVs is a very expensive car fueled by very expensive fuel with no environmental benefits when H2 is from natural gas and gross inefficiency when H2 comes from clean electricity which makes the fuel even more expensive. Clean H2 is $14 per kilogram and the Mirai gets 67 miles per kg of H2. That’s 21 cents per mile. Compare that to: Ford F-150 Ecoboost 13 cents per mile, Prius 7 cents per mile or EV 4 cents per mile.

      • Jim Seko
      • Rick Danger

        If you still see the point of FCVs, then you entirely missed the point of BEVs.
        Yes. They are all stupid. Kodak thought they were smart too. They woke up too late.
        When are you going to wake up???

      • IronicSuperDave

        I bet you’re so sorry you sarcastically wrote “Yeah, they’re all stupid, only Elon Musk and Zach are smart”. I certainly don’t think you accusing people of thinking they know everything, when you’re actually guessing, does your arguments any good.

        Re: stupid: well yeah!  – in the light of the VW/audi diesel fiasco lol. Actually: probably not, but it does show they can make the wrong choices.  

        • sean t

          Sorry? Give me a break.

    • Brian

      Great point, Tom.

    • IronicSuperDave

      Just spotted this thread, so a bit late with response. I fully agree that the Japanese auto manufacturers may have good reasons to prefer H2 right now – the Japanese government is promoting and investing in Hydrogen infrastructure: I understand that it has become apparent it intends to showcase FC technology at the Olympics.

      My feeling is that, Japan could still be better using flow batteries and BEVs to enhance the reliability of their grid, but maybe they feel these technologies have yet to come of age or are impractical because of security of lithium supply issues on that large a (grid) scale.

      The Chinese don’t look to be thinking in the same way.

  • James

    Ahmen. Nailed it!

  • sean t

    Zach,
    1) You got it all wrong. The main reason Toyota doesn’t want to invest in Electric cars is they now concentrate on Fuel Cells. Even Elon Musk knows better than you.
    2) I don’t like your tone with the words “f***ing” and “crap”. Are you a journalist or what?

    A person is not “wrong” just because s/he does not agree with you. You’re entitled to your opinions but using those words does not degrade Toyota but yourself.

    • Brian

      Sean, it isn’t about opinion for the most part. It’s simply that the facts and data support the position that BEVs are a superior solution to FCEVs now, and there isn’t any science or technology on the horizon that changes that in the foreseeable future. Look at the basic physics and economics behind all of the science-based arguments here and elsewhere. They may not align with a person’s desires or wishes, but that doesn’t make the logic less sound.

  • James Rowland

    *Every* technology is subject to fundamental physics limitations, including hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen synthesis.

    The question at hand should be which approach has more favourable limits for the application of clean transportation. Toyota have it exactly backwards.

  • James Rowland

    There’s another side to this that’s not often talked about.

    HFCVs are essentially range extended electric vehicles with a tiny battery, more in line with what you’d expect in a hybrid. The battery is required as a buffer, because fuel cells cannot follow changing power demands quickly enough for a road car.

    A smaller battery does not just have a lower storage capacity. It also has a lower peak power capacity.

    What this means is that HFCVs will need a breakthrough in battery technology to compete with BEVs in the performance sector.

  • Brian

    Good article Zach. I wanted to write a response myself to the Forbes article but you made all the salient points. The logical fallacy the Toyota guy made was comparable = good. As regular folks begin to grasp that we are on the verge of eliminating the need for our massive gasoline fueling infrastructure, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the realization of the huge global benefits of that elimination will sink in and we’ll collectively pass the tipping point.

  • Ben Helton

    This article is a joke.

    Tesla has Toyota to THANK for helping make their world possible.

    Not only did they get an early stage $50 million investment (FROM A REAL VEHICLE MANUFACTURER) – sure helped the weary investors see that maybe Musk could play with the big dogs. THEN they handed Tesla a pre built vehicle manufacturing facility at rock bottom cost. The land alone was worth more than what they sold it for. THEN they hand Tesla a freebie $100 million deal for a few thousand EV power-trains. After they couldn’t put in a simple PARKING PAWL, Toyota had to take the project over and finish the needed safety details that Tesla could not perform.

    But yea; must be big oil giving Toyota all this loose cash to freely invest into Tesla with. Must explain their anti-BEV stance; they invest in a BEV start-up. Wow Zach, you really got this all figured out. Where did you go to conspiracy camp at? I would like to sign up; sounds like they got the best Kool-Aid.

  • IronicSuperDave

    My main objection to FCEVs, apart from them misrepresented as better than BEVs, is that FCEVs contain a lot more mechanical bit than BEVs that will need servicing and therefore fit in better with the current service supply chain = cash cow.

    Apart from potentially higher serving cost FCEVs also have the disadvantage that it is easier for governments to tax H2 than alternative (e.g. rooftop electricity

    I hope I’m wrong about this because there are probably going to be a lot of FCEVs in Japan