The Toyota MIrai has been a slow seller in the U.S. Fuel cell vehicles make better sense in Japan, while hybrids are more appealing in the U.S.
Toyota Motor Corp. says half of its global sales will be hybrid or electric by 2030, joining the ranks of big automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen that are making huge commitments to an electric future.
Known for breaking new ground with the Toyota Prius hybrid 20 years ago, Asia's biggest carmaker has long seen hybrids as a "bridge technology" to hydrogen fuel cells, dismissing pure electric vehicles as impractical and expensive. But the hydrogen future Toyota envisions has been slow to develop, while plug-in cars now look more feasible as battery technology and costs have improved and governments push to enact tougher emissions rules.
As a result, Toyota finds itself racing to catch up on EVs, which is why it held a news conference in Tokyo Wednesday to announce an expanded partnership with Panasonic to develop prismatic batteries for future electric vehicles.
“Electrification is a major part of the once-a-century transformation taking place in the auto industry now,” said President Akio Toyoda, who has admitted being "a little bit late" on EVs. “In order to make ever-better cars, we need to collaborate with a specialized battery manufacturer," he said.
Many carmakers are vowing to go all-electric across their entire lineup. GM, for instance, has said high volume is the secret to making money on electrified vehicles. "We're committed to an all-electric future," says GM Chief Executive Mary Barra. Volkswagen, meanwhile, plans to invest around $40 billion over the next five years on EVs, self-driving cars and mobility services. It plans to produce at least one electric or hybrid version of each of its 300 models world-wide by 2030.
But Toyota is taking a more regional approach to electrification, tailoring its offerings to specific countries, depending on consumer preferences and regulatory demands.
In Japan, for example, which has few natural resources, it makes sense to develop hydrogen-powered cars. In Europe, 40 percent of Toyotas sold are hybrids, compared to just 10 percent in the United States. While Europe will likely see more battery powered vehicles, the focus in the U.S. will continue to be on hybrids because Toyota is confident it can meet its regulatory requirements primarily with hybrids, said Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin. "In China, it's different. We know we need battery-electric vehicles (BEVs)," he said, referring to China's intention to ban gasoline powered cars, perhaps as early as 2030.
Toyoda said the automaker wants to sell 4.5 million hybrids and plug-in hybrids a year, and one million EVs and fuel-cell vehicles a year, by 2030.
Rather than going all-in on battery-powered cars, "we're trying to focus on what the customer wants."