Toyota Boss Could Be Right About Electric Cars — Or Very Wrong

Waffling on EVs may seem fine now, but could hurt them dearly down the line

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, reveals the Crown lineup in July. None of them are currently all-electric.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, reveals the Crown lineup in July. None of them are currently all-electric.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

There’s apparently a quiet revolution going on in the auto industry. No, we’re not alluding to the Hummer EV ad campaign, or the literal silence of electric cars compared to their chugging, belching, gas-powered counterparts. We’re talking about automotive industry bigwigs who are reportedly not completely sold on the electric transition, despite outwardly appearing to endorse it wholeheartedly.

“People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Akio Toyoda, president of the Toyota Motor Corporation, said during a recent visit to Thailand, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. “That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly.”

Toyoda’s recent comments are the most explicit summation yet of his company’s long-standing policy that multiple options should be considered when developing consumer cars that are less harmful to the planet and the human race. While some automakers already have plans in place to go fully electric (General Motors said its light-duty vehicles will be 100% electric by 2035), Toyota sees a path forward for hybrid cars (which require gasoline) and hydrogen-powered vehicles, too. 

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On the surface level, of course Toyoda is correct. The global problem of cutting carbon emissions in order to stave off the worst of climate change requires a multi-pronged approach. We need to embrace all potential solutions. And because modern EVs are still in their relative infancy, who’s to say that we won’t soon experience some major breakthrough in hydrogen cars that will make them much more viable than they are today? Additionally, as most drivers don’t live in areas with fully built out charging infrastructure, and all-electric vehicles remain expensive in the present, aren’t hybrids worth keeping around as affordable and accessible options? 

The big problem for Toyoda is that, by waffling in the present, Toyota may be woefully late to the game when EVs hit their stride. Yes, we are experiencing uncomfortable growing pains in the EV sector at present — high prices, supply chain problems, lack of charging infrastructure, battery material sourcing — but those problems will likely get ironed out. Automakers are investing huge amounts of money so things will run smoothly, and silently, by the 2030s: Ford is investing $50 billion in EVs through 2026, GM is investing $35 billion between 2020 and 2025, and Volkswagen Group is investing over $100 billion through 2026. Even if they’re “silently” wondering about other options, they’re full steam ahead on EVs.

Toyota’s lack of enthusiasm may partly be due to the fact that they just haven’t had as much success as other automakers in the field of battery-electric vehicles. But if they continue to focus on places where they have had success (like the Prius hybrid), the gap that currently exists is only likely to widen. After all, while other clean-vehicle technologies could spring up, the rapid developments we’re most likely to see are in EV batteries. There are dozens of companies developing batteries that promise drastically shorter charging times as well as longer range, and when better batteries do emerge, other automakers will be able to implement them much faster than Toyota. 

It really is anyone’s game in the consumer car arena at the moment, and no one really knows what our roads will look like in 2035. But just as we’ve seen companies like Tesla rise from obscurity to become power players on the world stage, so could long-standing titans like Toyota fall from their heights if they don’t take electric vehicles as seriously as everyone else.

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