Toyota Plans a Long-Range EV for 2020
Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported today that Toyota intends to mass-produce an electric car with a driving range of approximately 185 miles. According to reports, the automaker will dedicate a team starting next year to develop the vehicle by 2020. The future model will likely use an existing platform—such as Prius or Corolla. Toyota would not confirm any plans for future product, including development of an EV.
Some industry analysts see this report as an acknowledgement that Toyota—the world’s largest automaker—can no longer remain on the sidelines when it comes to long-range electric cars. The Toyota EV planned for 2020 will be introduced in California, China and other markets where governments are promoting adoption of pure electric cars with sales mandates and consumer incentives. “Toyota has been a major hold-out on EVs, but it appears that it now realizes that without them it may be difficult to satisfy tightening regulations,” said Takeshi Miyaho, managing director Carnorama, an auto industry analyst firm. “Not including EVs as an option would run the the risk that it could face sales restrictions in some areas.”
Toyota historically has favored gas-electric hybrids as a short-term efficiency solution and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the long run. But competing automakers are introducing long-range EVs like the 238-mile Chevy Bolt and the upcoming long-range Tesla Model 3—while Volkswagen is promising as many as 30 electric cars by 2025. The perception of Toyota as a leading green brand could be harmed by not having an active EV program.
Toyota executives have previously seen pure battery-electric vehicles as appropriate for only short-range small cars—due to the cost of batteries and long recharging time. Therefore, the new report about a future Toyota EV might represent a change of heart by the company. Yet, Toyota has long taken a portfolio approach to technology development—only entering into mass production until it believes the market was ready.
“Our hair is never on fire. We’re not looking around at the latest PR articles, and saying oh my gosh, we have to change our plans because somebody said this or that,” explained Doug Coleman, Toyota national vehicle marketing manager for Prius, electric and fuel-cell vehicles, in an interview with PluginCars.com in 2009. “We’re pacing ourselves in a way that we think that we can be competitive in a few years’ time for a market that makes sense for both us and the customer.” Jana Hartline, Toyota’s environmental communication manager, added, “Our outlook has never been to be the first to market. We want to be the best to market.”
In that sense, Toyota has been anticipating the production of a longer-range electric vehicle for some time. In June, Kouji Toyoshima, chief engineer for Prius vehicles, told Forbes, “We would like to use more electricity to power our cars.” The Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, when it’s introduced in 2017, will provide about 25 miles of all-electric range—more than double the distance from the previous generation.
In September, Satoshi Ogioso, a former product planner at Toyota, was more explicit: “For the next 10 or 20 years, and on a global level, our estimation is that more than 50 to 60 percent of the cars should be hybrid or fuel cell, with 30 percent of the volume going to battery electric.”
The news today confirms that Toyota—arguably the last remaining major company to take a wait-and-see approach on electric cars—will soon be jumping on the EV bandwagon.
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