Green

Toyota’s electric car strategy hasn’t changed

We’ve been subjected to a spate of dire headlines today covering Toyota’s statement that it’s killing plans for its eQ two-seat urban electric-car program.

Reuters reported, “Toyota drops plans for widespread sales of electric car,” which is at least an accurate headline.

Some seem to take a “sky is falling” tone, which we don’t feel is the case.

Most of the stories focus on Toyota management’s view that battery technology isn’t ready, the market for pure electrics isn’t there, and hybrids are a much better bet.

Those are all debatable points, but as Reuters gently points out, Toyota has always “taken a more conservative view of the market for battery-powered cars” than Nissan, General Motors, and other companies.

Another way of saying that might be to note that Toyota bet the company’s future technology direction on parallel hybrids almost 20 years ago, and has reaped the benefits of what was likely a very expensive R&D program.

Toyota has sold well over half of all the hybrids on the planet, and its 50-mpg Prius Liftback is the most fuel-efficient gasoline car sold in the U.S. market that doesn’t have a plug.

But as any auto journalist will confirm, Toyota executives and engineers relentlessly argue that parallel hybrids are the best way to meet the broad array of consumer needs.

They also frequently contend that plugging into the grid often isn’t as ecologically sounds as it seems. (That’s a whole different article we won’t get into here.)

Toyota has worked on its own electric-car batteries for quite some time, but it hasn’t had very good luck thus far.

The company admitted in 2010 that it had bet on the wrong lithium-ion cell chemistry, ending up turning to an outside cell supplier for the lithium-ion battery pack of its 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

And its first and only battery-electric vehicle was to be the eQ, an electric version of the tiny Scion iQ two-seat urban car. The company showed several prototypes of the car as the FT-EV and FT-EV II in 2009, and FT-EV III last year.

A two-seater with a projected range of no more than 50 or 60 miles: Does that sound like a winning electric-car strategy to you?

Toyota is left with just one all-electric car, the 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV, whose powertrain is entirely designed by Tesla Motors.

That was quite an impressive car to drive, but it’s strictly a “compliance car” to let the company meet zero-emission vehicle requirements imposed by the powerful California Air Resources Board.

So now Toyota will sell just 2,600 RAV4 EVs over three years, and only 100 eQs.

Not the sign of a company that believes in battery electric vehicles, for sure.

But Toyota has never believed in battery-electric vehicles, and it’s been unable to develop one–unlike Nissan, General Motors, Ford, and others.

The sales of plug-in cars, while likely to double this year, have undoubtedly been slower than the most optimistic projections.

But frankly, Toyota canceling its battery-electric car program is roughly akin to General Motors deciding not to offer a plug-in Two-Mode Hybrid system in the Cadillac SRX because it didn’t perform well enough.

Few people knew either car was coming, and not a lot of people would have cared if it did.

We think the eQ wouldn’t have been an appealing car in the U.S., even to electric-car fans. In that light, we think Toyota made a smart decision.

It’s just not the end of the world we seem to be reading about.

This story originally appeared on www.greencarreports.com.