Toyota Back in the Electric Vehicle Market

Toyota back in the electric vehicle market
Toyota back in the electric vehicle market

If we cast our minds back just a few years ago it seemed that Toyota had all but ruled itself out of the electric vehicle market, announcing that hydrogen power was the future. The company suggested it would not be investing any more money into pure electric vehicles although if the rumours in China are correct it seems as if the company may well have changed its mind. So what is Toyota up to and why has the company seemingly changed its mind about electric vehicles?

Cheap EVs in China

It seems that Toyota is set to introduce a line-up of electric vehicles under the Leahead brand-name in China. Quite literally translated the new brand name means "Leap Ahead" which is rather bizarre when you bear in mind the company's recent opinion of the EV market! Indeed while fans of the company's previous attempt at the electric vehicle market, in the shape of the RAV4 EV and Scion iQ EV wax lyrical about these vehicles, what should we expect with the new Chinese line-up?

While we await exact details of the new electric vehicles in the Toyota portfolio it is believed that the brand name will consist of a 10 model line-up. While these will include at least two hybrids the vast majority of them will be pure electric cars at relatively cheap prices as the company attempts to crack the Chinese market.

Quote from ElectricForum.com: "Wait until you see the EV project Israel is proposing. They are attempting to lead the world in being fossil fuel free."

Why were previous attempts unsuccessful?

It is common knowledge now that previous attempts to launch electric vehicles were greatly influenced by the California Air Resources Board, which basically forced car manufacturers to create a certain percentage of electric vehicles in order that they could operate in the state. While this in itself encouraged the release of a new array of electric vehicles in a relatively short space of time, in many ways it was a false development. Many companies, including Toyota, manufactured the minimum number of electric vehicles they could simply to allow them to operate within California.

There is some suggestion that the likes of the RAV4 EV were not efficient and lacked staying power but those who actually experienced this vehicle in particular still wax lyrical to this day. The fact is that in no way would Toyota have put its name to an electric vehicle, especially its pride and joy RAV collection, without being able to release a competitive product.

EV market now developing quicker than expected

There have been a number of developments within the electric vehicle market over the last few months one of which was the announcement by Tesla that it would not prosecute those who used its patent technology to further the electric vehicle industry. Even though this particular announcement did not grab the headlines and did not cause any ripples outside of the industry, it is and continues to be a major development.

When you bear in mind the billions of dollars that Tesla has ploughed into the electric vehicle market the announcement that patent protection rights will not be enforced would seem to be commercial suicide. However the company is very forward thinking and realises that the development of the electric vehicle industry using its own patented technology can only benefit the industry and Tesla.

Toyota Still Refuses to go Fully Electric

Toyota still refuses to go fully electric
Toyota still refuses to go fully electric

Despite the fact that Toyota brought the award-winning Toyota Prius hybrid to the market to much acclaim, the company is still intent on jumping beyond electric vehicles, with plans to introduce fuel cell powered vehicles in 2015. The company has sold over 5 million hybrids worldwide which are having a major impact upon the environment, but why does the company still refuse to consider wholly electric vehicles?

There are some in the industry who believe this could be a masterstroke or it could be a major error in the life and times of Toyota. This is a company which has always been at the forefront of new development in the industry and has tended to read the industry quite well but some believe this current self-serving policy in favour of hybrids could backfire.

Could Toyota be right?

The fact is that billions upon billions of dollars have already poured into the electric vehicle industry and, while great progress has been made, we are not yet anywhere near the mass market. Current estimates suggest that 2017 could be a major year for the electric vehicle industry with the likes of Tesla planning to introduce an affordable EV with 200 mile journey capacity. Historically, if you look back at the EV industry we will see an array of false dawns, false hopes and collapses.

Quote from ElectricForum.com : "The Prius has grown into a "family" of vehicles. The Prius is now called the "Prius Liftback" and the smaller Prius c and larger Prius v have been added. The Prius Liftback also has a Plug-in version available in limited markets."

In all honesty it seems unlikely that the EV industry will disappear this time round, as we have governments, companies and consumers backing the sector, but never say never!

Is it too late to change?

In public it seems that Toyota is looking towards fuel cell technology as opposed to electric vehicles from 2015 onwards. However, do not discount a potential U-turn in this policy because if the electric vehicle industry continues to go from strength to strength then Toyota will need an EV portfolio to maintain customer confidence going forward and support sales.

Of all the major car manufacturers in the world it seems as though Toyota is very much on its own with regards to its lack of enthusiasm towards the electric vehicle industry. Many automatically assumed that success with hybrid vehicles, and there have been many by Toyota, would inevitably lead to a fully electric powered vehicle in a relatively short space of time. At this moment in time this seems very unlikely but ultimately the market will dictate future policy not only for Toyota but for all vehicle manufacturers.

Conclusion

It is interesting that Toyota is still sticking to the official line that electric vehicles do not offer enough capacity or efficiencies to make a lock, stock, and barrel change in policy. The company has been very successful in hybrids, and will no doubt continue to be so, but has it missed the electric vehicle boat?

We could look back in 10 years time, if the EV industry fails again, and smile at Toyota's reluctance to move towards electric vehicles but at this moment in time this seems unlikely.