When the first generation Toyota Prius was launched in 1997, many laughed at Toyota’s quirky hybrid. Fast forward 20 years later, and Toyota is the only full range car manufacturer (EV and passenger cars-only Tesla aside) to be on track to meet the European Union’s 96g/km average fleet-wide CO2 emission targets by 2021.
Every manufacturer operating in Europe except Toyota now risks having to pay billions of Euros in fines by 2021. The fallout of diesels following Volkswagen’s fiasco over its emissions testing procedures has accelerated the demise of diesels and the migration towards electrified drivetrains – hybrids (HVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
Year-on-year, global deliveries of Toyota and Lexus hybrids are consistently growing in double-digit percentages, and last year it hit 21 percent (totaling 480,794 units, including Lexus).
At this rate, Toyota projects that it will hit its milestone five years earlier, which while sounding positive, is not necessarily a good thing as the development timeline will now have to be significantly shortened and Toyota needs a new plan to cope.
As recent as 2017, Toyota’s internal target was to sell 5.5 million electrified vehicles annually by 2030. Of these, 4.5 million units will be hybrids and plug-in hybrids, with over 1 million zero emission BEVs and fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV). At its current rate however, Toyota is expected to reach these milestones by 2025 instead.
Last Friday, Toyota announced its roadmap to popularize BEVs. Six clay models previewing the future electric Toyotas were also shown. All the models shown are aimed at the global market but Toyota stopped short of giving any specific introduction timing other than saying “…2020 onwards.”
Of the six models – three are SUVs/crossovers of varying sizes, one minivan, one two-door 'tallbox', and one large hatchback/fastback style (but the description says it’s a sedan) model. Some (if not all) of these, will utilize the e-TNGA platform, a variation of Toyota’s modular TNGA platform that already underpins the C-HR, Camry, and Corolla.
The medium-size SUV has already been announced as a joint-development with Subaru while the two-door hatchback will most certainly be jointly-developed with Daihatsu.
A Japan-only BEV minicar will also be introduced. Analogous to Japan’s 660cc ‘kei’ minicars, Toyota’s first two-seater, short range driving BEV will go on sale in Japan next year, with another similar-sized model aimed at small businesses planned.
In his speech, Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi admitted that BEVs are very expensive to produce but they are without a doubt, necessary to meet future requirements. The conventional business model of manufacturing a car and selling it to a customer won’t work with BEVs, and collaboration with other manufacturers is necessary.
Beyond Subaru and Daihatsu, Toyota is expanding its partnership with battery manufacturers. It has signed an MoU with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. (CATL) and BYD while maintaining existing cooperation with its long-time partner Panasonic.
CATL is the world’s largest manufacturer of batteries for HV, PHEV and BEV cars while the Warren Buffett-backed BYD is the world’s largest BEV manufacturer.
The long-term goal is to ensure that Toyota BEVs will continue to live up to the company’s famed reliability standards. The company wants to extend its know-how in extending the Prius’ battery durability into BEVs.
Batteries, motors, and power control units are considered by Toyota as a core technology for BEVs and in typical Toyota culture, it considers mastering core technologies (rather than relying totally on a third-party supplier) to be very important, even if developing these in-house will take a longer time and requires more investment.
Mobility as a service (MaaS) is also another avenue business opportunity. The recent tie-ups with Grab and Uber are the more visible ones; Terashi said that Toyota is in talks with more than 40 different companies but the time is not right to reveal further details in these plans yet.
In short, what Toyota is saying is that it is not possible to make money from selling BEVs (hint to Tesla’s investors). A total rethink of the business model is necessary, and doing so requires extensive collaboration with many parties.
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