Here is some good news – the world is getting greener! Maybe not fast enough, but definitely faster than ever before. And interestingly enough, one car manufacturer has had a big role in that.
The idea of green vehicles has been around for quite a while. Nevertheless, one company managed to pull ahead by offering an affordable model that became an icon. Since 1997 Toyota Prius has been the staple of the green-thinking community. If you wanted to be known as someone who cares about the environment you would buy that car. But now… things have changed.
While revolutionary at the time, modern hybrid cars are just not that special anymore. Do you know what is? Full out EVs! We want that Tesla, or Kia, or even Hyundai (but seriously, mainly Tesla). Somehow we do not hear about people wanting a green Toyota anymore. What happened?
It seems weird that a company so focused on pushing better and better hybrids has not challenged the EV market yet. One would think they would be among the first to offer such a solution. Today I will try to figure out why Toyota has not done so yet. Perhaps we can even learn a thing or two about the EV situation in general. Shall we hit the road then?
Following the money – is it all about profit?
My first thought is that we have the entire thing wrong. Perhaps Toyota does not care about the green car market at all. Maybe they are just chasing the money and the Prius only served that goal. However, this cynical outlook does not seem to hold up.
For starters, the EV market is growing. If any company is primarily concerned about money, they would definitely go after it. And this is exactly what we are seeing with most of them. Pretty much all major companies have unveiled plans about going electric in the near future. It is almost strange that Toyota is the actual outliers here. Something is going on!
If we are to be honest, money always plays a role. You just cannot divorce a business from its revenue. Perhaps we should be asking better questions. For example: Why does not Toyota care for the growth of the EV market? Do they not want a slice of that juicy pie?
A bit of Toyota’s green history
Have you ever heard of the blue ocean strategy? This is a business concept that explains why certain companies succeed where others fail. To put it simply: a blue ocean is a market that a company develops “out of the blue”. One could say that Toyota did exactly that at the end of the 20th century.
Their Prius model came to the global market in the year 2000. It broke new ground by being the first mass-produced full hybrid. That means you could drive it solely on battery power! Granted, its batteries would not last long, but they helped to cut back on gas expenditure quite a lot. Who could guess people actually wanted that?
The first major milestone came in 2008 with 1 million Prius models sold. Just 2 years after that they hit 2 million. All in all, they are currently at over 4 million vehicles sold. Seeing such a success, they expanded their hybrid lineup as much as possible.
Nowadays you can get many of their models in a hybrid version. All of them are marketed as fuel-efficient within their segments. Here are some notable examples:
- Toyota Camry – mid-size sedan (52 mpg vs 35mpg on non-hybrid)
- Toyota Avalon – full-size sedan (43 mpg vs 25mpg on non-hybrid)
- Toyota RAV4 – small SUV (34 mpg vs 27 mpg on non-hybrid)
- Toyota Highlander – big SUV (30 mpg vs 23 mpg on non-hybrid)
Okay, obviously Toyota is pushing their hybrids quite hard. It has been a lucrative niche for them, which has driven many other companies to explore the field as well. However, the story is changing now. In the face of affordable EVs, the appeal for hybrids is going down. Other manufacturers are catching onto that, but we do not have a clear view of where Toyota is headed. Except for this one thing…
Toyota’s alternative to EVs
If you have not been paying attention, you may not know that the electric engine is not the only green car solution out there. In the case of the Bajaj Qute, for example, they are trying a different approach. It is not as “green”, but its affordability can make it the more effective solution in certain regions.
On the other hand, Toyota is trying to figure out something much more radical – a car running on hydrogen. They even have a working model in the face of Toyota Mirai. Sadly, it has not been received as well as Toyota’s other green vehicles. There are a few reasons for that:
- It is complicated. You cannot just take hydrogen and put it in your car. You need quite the infrastructure for that. Basically, instead of a gas station, you would go to a hydrogen station. Obviously, that is quite the drawback compared to the simplicity of electrical charging.
- No cost incentive. Right now the price of the hydrogen fuel is as high as regular gasoline. It will drop if the technology becomes more widely adopted, but that will not happen for quite some time.
- Bad marketing. Toyota has done a poor job explaining why their hydrogen fuel cell technology is better than the electric motor. On top of that their terrible design decisions do not help either. Many consider the Mirai to be an utter failure in terms of aesthetics.
- Safety concerns. Toyota has done their best to prove the car is as safe as possible. However, people are still concerned about the fact that hydrogen is highly combustible. Even if such worries are unnecessary, it is Toyota’s job to show us that. Which again ties to bad marketing.
In addition to all that, their hydrogen engine does not really run on hydrogen. Instead, the energy extracted from hydrogen is converted to electricity in so-called fuel cells. That means that they basically have a more complicated EV. Why go through all that trouble then? Would it not be better if they simply went the EV route? Let’s see what Toyota has to say!
Why Toyota does not want to explore the EV market
Some of Toyota’s representatives have spoken out, and we can learn a thing or two from what they have said. As it turns out, Toyota may not be shying away from EVs altogether.
Bob Carter, a representative at Toyota’s USA branch, has stated that the company does not focus on any single technology. They will continue selling hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell cars. However, they will also offer EVs as a part of their lineup as soon as 2020.
Here is an interesting note though – Toyota does not believe that the EV market will have much of a share in the grand scheme of things. The automaker predicts EVs are about to take only 4-6% of the entire vehicle pie. That sounds weird to me, considering the much higher projections of virtually every other manufacturer.
So is Toyota in the wrong here? I think so. The company is waiting to see where the market is going, which may be a bad move. I would say the issue has nothing to do with low demand, but rather low supply on the manufacturer’s part. Take the electric SUV market, for example. Do you think people do not want such cars? Of course, they do! We are all just waiting for affordable and good-looking options, that is all!
Do we even want a Toyota EV?
If you read a bit more about hydrogen fuel cells, you may actually like the idea. I see plenty of merit in the whole thing. When I think about it, perhaps it would indeed be better for the world if Toyota focused more of its efforts on pushing that technology.
That being said, I do not know if the automaker can make sound decisions now. Businesses need money to run and there is nothing wrong with pursuing a thriving market. Especially if you are good at making quality cars. Sure, having a blue ocean with little competition is great, but it needs a lot of investment. I think Toyota may lose steam if they do not take the EV market more seriously.
So yes, in my opinion, Toyota EVs would be a great thing. The more options customers have the better. That would also give Toyota enough power to improve its hydrogen infrastructure. At that point we will have two competing technologies and both will be green. Sounds awesome to me!
What do you think though? Maybe you do not care about any future EVs from Toyota. I would understand it if they have lost your trust by now. What about their hydrogen fuel cell technology then? Is it worth it? Let me know!