Toyota continues BEV schizophrenia

The Japanese OEM cannot leave hydrogen alone even after talking up its all-electric game

Toyota continues BEV schizophrenia
The Japanese OEM is once again stressing that FCEV remains a priority

“It is not that we do not have the BEV line-up in hand. It is just a question of when we will actually launch it.” So says Yoichi Miyazaki, CFO of Japanese OEM heavyweight Toyota.

Indeed, the firm did showcase three possible BEV passenger vehicle options at last month's Japan Mobility Show, albeit it chose to put some less mass market-friendly options at the centre of its pitch there.

But if anyone thinks that the firm, oft criticised for being a BEV laggard, is finally fully committed to building a future where BEV is front and centre, Toyota seems determined instead to muddy the waters, including its ongoing fascination with hydrogen as a possible passenger car solution.

Launching a new version of its Crown sedan in its home Japanese market this month, it is offering an HEV version. But rather than bolstering it with a BEV option, it has decided to go with a FCEV, despite all efforts to win over buyer enthusiasm for hydrogen-powered vehicles so far being a bust.

And it is defiant about its approach. “Just as some claim Toyota is giving up on hydrogen passenger cars, we go and launch another one,” trumpets the firm’s European head of communications Robert Tickner.

“What better way to illustrate that Toyota is NOT giving up on hydrogen fuel cells? The truth is that Toyota is accelerating its business in other sectors such as trucks, buses, heavy duty and genset to help stimulate the infrastructure development.

“By doing so, eco-systems can be created and hydrogen economies can flourish. It is a case of leveraging more chickens to generate more eggs. The key point is that hydrogen fuel cell technology is advancing, not being deprioritised or parked,” Tickner continues.

What customers want

The enthusiasm for hydrogen is all the more baffling given that Toyota itself recognises that its inability to produce the BEVs that customers want, in China and beyond, is already hurting its business. It has “made a downward revision with BEVs” in China, Miyazaki admits, aiming instead to “increase the number of HEVs and secure the total number of units”.

And it has also had to face up to Chinese consumer feedback that its current BEV offering is not up to scratch. “Toyota has received messages from customers that they think there is still room for improvement, particularly with the bZ4X, and so we will upgrade them as appropriate,” says Miyazaki.

But the problem is not just in China. Toyota is also facing the possibility of Chinese BEV exports eating its lunch in other regional markets. We have seen numbers confirming that BEV exports from China are on the rise,” notes the finance chief.

“We also recognise that BEVs are beginning to exist as a segment, particularly in Thailand. Regarding the future outlook, I believe that we should assume that Chinese BEV and other manufacturers either increase exports from China, or try to expand their operations into local markets.”   

Given the threat it recognises, one might expect Toyota to redouble its BEV efforts. Its Chinese competitors will instead likely be rubbing their hands at yet another FCEV distraction.

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