Toyota Claims No-One Wants it to Build Electric Cars. We Suggest it Isn’t Listening

When it comes to the plug-in car market place, there’s no denying that right now, plug-in cars account for a small proportion of the total number of cars sold worldwide every year. But it’s also a market that is experiencing massive growth, with pretty much every major plug-in car market recording year-on-year increases as more people than ever before dump the pump for the plug.

It’s a simple fact: plug-in car demand is on the rise.

Toyota says no-one wants its to make plug-in cars.

Toyota says no-one wants its to make plug-in cars.

Yet Japanese automaker Toyota disagrees. In fact, in a recent interview with The LA Times (via GreenCarReports) Craig Scott, Toyota’s U.S. manager of Advanced Technologies, claimed the reason that Toyota wasn’t making an all-electric car was because there wasn’t any demand for it.

Instead, he suggests, Toyota’s concentration on hybrid drivetrains and hydrogen fuel cell cars will be what enables Toyota to continue selling cars when gasoline is no-longer around.

“Today, Toyota actually favors fuel cells over the other zero-emission vehicles, like pure battery electric vehicles,” he said. “We would like to be still selling cars when there’s no more gas. And no one is coming to our door asking us to build a new electric car.”

Here at Transport Evolved,  we’d like to disagree with that notion. In fact, we’d like to suggest that Toyota isn’t really listening to it’s customers because they don’t tie in with its own plans for the future.

Here’s why.

Toyota's focus is on fuel cell vehicles, not plug-in cars.

Toyota’s focus is on fuel cell vehicles, not plug-in cars.

Back in the late 1990s, Toyota unveiled its first-generation RAV4 EV. Based on its popular compact crossover, the RAV4 EV was produced in limited numbers to satisfy the California Air Resources Board’s zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate, leased primarily to corporate entities, municipalities or utility companies. Capable of an EPA-approved 95 miles of range, these cars were produced between 1997 and 2003, with the majority of cars being leased rather than purchased. However, in March 2002, Toyota agreed to make the RAV4 EV available to the general public, shortly before cancelling production. As a consequence, some 328 cars were sold to the public, many of which survive to this day.

The majority of leased cars were sadly crushed by Toyota when they were returned at the end of their lease period, a process which — alongside the crushing of other electric cars like the GM EV1 and Ford Ranger EV pickup — led not only to the rise of the don’t crush campaign but also Plug In America and the excellent documentary Who Killed The Electric Car?

Since then, Toyota has focused on hybrid drive technology, only relaunching the Toyota RAV4 EV in 2012 as a second-generation, limited-production compliance car to satisfy California ZEV mandates. With drivetrain and battery pack manufacture farmed out to Tesla Motors, Toyota never planned to make more than the several thousand units required of it in order to meet its ZEV targets. Save for a few vehicles left at dealerships, the second-generation RAV4 EV is officially no-longer on sale. And despite numerous please from those outside the very limited-market areas in California where the RAV4 EV was sold, Toyota refused to expand RAV4 EV sales to other parts of the U.S. and even said it wouldn’t be offering routine service to RAV4 EV customers outside of the twenty-five approved EV dealers in California. 

The Toyota RAV4 EV is probably the last all-electric plugg-in we'll see from Toyota for a while.

The Toyota RAV4 EV is probably the last all-electric plugg-in we’ll see from Toyota for a while.

Like the limited-numbers of all-electric Scion iQ minicars — also produced under duress by Toyota to satisfy ZEV mandates and only ever sold for fleet use — the RAV4 EV remained unloved by Toyota during its entire production lifespan.

Only the limited-electric range Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid — whose sales numbers now total 38,000 units in the U.S. — has received any attention from its maker. And even then, it’s been to emphasise the fact that it doesn’t need to plug in in order to be driven.

Yet the biggest criticism we hear of the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid is that it doesn’t go far enough in electric-only mode. It’s a criticism we’ve heard from Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid owners and from plug-in vehicle advocates. It’s also a view we share her at Transport Evolved, along with most of our colleagues in the automotive press.

From where we’re standing, Toyota has been asked multiple times by customers and advocates to bring more capable plug-in vehicles to market. At every turn, it has spent time and money trying to convince the world that plug-in cars aren’t needed or wanted and at the same time, what we assume is large sums of money lobbying for the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Is this a case of Toyota not listening, consumers not shouting loudly enough, or ulterior motives?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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  • Surya

    Any plug-in car should be capable of delivering a good chunk of daily needs in pure electric mode. 6 miles doesn’t cut it.nnI understand why they are pushing FC technology, but I don’t believe that will be a big success in the short term, if ever. They are so focused on that technology that they are applying huge amounts of confirmation bias and sticking their head in the sand to dismiss BEVs. But no one in their right mind can look at the sales of the Leaf or Model S and say there is no real market for BEVs. The market is there and it is ever growing. No matter how much you pay your spin doctors, that is a fact that cannot be denied, yet Toyota tries to anyway. I think that will hurt their image as a progressive and green manufacturer in the long run.

  • Esl1999 .

    As more and more people feel comfortable with the idea of driving electric cars, the more the market will continue to grow. Hmm… just like the HYBRID! HELLO! ANYONE HOME. THINK McSCOTT, THINK. Toyota created the hybrid market (Honda goofed, so they don’t count). There wasn’t a clamoring for this newfangled vehicle. Auto journalist said hybrid vehicles were going to be a short lived fad and didn’t make much sense. Toyota should have designed the next Prius with the idea it could be a typical hybrid, Plug-in hybrid or pure BEV. I sure don’t see a lot of Honda Claritys driving around LA. I’ve only seen them on the road twice in 6 frikkin years. THINK McTOYOTA, THINK!

  • CDspeed

    Is no one asking, or is Toyota choosing to not listen? I think we already know the answer.

  • jimadcock

    Well I am a great fan of EVs but I have to agree with what Toyota says. At this point in time no one wants Toyota to build EVs anymore — they are so far behind that they should just GIVE UP!

  • Guest

    When I purchased my 2007 Prius I told Toyota in their post-sale marketing survey that this was the last gasoline powered vehicle I would be buying, and that they had to have a pure electric vehicle ready for my next purchase. They did not, so I am now the very happy owner of a Nissan LEAF which meets my needs. Here in sunny Southern California I can produce all the car’s electricity from solar panels on the roof. Toyota does not realize (yet) is that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ARE electrics cars, just with very complex, expensive and inefficient fuel cells in place of compact, efficient battery packs.

  • RogerG

    When I purchased my 2007 Prius I told Toyota, via their post-sale marketing survey, that this was the last gasoline powered vehicle I would be buying, and that they had to have a pure electric vehicle ready for my next purchase. They did not, so I am now the very happy owner of a Nissan LEAF. Toyota does not realize (yet) is that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ARE electrics cars, just with very complex, expensive and inefficient fuel cells in place of compact, efficient battery packs. Plus, I can produce the car’s electricity from solar panels on the roof, whereas my wife would not support having a hydrogen generator in the garage.