There was a time, not so long ago when Tesla and Toyota were best buddies. With $110 million invested in the Californian firm that made electric cars sexy, Toyota relied on Tesla to produce an all-electric drivetrain for its second-generation RAV4 EV crossover, and Tesla reciprocated by presenting Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda with his very own Radiant Red 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. The relationship between Toyoda and Tesla CEO Elon Musk looked so good, some even called it a bromance.
Today, things couldn’t be any more different. In addition to dropping production of the RAV4 EV as soon as it met the required quota set by Californian ZEV mandates, Toyota has become almost an arch nemesis of Tesla, selling all of its Tesla stock, promoting its hydrogen fuel cell technology as the only logical fuel of the future, and taking great pains to dismiss electric cars at every opportunity. And that’s before we even examine the two blatantly anti-electric ads from its luxury brand Lexus.
Now one of Toyota’s better-known EV skeptics, senior vice president for U.S. operations, Bob Carter, has been caught openly mocking its former electric car partner for putting “all its eggs in one basket” on drivetrain technology during a speech in San Francisco last weekend.
Speaking at the 2015 J.D. Power Automotive Summit, Carter’s speech was intended to present auto dealers with an overview of Toyota’s plans for the year, with information about its latest products, planned launches and sales figures for the previous year.
As Ward’s Auto (Via GreenCarReports) notes however, Carter went off-script during the presentation, making comments in response to Elon Musk’s long-held belief that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles should be called ‘fool-cell’ vehicles due to their relative inefficiencies and high costs compared to battery electric cars.
“If I had all my eggs in one basket, I might be making the same comments,” Carter is quoted as having said by Wards Auto, but we — and our friends at GreenCarReports note that phrase is absent from the official Toyota transcript of the speech.
Toyota’s official version stops short of playground comebacks.
“And unlike other electric cars with limited range and long recharge times,” the script reads. “Mirai can be re-fueled in three to five minutes and travel about 300 miles on a single fill-up. In other words… the Toyota Fuel Cell System in the new Mirai… is simply… a better battery.”
Continuing his preview of the Mirai to the assembled audience, Carter detailed Toyota’s recent production increase in Mirai Fuel Cell Sedan production in its home market of Japan, and promised great things of the Mirai when it goes on sale in the U.S. later this year.
“We already had 16,000 hand-raisers tell us they want a [Toyota] Mirai in their own driveway,” he said.
We feel obliged at this point to note that hand-raisers doesn’t mean confirmed orders. Much like the early days of the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt, the term ‘hand-raisers’ refers to people who have currently placed their name on a waiting or mailing list so that they can receive more information on Mirai fuel cell sedan when it nears its debut later this year. Until those people have test-driven the car, talked about financing and signed an order form, those 16,000 people can walk away without spending a dime.
As for the Tesla/Toyota spat? At worse, we think it makes Toyota out to be overly cocky about its fuel cell technology, a technology which requires a lot of infrastructure investment to truly become usable in the mainstream world. Either that or genuinely scared by the Californian company.
Will either firm ever make up? How will the spat between electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles end? And will the two companies ever happily coexist side by side again? And isn’t Toyota doing the same thing with hydrogen that Tesla is with electric: using it as the fuel choice of the future, the fuel on which all of its future hopes are built?
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