With its heart set on a future where people drive hydrogen fuel cell cars like its upcoming 2016 Toyota Miria fuel cell sedan, Toyota is no fan of electric cars.
In the past few years, Toyota and its various PR and executive teams have gone out of their way to paint electric cars as slow, dull and boring. Despite producing limited numbers of RAV4 EV ‘compliance’ electric cars between 2012 and 2014 under duress to satisfy California’s tough zero emission mandate, Toyota maintains a hard corporate line that no-one wants it to build electric cars, that electric cars aren’t the future, and anyone driving them is doomed to suffer uncontrollable range anxiety.
Yet while Toyota has pretty much declared outright war on electric cars and maintains hybrid and hydrogen cars are our future, it might be on the brink of having to mass-produce one of those electric cars it hates so much.
As Bloomberg details (via GreenCarReports and ChargedEVs) the People’s Republic of China may be about to succeed where the rest of the world has failed — and force Toyota to mass-produce a plug-in electric car or plug-in hybrid.
It’s all part of a drive by the Chinese Government to reduce the chronic air pollution in its major cities and wean its citizens onto cleaner, greener transport. Part of a national policy to encourage the auto industry to build plug-in vehicles, automakers who produce vehicles for the Chinese market must produce at least some zero emission electric vehicles.
Like the zero emission mandate in California, China’s plug-in rules are something that automakers can’t side-step.
Due to regulations in China requiring all companies trading in the country be majority-owned by the Chinese Government, Toyota — like many other non-domestic automakers — doesn’t actually sell its vehicles in China as Toyota. Instead, it manufactures and sells Toyota vehicles through a joint partnership with Chinese-owned automakers Guangzhou Automobile Group and FAW Group. That way, the Chinese Government gets its majority shareholding in a Chinese company partly owned by Toyota without Toyota resinding ownership of its global business to the Chinese.
Regardless of who owns the car company that produces the cars however, the Chinese Government wants Toyota to build electric cars.
“It is the cost of entry of being here,” James Chao, managing director of IHS Automotive in Shanghai when discussing the task ahead of Toyota and its Chinese partners. “A lot of it is kind of for show, and they just want to please the government.”
Just as it did in California, Toyota will roll out a limited number of electric cars designed to keep the Government happy.
“They’ll do some token launches and token sales, but I’m not expecting any waves,” Ashvin Chotai, MD of Intelligence Automotive Asia. His firm helped Mercedes-Benz and Chinese-partner BYD ready their Denza EV for market. “This is just a distraction, an unwanted headache.”
Other automakers — including western brands like BMW and Volkswagen and South-Korean firm Hyundai — are playing a similar game to Toyota, building electric cars for the chinese market with partner firms in numbers that keep China’s fuel economy targets and ‘New Energy Vehicle’ mandates on track.
Combined, these firms could account for between 1 million and 2 million new cars in the coming years, helping China move towards a cleaner, greener future. But with China’s EV target at 5 million zero emission vehicles by 2020, China needs every automaker to pitch in.
And that means Toyota, hater of electric cars and the most reluctant of all automakers to build a plug-in vehicle for the Chinese market, must lend a hand as well.
As GreenCarReports’ John Voelcker notes, “Karma is a funny thing.”
We couldn’t agree more.
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