Toyota Chairman Acknowledges EV Realities as Industry Adapts
TOKYO — In a recent interview, Akio Toyoda, the Chairman of Toyota Motor, shared his perspective on the electric vehicle (EV) landscape, acknowledging the challenges faced by the industry. Addressing issues such as a recent decline in U.S. demand for EVs, Toyoda emphasized that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to combat carbon emissions.
Speaking in his capacity as the head of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Toyoda, who stepped down as Toyota’s Chief Executive earlier this year after a 14-year tenure, advocated for a diversified approach in the automotive industry. He expressed that it is essential to continue investing in hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles and explore options beyond pure electric vehicles.
As the sales momentum of EVs has lagged behind in the U.S., with more consumers opting for hybrid vehicles, Toyoda’s stance appears to gain validation. He remarked, “There are many ways to climb the mountain that is achieving carbon neutrality,” during an interaction with a group of reporters at the Japan Mobility Show, which is taking place for the first time in four years.
In recent months, various automakers, including Tesla and Ford Motor, have raised concerns about the sudden slowdown in consumer demand for EVs. EVs tend to be more expensive than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles and require regular recharging, which poses challenges for some drivers. Additionally, higher interest rates have made them less affordable for many buyers, leading to unsold inventory piling up at dealerships despite increasing discounts on plug-in models.
This shift in consumer interest raises concerns for an industry that is investing billions in new factories and battery production facilities while grappling with stricter global regulations on tailpipe emissions.
In a notable development, General Motors and Honda Motor announced the termination of a partnership aimed at developing a line of lower-priced EVs. The collaboration had originally aimed to produce millions of cars featuring GM’s Ultium batteries, a technology touted as the foundation of GM’s future EVs. GM’s decision to develop more affordable EVs and expand their battery technology to reduce costs faced challenges due to the uncertain EV market.
Japanese automakers, especially Toyota, have been vocal about the short-term challenges facing EVs, such as high costs, resource limitations, and limited charging infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Chinese market, the largest for vehicle sales globally, presents a competitive landscape with local companies engaging in an EV price war.
As the EV revolution continues to unfold, Toyota and other manufacturers have leaned on hybrid vehicles as a transitional technology. They have been closely observing leaders in the field, such as Tesla and China’s BYD. Toyota’s current CEO, Koji Sato, has pledged to accelerate the development of components and manufacturing methods tailored to EVs.
At the Tokyo event, Japanese automakers showcased a range of concept EVs, some of which won’t hit showrooms until the latter half of the decade. Toyota unveiled two EV concept cars scheduled for release after 2026, along with an electric pickup truck and a version of its Land Cruiser expected to launch in the coming years. Honda Motor’s joint venture with Sony also presented a prototype of its Afeela EV, set for delivery in 2026.
Foreign automakers at the show, including BYD, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, exhibited electric models available for purchase in select countries.
With their slower EV rollouts, Japanese brands face the question of whether they missed the wave’s timing or accurately gauged the general population’s readiness for an EV transition. Notably, Toyota’s head of sales in North America mentioned that the market for hybrids is thriving, with strong demand. This contrasts with their EV inventory, indicating a shift in consumer preferences.
Toyoda reiterated the importance of conveying what would make car buyers happiest and highlighted the potential repercussions if regulations are based on ideals rather than the practical needs of regular users.
In the first half of this year, global EV sales increased by 49%, a decrease from the previous year’s 63% growth, as reported by market research firm Canalys. A significant portion of these sales, 55%, occurred in China, where local manufacturers are gaining ground at the expense of foreign automakers.
In the U.S., some dealers believe that the initial wave of EV adopters has passed, while remaining potential buyers are deterred by high prices and limited range in many EV models. This sentiment is reflected in the decisions of major automakers like General Motors and Ford Motor, who have postponed or reconsidered their EV production plans.
Meanwhile, hybrid sales in the U.S. have been growing at a faster rate than the broader car market, leading automakers like Ford and Nissan Motor to focus more on promoting their hybrid and plug-in hybrid offerings.
Toyoda attributed the innovative concept vehicles showcased at the Japan show to Japanese automakers’ dedication to collaborating with battery manufacturers and exploring the possibilities in EV technology. He emphasized that the strength of the Japanese industry in the EV era would be rooted in practical car production over time and the lessons learned from failures.