Toyota's surprise reveal of its electric car lineup that’s coming our way

Presentation in Tokyo aims to deflect accusations of electric car delays

Given its long-held expertise in hybrid cars, you might be surprised to learn that Toyota has come in for more than a little criticism from environmental watchdogs in recent months.

While most major car makers have committed to becoming all-electric car makers by the end of the decade (or even before that in some cases), thus far Toyota has not a single electric model of its own on sale, and has only shown off one production-ready EV, next year's bZ4X (Lexus has an EV on sale, but only the one - the UX300e).

Indeed, influential environmental think-tank Transport & Environment recently berated Toyota for relying on “polluting hybrid technologies” to meet its carbon emissions commitments, and scolded it for not having set a sufficiently ambitious EV sales target for 2030.

Today, that may have all changed. At an event in Tokyo, Toyota's chairman Akio Toyoda showed off no fewer than 15 new electric models - some production ready, such as the bZ4X and the Lexus RZ, others concept versions of future products - and that's only half the planned total.


Between the two brands - Toyota and Lexus - the Japanese giant now says that it will introduce some 30 all-electric models between now and 2030. Its plans for zero-emissions car sales by that date have swollen from two million to 3.5 million, and it will invest a whopping €13 billion in new battery technology.

As part of the plan, some of those zero-emissions cars will be powered by hydrogen, rather than batteries. Toyota still reckons that we’ll need more than just battery power to achieve zero motoring emissions, and is one of the few car makers that can actually afford to invest in both streams of technology. “We are living in a diversified world and in an era in which it is hard to predict the future.

Therefore, it is difficult to make everyone happy with a one-size-fits-all option. That is why Toyota wants to prepare as many options as possible for our customers around the world. We believe that all electrified vehicles can be divided into two categories, depending on the energy that they use. One category is that of “carbon-reducing vehicles”.

If the energy that powers vehicles is not clean, the use of an electrified vehicle, no matter what type it might be, would not result in zero CO2 emissions. The other category is that of “carbon-neutral vehicles”. Vehicles in this category run on clean energy and achieve zero CO2 emissions in the whole process of their use. We at Toyota will do our utmost to realise such vehicles” said Toyoda.

The concept vehicles shown cover a huge swathe of models. At the smaller end, there's a compact Aygo-X-sized urban crossover, and a pair of tiny city vehicles, in the mould of the Citroen Ami - one is a passenger car, the other a delivery van in miniature.

The lineup runs through the expected plethora of crossovers and SUVs, along with a Camry-sized four-door saloon, a retro-look SUV that takes cues from the classic 1970s ‘FJ’ series of Land Cruiser, and a hulking HiLux-like pickup truck.

Sports cars

Most intriguingly, there are two overtly sporting models. A sleek Lexus coupe, which could be a replacement for either the current LC coupe, or maybe the previous bombastic LF-A supercar - for which Lexus claims a 2 second 0-100km/h acceleration and a 700km range - and what appears to be a mid-engined sports car, which could be a hint of what the next-generation Supra will look like.

There are greater concerns at play than mere sports cars though. Toyoda was keen to play up the company’s plans for carbon-neutrality. “When it comes to natural resources, Toyota Tsusho began conducting lithium and other surveys as early as in 2006 and has been working to secure stable sources. And in the area of energy, Toyota Tsusho has been working to secure renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power generation for more than 30 years” said Toyoda.

“Furthermore, at manufacturing plants, we are aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 by continuously making steady improvements toward reducing energy use and by expanding the use of innovative production engineering technology. In this diversified and uncharted era, it is important to flexibly change the type and quantity of products produced while keeping an eye on market trends.

“Energy plays a critical role in achieving carbon neutrality. That is exactly why Toyota is committed to providing a diversified range of carbon-neutral options to meet whatever might be the needs and situations in every country and region. It is not us but local markets and our customers who decide which options to choose.

“As for why we try to keep so many options, in terms of business management, one might think it’d be more efficient to focus on fewer choices. However, we believe that quickly adapting to changes in the future is more important than trying to predict the future, which is uncertain. That is why we want to keep options available for our customers until the right path is clear.”

Toyota’s electric car plans will start to reach customers when the electric bZ4X goes on sale next year.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring