JAPAN: Toyota drops plan for widespread EV sales
Toyota has scrapped plans for widespread sales of a new, all-electric minicar, saying it had misread the market and the ability of still-emerging battery technology to meet consumer demands.
According to Reuters, Toyota, which had already taken a more conservative view of the market for battery powered cars than General Motors and Nissan Motor, said it would sell only about 100 eQ vehicles in the United States and Japan in an extremely limited release.
The automaker had announced plans to sell several thousand of the vehicles per year when it unveiled the eQ as an pure-electric variant of its iQ minicar in 2010.
"Two years later, there are many difficulties," Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's vice chairman and the engineer who oversees vehicle development, told Reuters in Tokyo on Monday (24 September).
By dropping plans for a second electric vehicle in its line-up, Toyota cast more doubt on an alternative to the combustion engine that has been both praised for its oil saving potential and criticised for its heavy reliance on government subsidies in key markets like the United States.
"The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society's needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs or how it takes a long time to charge," added Uchiyamada, who spearheaded Toyota's development of the Prius in the 1990s.
Toyota said it was putting its emphasis on that technology, an area in which it is the established leader. It said on Monday it expected to have 21 hybrid petrol-electric models in its range by 2015. Of that total, 14 will be all-new, the automaker added.
Toyota "expects global sales of its hybrid vehicles to be at least 1m units a year from 2013 to 2015", news agency AFP reported.
"If we carry out hybrid technology (development), we can use it as elements of technologies for next-generation vehicles," Uchiyamada was quoted as saying.
"Above all, hybrid is very practical," he said. "So, we will continue to develop the hybrid as the core technology."
Reuters noted that Toyota has said previously it expects to have a hybrid variant available for every vehicle it sells. It has recently widened its Prius line with compact, seven-seat and plug-in variants.
Consumer demand for EVs like the Nissan Leaf has been capped by their limited range and the relatively high cost of the powerful batteries they require.
The decision to drop plans for more extensive rollout of its eQ city car leaves Toyota with just a single pure EV in its line-up. The automaker will launch an all-electric RAV4 model in the United States that was jointly developed with Tesla Motors.
Toyota expects to sell 2,600 of the electric-powered sports utility vehicle over the next three years. By comparison, it sold almost 37,000 Camry sedans in August alone in the United States, its largest market.
Reuters noted that Toyota is also far from its plug-in hybrid sales target. It planned to sell between 35,000 and 40,000 Prius plug-ins in 2012 in Japan but so far has sold only 8,400, or about 20% of the target.
The plug-in Prius is designed with a battery that can be charged for just over 20km (12.4 miles) of battery-powered driving. After that, the vehicle behaves like a more traditional hybrid and relies on its petrol engine for extended range.
"We believe that there is social demand for the plug-in hybrid, but our efforts to let the customers know what it is have not been enough," Uchiyamada said.
A broad industry consensus sees plug-in cars accounting for only a single-digit percentage of total global sales over the next decade. Nissan remains more bullish, forecasting that by 2020 10% of all cars sold will be electric.
Globally, Nissan has sold about 38,000 Leafs since the vehicle's launch at the end of 2010.
US president Barack Obama has set a goal of getting 1m electric vehicles on the road by 2015, a target many analysts say will be impossible to achieve, the news agency noted.