Toyota boss Akio Toyoda talks about EV skepticism, “comfortable dance”, his legacy

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda speaks during a small media session September 29, 2022 in Las Vegas.


LAS VEGAS — Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota Motor, last week simply said what he wants as his legacy: “I love cars.”

How the 66-year-old racer, car enthusiast and corporate scion will be remembered for his approach to all-electric vehicles versus gas-powered high-performance cars like the Supra or hybrids like the once groundbreaking Prius for years to come.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, plans to invest $70 billion in electric vehicles over the next nine years. Half of this is used for all-electric batteries. While it’s a significant investment in electric vehicles, it’s smaller than some competitors’ plans, and given Toyota’s global presence, not as much as some would like.

Despite criticism from some investors and environmental groups, Toyoda last week doubled down on its strategy of continuing to invest in a range of electrified vehicles, unlike competitors like Volkswagen and General Motors, who have said they will do it all. electric vehicles.

The plans could cement Toyoda’s “I love cars” legacy or tarnish it, depending on how quickly drivers embrace EVs.

“For me, playing to win also means doing things differently. Doing things that others might question, but which we believe will take us longest into the winners’ circle,” he said Wednesday during the annual Toyota dealer meeting in Las Vegas titled “Play to Win”.

Akio Toyoda with the new Toyota Supra

Paul Eisenstein | CNBC

Toyoda, who described Toyota as a big department store, said the company’s goal “remains the same and delights the widest possible choice of customers with the widest possible choice of powertrains.” hydrogen fuel cell vehicles such as the Mirai and 15 all-electric battery models.

Aside from the EV plans, Toyoda discussed several other aspects of the company’s business during last week’s dealer meeting and small roundtable with US media.

EV regulations and materials

Toyoda reiterated that he doesn’t think all-electric vehicles will be adopted as quickly as political regulators and competitors believe, for a variety of reasons. As examples of potential obstacles, he cited the lack of infrastructure, pricing, and customer choices that vary from region to region.

He believes it will be “difficult” to meet recent regulations calling for a ban on traditional internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035, as announced by California and New York to pass them.

“Just like the fully autonomous cars we’re all supposed to be driving by now, electric vehicles will take longer to become mainstream than the media would have us believe,” Toyoda said in a recording of the remarks to dealers shown to reporters. “In the meantime, you have many options for customers.”

Toyoda also believes there will be “huge shortages” of battery-grade lithium and nickel over the next five to 10 years, causing production and supply chain problems.

climate neutrality

Toyota’s goal is carbon neutrality by 2050, and not just through all-electric vehicles. Some have questioned the environmental impact of electric vehicles when considering resource extraction and overall vehicle production.

Since the introduction of the Prius in 1997, Toyota says it has sold more than 20 million electric vehicles worldwide. The company says those sales avoided 160 million tons of CO2 emissions, equivalent to the impact of 5.5 million all-electric battery vehicles.

“Toyota can produce eight 40-mile plug-in hybrids for every 320-mile battery electric vehicle and save up to eight times the carbon emitted into the atmosphere,” read prepared remarks for Toyoda provided to the media became.

Toyota’s reluctance to bring all-electric vehicles to market has been criticized by environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which have ranked the Japanese automaker last in the auto industry’s rankings for decarbonization over the past two years.

Standing pat with dealers

Toyota has no plans to overhaul its franchised dealer network as it invests in electrified vehicles, some rivals have announced.

“I know you’re worried about the future. I know you’re concerned about how this business is going to change. While I can’t predict the future, I can promise you this: You, me, us, this business, this franchise model is It’s not going anywhere, it’s staying the way it is,” he told dealerships to thunderous applause.

The franchise-dealer model came under pressure after Tesla and newer EV startups began selling directly to consumers rather than through traditional dealers.

GM has offered buyouts to Buick and Cadillac dealers who don’t want to invest in EVs, while Ford announced last month that dealers wanting to sell EVs must become certified under one of two programs — with investments of $500,000 or $1 $.2 million.

‘joy dance’

As part of light-hearted and comedic comments to dealers, Toyoda said he danced when automaker GM went on sale in the US for the first time last year

Though Toyota executives said the performance was unsustainable — GM led through the first half of this year — Toyoda still felt it was cause for celebration.

“At Toyota, we like to keep our heads down and not talk about our success,” Toyoda said before reenacting the dance onstage. “But when I heard that you became #1 in the US last year, I actually did a little merry dance in my office.”

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