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Toyota mulls sideways move to EVs

2016 Prius. Source: Toyota

The Japanese automaker is eying a battery electric vehicle with a 300km range by 2020

In something of an about-face, Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. has indicated that it may pursue the mass production of long-range EVs. The new vehicles would hit the market in around 2020.

On 8 November, Toyota’s executive vice president Takahiko Ijichi, signalled interest in the market, although as the Wall Street Journal noted he did not give a timeframe. Nor did he refute a report from the respected Nikkei business newspaper the day before that long-range Toyota EVs could be commercialised within four years.

Nikkei, in a report that did not name sources, reported that Toyota would establish a team in early 2017 to work on EVs with a range of more than 300km, for launch in 2020.

According to the news agency, the Prius and Corolla ranges are being considered as potential platforms for an electric SUV.

The Japanese automaker has previously said it would concentrate on EVs for the shorter-distance commuting market. It has instead thrown most of its efforts into hybrids such as the ubiquitous Prius and the hydrogen-fuelled Mirai – an FCV capable of travelling around 500km on a 5kg tank of hydrogen.

However, poor sales appear to have dented the company’s vision. At a recent EV conference, a source in the vehicle leasing industry told ElecTrans that the company had not sold a single Mirai in the UK this year.

Nevertheless, if the report proves to be correct, it marks a welcome shift in position for one of the automotive market’s more powerful figures. The Prius was an early standout in the push for hybridised vehicles with batteries, and more eco-friendly personal transport in general; that magic could potentially be recaptured in the form of a successful pure-battery model.

That said, being a long way behind some of its competitors, Toyota will have an uphill struggle in putting together a convincing EV offering even if it begins immediately. In addition, while some of its electric drive train components may be transferrable from its work with the Mirai, sourcing, design and integrating larger batteries could be problematic – especially ones which can offer a 300km range.

As with so many car manufacturers, Toyota is now playing catch-up. Let’s hope it keeps its 2020 vision in sight.


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