CHIBA, Japan (AP) – To accelerate the global shift to sustainable vehicles, Toyota is proposing to simply replace the inner workings of vehicles already on the road with cleaner technologies like fuel cells and electric motors.
“I don’t want to leave any car enthusiast behind,” Chief Executive Akio Toyoda said Friday as he appeared on the stage at the Tokyo Auto Salon, an industry event similar to auto shows around the world.
The message was clear: Toyota Motor Corp. wants the world to know that it hasn’t fallen behind on electric vehicles, as some critics have suggested.
Japan’s top automaker, behind luxury brands Lexus and the Prius hybrid, highlights its clout: it has all the technology, engineering, financial reserves and industry experience needed to remain a strong competitor in green vehicles .
Toyoda told reporters it would take a long time for all cars to be zero emissions as they account for only a fraction of vehicles sold. Converting old cars to green, or “retrofitting,” is a better option, he said.
Toyoda, the company founder’s grandson and a keen racer himself, also hoped to debunk the stereotype that clean cars aren’t as much fun as regular cars.
At the Toyota Gazoo Racing booth, the maker of the Lexus luxury models and Camry sedan displayed a video of its triumph in global rallies, as well as the battery-electric and hydrogen-powered versions of the Toyota AE86 series, including the Toyota Corolla Levin, underscoring what Toyoda is doing in its “conversion” strategy called.
The auto industry is in a state of upheaval due to growing concerns about climate change. Car manufacturers are often blamed as the culprit.
Toyoda said the green efforts in the auto industry are gradually being appreciated in many countries, but he feels less appreciated in Japan.
Toyota has dominated the industry with its hybrid technology, exemplified in the Prius, which has both an electric motor and a petrol engine and switches back and forth to deliver the most efficient drive. This was often seen as reflecting his reluctance to go fully electric.
Battery electric vehicles make up about 20% of the auto market, despite the hype surrounding relative newcomers like Tesla and even Dyson. Europe remains ahead of the US and Japan in the move to electric vehicles.
So is it unfair to categorize Japanese automakers as green laggards?
For one, scarcity of certain components like lithium could push up electric vehicle prices and consumers could stick with hybrids, says Matthias Schmidt, chief auto analyst at Schmidt Automotive Research.
“If it was 2025 and you asked the same question, I would say the Japanese OEMs missed the boat. But since it’s 2023 and companies like Toyota are starting to roll out BEVs, their timing is probably right on schedule,” he said.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama