Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda speaks out about skepticism about electric cars, ‘happy dance’, his legacy

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda speaks at a small media roundtable on September 29, 2022 in Las Vegas.

Toyota

LAS VEGAS — Toyota Motor CEO Akio Toyoda simply stated last week what he would like his legacy to be: “I love cars.”

How the 66-year-old racer, car enthusiast and scion of the company will be remembered for his approach to all-electric vehicles compared to gas-powered performance cars, such as the Supra, or hybrids, such as the once groundbreaking Prius, will play out in the coming years.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, plans to invest $70 billion in electric vehicles over the next nine years. Half of that will be for fully electric batteries. While it’s a substantial investment in EVs, it’s smaller than some competitors’ plans, and not as much as some would like given Toyota’s global footprint.

Despite criticism from some investors and environmental groups, Toyoda has over the past week doubled its strategy to continue investing in a range of electric vehicles, unlike competitors such as Volkswagen and General Motors, who have said they are going all-in on all-electric vehicles. .

The plans could enhance or tarnish Toyoda’s “I love cars” legacy, depending on how quickly drivers use electric vehicles.

“To me, playing to win also means doing things differently. Doing things that others may doubt but that we think will put us in the winning circle the longest,” he said Wednesday at Toyota’s annual dealer meeting in Las Vegas, which the gone, wash called “Play to Win”.

Akio Toyoda with new Toyota Supra

Paul Eisenstein | CNBC

Toyoda, who described Toyota as a major department store, said the company’s goal “remains the same, to satisfy the widest possible range of customers with the widest possible range of powertrains.” Those powertrains will include hybrids and plug-in hybrids like the Prius, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like the Mirai and 15 all-electric battery models by 2025.

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

EV Regulations and Materials

Toyoda reiterated that for several reasons he doesn’t believe fully electric vehicles will be introduced as soon as policy regulators and competitors think. He cited a lack of infrastructure, pricing and how customer choices differ from region to region as examples of potential roadblocks.

He believes it will be “difficult” to comply with recent regulations calling for a ban on traditional internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035, as California and New York have said they will pass.

“Like the free autonomous cars we should all be driving now, electric cars will take longer to become mainstream than the media would have us believe,” Toyoda said in a recording of the dealer comments shown to reporters. . “In the meantime, you have a lot of options for customers.”

Toyoda also believes there will be “massive shortages” of battery-grade lithium and nickel over the next five to 10 years, leading to manufacturing and supply chain issues.

CO2 neutrality

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

Since the introduction of the Prius in 1997, Toyota has sold more than 20 million electric vehicles worldwide. The company says those sales have 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 electric vehicle and save up to eight times the carbon emissions to the atmosphere,” prepared comments for Toyoda told media.

Toyota’s reluctance to launch all-electric vehicles has been criticized by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which have placed the Japanese automaker at the bottom of the car industry’s decarbonization rankings for the past two years.

Standing knock with dealers

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

“I know you’re worried about the future. I know you’re worried about how this company will change. While I can’t predict the future, I can promise you this: you, me, us, this company, this franchise model is not going anywhere. It will stay as it is,” he told the dealers with thunderous applause.

The franchise dealer model is 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 be certified under one of two programs — with investments of $500,000 or $1. ,2 million.

‘Happy dance’

As part of lighthearted and comedic comments to dealers, Toyoda said he danced when the automaker surpassed GM in the U.S. for the first time last year.

Despite Toyota executives saying the performance was not sustainable – GM led the first half of this year – Toyoda still thought it was cause for celebration.

“At Toyota, we keep a cool head and don’t talk about our success,” Toyoda said before reenacting the dance on stage. “But when I heard you were number 1 in the US last year, I actually did a little happy dance in my office.”

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