I’ve been planning to write this article for months. Maybe a year? Toyota has been perhaps the most anti-EV mass-market car company out there by some standards (perhaps excluding Fiat due to Sergio Marchionne). As I noted yesterday, its foray into plug-in electric cars was essentially the lamest of all, bringing a Prius Plug-in to market that just has 11 miles of battery-electric range, or 6 actual miles. It has been promoting the heck out of its lame, over-priced Mirai, while talking smack about battery-electric vehicles that are soooooo much better. And then it drops this kind of nonsense on the “limits” of battery-electric vehicles.

I wasn’t going to even address that Forbes article and just jump into why I really think Toyota is so anti-EV, but I can’t resist, so here’s a simple bullet list on the most ridiculous comments from Craig Scott, national alternative fuel vehicle manager at Toyota:

  • We don’t see any battery technology that would allow us to…give customers a comparable driving experience at a reasonable price.”
    Are you f***ing kidding me? I’ve driven dozens and dozens of cars, and none of the gasmobiles I’ve driven even compare to a BMW i3. A gasmobile for the price of a Nissan LEAF is a joke I wouldn’t tell my grandmother. The big story about electric vehicles is how much of a better driving experience they are. Yes, the rather expensive Tesla Model S is not for the 99%, but it crushes other premium sedans, and in terms of performance it even crushes $1 million cars! The lower-priced electric cars on the market don’t compete with the Model S, but they still offer a much better driving experience than their gasmobile equivalents. I recently rented a fossil-powered Mercedes and a BMW, and I felt like I was driving Power Wheels. But maybe I’m misunderstanding Mr Scott’s use of the word “comparable.”
  • We don’t see anything for the next ten years because if there was something in the laboratory today it would probably take seven to ten years to get into a production vehicle. With batteries there is a fundamental science problem that we don’t know how to solve. It’s going to require a new material that doesn’t yet exist. How long that takes is anyone’s guess.
    Hmm, Tesla has been pretty clear about the battery cost drops it has seen in recent years, and the continued cost drops it is certain it will see based on improvements it is already starting to implement and has in the works. Maybe Toyota should go do a little peeking around Fremont and Electric Avenue in Nevada. And btw, independent research has also found that battery prices are falling faster than expected, with prices today already lower than 2020 projections.
  • Nobody makes more batteries than Toyota. We’ve been doing batteries longer than anyone in the automotive business. Which is why we’re so bullish on fuel cells.
    Ahem, there’s a difference between “more” and “better.” Toyota may make and use a lot of crap nickel-metal hydride batteries, but Tesla & Panasonic (as well as Nissan, LG, and others) are leading the lithium-ion revolution. I see “market leaders” on this chart as being Tesla & Nissan… no Toyota around for some reason. Hmm. Looks like Toyota has been doing batteries wrong for a long time….
  • Then you have the challenge of charging because you can’t charge batteries too quickly.
    Well, first of all, let’s remember one thing: you typically charge an electric car overnight while sleeping! Last I checked, I didn’t need to jump in a car in the middle of my sleep. But anyhow, for those few times when you need to charge away from home, an 80% charge from 10% in 40 minutes seems plenty fine for plenty of current Tesla owners, and that just keeps getting better and better… you know, because Tesla is trying, unlike some companies.

electric car batteries

Anywaaaay…. yeah, Toyota either doesn’t think plug-in electric cars are the future or doesn’t want other people to think they’re the future. So now I’ll get to what was originally supposed to be the focus of this story.

Someone intelligently informed me within the past year that it’s typical for leaders of one tech generation to be laggards in the next. Basically, the point is that they are fond of their existing leadership and market status, so they deny the relevance and superiority of the coming wave of technology. This can be done consciously and/or subconsciously.

toyota prius


I don’t know if this is something Toyota leadership is doing consciously or subconsciously, but I do think this is the reason it is so far behind in the plug-in car market and revolution. If you think of hybrid cars, the first thing you probably think of is the Toyota Prius. Toyota far and away led the rise of the conventional hybrid car market, and it still dominates that market. It doesn’t want that to change, and it doesn’t want the conventional hybrid market to get cannibalized by electric cars (or fuel cell vehicles, by the way, but fuel cell vehicles are hopeless, so there’s no real threat).

Toyota actually “wants a 30% take-rate for hybrids out of the vehicles it will sell in China in 2020.” That’s the largest car market in the world. It also wants its hybrids to pull in a lot of cash in the US and Europe as environmental regulations get tougher and tougher.

It’s no crime wanting to be #1. But it’s a big folly to say in a football (soccer) match that you’re going to keep attacking the same goal in the second half because you like that one.

Toyota could take a lesson from Kodak and not have its own Kodak moment. It could take a lesson from dozens of companies that crashed and burned when they were too slow to move into the next technological revolution. From 8-tracks to cassette tapes to CDs & DVDs to MP3s and so on, from letters to telegraphs to landlines to cell phones to smartphones, we’ve seen plenty of technological revolutions in the past century. To assume that gasmobiles and conventional hybrids won’t make way for plug-in electric cars despite the many big advantages of plug-in electric cars is ludicrous.

I don’t know if I feel bad for Toyota executives or if I am angry at them, but I definitely think they’re running the wrong way right now, and would be better off keeping their mouths shut about the future of transportation until they figure out what’s actually going on.

Oh, and by the way, Toyota is aiming to sell 3,000 Toyota Mirai fuel-cell cars in the US by the end of 2017. Renault-Nissan has already sold 250,000 electric cars worldwide. Nissan has sold ~70,000 Nissan LEAFs in the US. Tesla is on track to sell ~55,000 electric cars in 2015 alone, and is leading the premium car market in the US. Which technology is ready and which isn’t?

Images via Nykvist et al. and Teddy Leung / Shutterstock.com