Dear EarthTalk: How did Toyota go from being the leader in greener mass-produced cars to being lagging behind in the industry?
– P. Brooks, Demarest, New Jersey
It’s hard to believe that Toyota, the automaker behind the huge success of the Prius hybrid-electric, is no longer seen as a leader in greener cars. According to Danny Magill, analyst at London-based think tank InfluenceMap, Toyota has gone from a leading position to an ‘industry laggard’ on clean car policy as other automakers pursue ambitious vehicle plans electric (VE).
InfluenceMap gives Toyota a “D” rating – the worst among automakers – saying it wields political influence to undermine public climate goals. As companies like Tesla have produced fully electric cars that are now all the rage on American roads, Toyota, focusing on gas-electric hybrids and futuristic fuel cell vehicles, has started to lose market share. Records show that the Prius Hybrid peaked in 2012 as the world’s third best-selling car lineup with 247,230 sales; sales fell to 69,718 in 2019, and 2020 has certainly been a lot worse (given the pull of the pandemic on the economy as a whole).
Toyota officials have publicly argued that an overly aggressive transition to fully electric vehicles could have negative setbacks. Instead, Toyota believes that hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles are more realistic in our transition from gasoline-powered cars to reduce emissions. “Too little attention is paid to what is going on between today, when 98% of cars and trucks sold are powered at least in part by gasoline, and this fully electrified future,” the door said. – Toyota speech, Eric Booth.
Toyota’s renewed interest in hybrid electric vehicles can be explained by the fact that their forward-looking hydrogen cars have been a failure to market success. These zero-emission cars contain hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that can convert hydrogen into electricity, unlike other battery-powered electric vehicles. Toyota’s hydrogen models can travel hundreds of miles on a tank and emit only water vapor. But the cost of hydrogen fuel and the lack of refueling infrastructure have kept the technology from becoming mainstream. Given these setbacks, Toyota has argued for its hybrid technology as a logical transition to greener transportation when hydrogen becomes more accessible.
In recent years, the company has also sued the Mexican government in an attempt to block energy efficiency standards there. Toyota also supported the former Trump administration’s legal battle with California over the overhaul of Clean Air Act emissions standards. Additionally, Toyota is reportedly part of a collaborative lobbying effort with the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Automobile Innovation to fight new regulations calling for zero-emission vehicles. Additionally, Toyota’s Political Action Committee was the main donor to congressional Republicans who opposed the 2020 presidential election results.
As Toyota continues to oppose real electric vehicles, major markets like China have taken an aggressive turn towards electric vehicle production and may ultimately force the company’s hand. Environmentalists and economists agree that for Toyota to increase its profit margins and remain viable in the future, it must rethink its vision and prepare for a battery-electric future.
CONTACTS: Toyota pushes for half-measures in Washington, electrive.com/2021/07/28/toyota-lobbies-for-half-measures-in-washington/; Toyota has made clean cars. Now critics say it works to delay them, nytimes.com/2021/07/25/climate/toyota-electric-hydrogen.html.
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