Toyota Has a Curious Justification for Not Selling Any EVs (Yet)

The automaker's lineup is conspicuously lacking in full battery-electric cars, and we found out why.

2019 Toyota Prius
Toyota
  • has long said it believes hybrids are a better bridge .
  • Most competitors, however, have been been bullish on developing battery-electric vehicles.
  • A Toyota executive finally outlines the logic behind the company's EV decision making.

    Toyota does not sell a single full-electric vehicle in the United States, not counting the . It has indicated plans for electrics, which at last check , but so far remains committed to plain old gasoline-electric hybrid cars, of which it offers plenty. The obvious question, then, with Tesla's expanding brand power and mainstream automakers racing to introduce EVs, is why Toyota isn't chasing them all into the fracas.

    At the , Gerald Killmann, Toyota's vice president of research and development for Europe, enlightened us as to why the automaker hasn't embraced EVs: battery production capacity. Now, Toyota isn't exactly limited in its battery production, although its capacity is significantly lower than that of, say, Tesla. It is how Toyota is allocating that production that matters. According to Killmann, Toyota is able to produce enough batteries for 28,000 electric vehicles each year—or for 1.5 million hybrid cars.

    Per Toyota, selling 1.5 million hybrid cars reduces carbon emissions by a third more than selling 28,000 EVs. Put another way, the company is generating a more positive environmental impact by selling many times more gas-electric hybrid cars than it would by selling far fewer EVs (and therefore, far more fully gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles), while also providing its customers more practical vehicles (because of no range or charging anxieties) at more affordable prices. There are only so many batteries to go around, after all.

    Toyota also is one of the few automakers still using nickel-metal hydride battery (NiMH) chemistry in a large number of its electrified products (including some trim levels of hybrid), although the company also offers lithium-ion tech in some trim levels of the Prius and in plug-in hybrid (pictured below). Not only are nickel-metal hydride cells cheaper than lithium-ion units, but Toyota has found that their susceptibility to memory-related degradation—essentially, partial discharge and recharge states, versus full battery drainage and refilling—relative to lithium-ion packs aren't as drastic as initially feared. Need proof? Look at how many big-city Toyota and Ford hybrid taxicabs running their original batteries have six digits on their odometers.

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime
    Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid
    Toyota

    Killmann wouldn't go deeper than that fuzzy math (for example, details around those carbon emissions calculations), and it's difficult to say whether the logic was created to explain away Toyota's nonexistent EV offerings or if it has been Toyota's plan all along to take an unsexy, pragmatic approach to reducing new-vehicle carbon emissions globally. But Killmann has gone on record before stating his preference for distributing Toyota's finite battery capacity among a greater number of hybrid vehicles than a smaller number of full-electric models. Our discussion in Geneva marks the first time we've heard the logic behind that thinking articulated so clearly. So just know that because Toyota doesn't sell any EVs now doesn't mean it can't sell EVs or lacks the means. It is simply taking its usual careful, calculated approach to a long game. Toyota still sees hydrogen fuel-cell tech as the true future of mobility, and clearly hybrids are an important bridge to that future.

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