November 7, 2016

The world’s biggest car manufacturer is planning a huge jump into battery-powered EV production and could shift its entire focus to electric cars as early as 2020. This could be bad news for the competition.

Toyota has been slow on the uptake with battery-powered cars after seemingly leading the way for the electric revolution with the hybrid Prius.

In recent years it has almost willfully ignored the lithium-ion solution, apart from in hybrid cars, and its hydrogen fuel cell-powered Mirai is an ideal case in point. Hydrogen fuel cell cars could, one day, offer an alternative to batteries. But right now there isn’t a cost-effective way to produce hydrogen without burning fossil fuels and the car remains a novelty.

The first EVs bombed hard

Toyota did produce two all-electric versions of the RAV4 crossover SUV. The first was a lease-only option that it offered in California between 1997 and 2003. Just 1500 people signed up. The Japanese marque joined forces with Tesla for its second attempt and managed to sell just 2500 cars from 2012-2015.

Now, Nikkei Asian Review reports that the Japanese giant is about to make a determined effort and create a range of EVs before 2020.

It makes sense and Toyota really doesn’t have an option. Unless it can drive hydrogen fuel cell development forward single-handedly then it has to follow the trend and develop its own lithium-ion options right now.

Governments across the world are looking to ban Internal Combustion Engine car sales as early as 2030. That means Toyota doesn’t have much time to come up with a viable range of cars if it wants to maintain its position at the head of the automotive table. It is also notable largely by its absence when it comes to self-driving technology, too, and it could pay dearly for that unless it is working feverishly behind the scenes.

As it is the world’s largest manufacturer, it should be able to raise the R&D budget required to leave the likes of Tesla, Ford and even the mighty VW Group trailing in its wake before too long. But the Japanese marque does need to make a firm commitment to battery power as it will face its own challenges and problems.

Can Toyota make enough batteries?

That will include building its own Gigafactory, or finding a reliable source of batteries that can handle the unprecedented demand that this kind of mass manufacturer will place on them. It will also include a new vehicle architecture and all manner of changes to the production line that will take time to implement.

A company like Tesla can change direction in a hurry, but Toyota is a juggernaut and the board has honestly been left behind already. It’s good news that the marque is finally looking to embrace EVs, but there’s a lot of work to do between now and 2020 and we’ll be watching closely.

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