Toyota finally gets off its ass and announces a real electric vehicle strategy

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Toyota, an early pioneer in electrification that has since fallen far behind its competitors, finally announced an electric vehicle strategy that will result in 15 new battery-electric vehicles released by 2025.

The company, which helped pave the way for companies like Tesla and others by proving that vehicles with alternative powertrains could be immensely popular, also unveiled a new concept EV at the Shanghai Motor show called the BZ4X. The electric SUV concept will serve as a starting point for other models with the BZ (which stands for “Beyond Zero”) branding in the future. Toyota did not reveal any details or specifications for the BZ4X, but it did say the vehicle would be released in China and Japan later this year.

In total, Toyota said it would release 70 new models by 2025, including battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and gas-electric hybrids, for a range of “diverse choices” for its customers. The company, which is the largest automaker in the world, will build these vehicles using the flexible platform that it developed in partnership with fellow Japanese automaker Subaru. (Toyota currently owns a small stake in Subaru.)

The BZ4X will be built on this e-TNGA platform, which will enable several characteristics, including a steer-by-wire system, all-wheel drive, improved visibility, and a regenerative braking system that is common among electric vehicles. Toyota said the BZ4X would be released globally by the middle of 2022. Subaru is rumored to be designing its own electric vehicles built on the e-TNGA platform.

Though it’s just a concept, the BZ4X looks to be close to completion. The interior of the car features a unique instrument cluster, with the screen set back from the steering wheel in a way that Toyota says will improve driver visibility. The central infotainment screen appears to be floating above the dash as opposed to embedded within it. And there are a number of physical buttons in the center console and on the steering wheel, proof that Toyota is not fully embracing the digital user experience like companies like Tesla.

Up until this point, Toyota has resisted fully embracing electric vehicles as the future of the auto industry, despite its status as an early adopter of battery-powered transportation. In its announcement, Toyota touted its success in the hybrid market, noting that it has sold 17 million “electrified vehicles” since the Prius’ release in 1997.

But while Toyota has been content to rest on its laurels with the Prius, the rest of the industry has lapped it several times. Companies like Nissan, General Motors, and Volkswagen have been selling pure battery-electric vehicles for years, while also revealing their plans to phase out gas cars completely. Toyota’s failure to embrace EVs is not a new concept; The New York Times noted as much in this article from 2009.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s top executives, including billionaire CEO Akio Toyoda, have been on the record calling the trend toward electric vehicles “overhyped” in part because of emissions associated with power plants — which is a favorite talking point used by the oil and gas industry.

Of course, we’ll know more about how serious Toyota is in embracing electric vehicles when the company has more to say about powertrain details and range, as well as the types of vehicles it will be making.

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