Toyota’s Big EV Show Reminds Me of Chrysler in 2008
It's exciting to see a huge crop of new concepts, but I've got some skepticism.
For being a pioneer of the hybrid car, Toyota’s apparent lack of investment in electric vehicles has been curious. That seemed to change this week when the company dropped an entire lineup of EVs along with a big statement about its future electric car commitment. The concepts, mostly unnamed, encompass nearly all of Toyota’s market segments including pickup trucks, crossovers, sedans, coupes, and even what looks to be a mid-engined MR2-esque revival. Folks are excited; it looks like Toyota’s rounded a corner. But will it follow through?
I only ask because we’ve seen this kind of fanfare before from other brands… namely Chrysler. Before Fiat, Chrysler (under Cerberus ownership way back in 2008) trotted out a series of impressive-sounding electrified concepts, at least three of them were running and driving prototypes. In the context of the era, Chrysler’s hybrid Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Patriot, Chrysler 200 concept, Chrysler Town and Country, (all badged “EV”), and fully electric Dodge Circuit EV (which, similar to the Toyota concepts, didn’t have a name at first), felt as if they were meant to show the brand was more forward-thinking than it actually was. If you remember 2009, the Town and Country EV was said to be a gamechanger, a car much better and usable than the pundit-disappointing Chevrolet Volt. It was a family van that could go more than 40 miles on fuel electric power, and cruise 400 miles on just eight gallons of gas.
Obviously, none of those “game-changing” cars really came to fruition. About a decade later, Stellantis (nee FCA) did release plug-in hybrid versions of the Wrangler and Pacifica minivan, but they’re not quite the industry-redefining monoliths we thought we’d get back in 2009.
Of course, Chrysler’s mothballing of its early electrification plans had everything to do with Chrysler’s bankruptcy, rather than an unwillingness or non-viability of the projects. Toyota’s story is different, but until this week it felt like the company had an active disdain for electric cars.
Earlier this month, Toyota’s statements indicated it was taking a “wait and see” approach to mid and lower-tier EVs, which could be interpreted as a “yeah, probably never” response from the traditionally conservative company. Toyota’s adamant that hybrids, fuel-cell hydrogen vehicles, and the like will still be a strong part of its portfolio. The company’s even directly lobbied against a fully electric vehicle push. In electric car-crazy China, its EVs seem to be the Chinese equivalent of a compliance car; it has hastily converted existing gas vehicles with mediocre range, or it has rebadged versions of China’s domestic homegrown EV efforts.
Toyota has said in the past that it planned on “introducing 15 BEVs“, but I’m not sure I’m ready to be convinced by such statements given its history of slowness to change. I mean, some of the EV concepts look strikingly similar to not-so-old other Toyota concepts. Toyota is mum on any sort of platform or powertrain specifications, other than a vague statement that they’ll be on new modular EV platforms. It’s impossible to ascertain how much actual research and development has been done on any of these models, despite the research Toyota says it has done into battery tech and lithium sourcing. At least the old Chrysler prototypes ran.
And like the Chrysler prototypes, maybe it’s smart to hold back our excitement until we see something on the roads, right? Toyota’s first homegrown contemporary EV, the bZ4X should be on sale shortly. We shall soon find out if it is worth our time, and its success will likely tell us if Toyota really is serious about EV development. Until then, I won’t believe that cute EV FJ-Cruiser lite thing is real until it’s actually at my local Toyota dealership. Fingers crossed because it’s so cool-looking, Hell, I’d even take a hybrid version. But, Toyota’s track record says that it wants to wait and see on EVs. Well, I think we should wait and see on Toyota.
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