Feb 19, 2021 - Economy

Toyota still bets on hybrids despite competitors' focus on EVs

Picture of the side of a car that says "plug-in hybrid"

Toyota's best-selling vehicle, the RAV4, is available as a plug-in hybrid, which goes 42 miles on battery alone. Photo: Toyota

While competitors like GM and Volkswagen are going all-electric, Toyota argues that a mix of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs is better for the environment.

Why it matters: Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) aren't for everyone, and a new analysis shows that even people who own BEVs don't drive them as far as the average gasoline-powered car.

  • That challenges assumptions about both their environmental impact and total cost of ownership.

Between the lines: Toyota's top scientist, Gill Pratt, shared the automaker's own analysis of BEVs vs. plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) at a recent media briefing.

  • BEVs and PHEVs have similar environmental benefits when you include pollutants created by the production of electricity to charge the batteries.
  • Cars with bigger batteries for maximum range only make sense for people whose electric power comes mostly from renewable sources, Pratt said.
  • "If you purchase a [battery-electric] that has substantially more range than average, you end up carrying around a lot of extra battery mass," he said.
  • "You may as well have bricks in the trunk that you're carrying around — and they're actually very expensive bricks, because not only do they cost a lot, but they create greenhouse gases themselves" when they are manufactured.

Yes, but: One could argue that Toyota is trying to justify the fact that it lags major competitors on BEVs.

  • But the Japanese carmaker has always been deliberate about everything it does, and its slow path toward EVs is no exception.

The bottom line: Toyota is not ignoring the EV trend, says Bob Carter, executive vice president of sales for Toyota Motor North America.

  • It plans to add two BEVs and a PHEV to its lineup this year.
  • But expect a more diversified set of powertrain choices, unlike competitors that are going 100% electric, he said.
  • "The goal is how can we, as an industry, reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases the quickest," Carter said. "One solution may not be the best solution. I want to be the Macy's department store of powertrains."
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