Toyota aims to electrify its future

Mark Smyth reports on how the Japanese carmaker plans to enter the battery-powered era.

08 March 2019 - 15:10
By Mark Smyth
Toyota will continue to focus on hydrogen fuel cell models like its Mirai, but SA would need sufficient infrastructure to support the technology.
Toyota will continue to focus on hydrogen fuel cell models like its Mirai, but SA would need sufficient infrastructure to support the technology. Picture: SUPPLIED

When it comes to alternative powertrains, Toyota is famous mainly for its Prius. Whether you are a fan or not, the Prius put hybrids on the map, certainly more so than Honda’s Insight. The company has installed its Hybrid Synergy Drive in a number of models and in SA you could have it in the Yaris and the Auris as well as in their more luxurious brethren, those wearing Lexus badges.

What Toyota does not really have though, is electric vehicles. But all that is set to change as the company embarks on a rapid change in its line-up over the next  10 years to expand its range of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, add pure battery-electric derivatives and standalone models and pursue its strategy in hydrogen fuel cell technology.

We spoke recently with the president and CEO of Toyota Europe, Johan van Zyl, who has risen through the ranks after years in charge of Toyota SA.  In 2019 the company is launching a number of new models in SA, including the new Corolla, Rav4, Supra and Quantum, but what about beyond that?

Pressure from governments, action groups and consumers around the world, together with a number of scandals such as Volkswagen’s Dieselgate, have pushed automakers to implement alternative powertrain solutions.  SA is behind the curve, with non-internal combustion engined models accounting for a fraction of sales at the moment. Hybrid derivatives accounted for a massive 46% of Toyota sales in Europe in 2018. But SA will have to catch up as car companies look to capitalise on investment in research and development.

Van Zyl says the strategy will be for a wide number of alternative powertrain options in the future. “The base will still be hybrid, but on top of that we will have plug-in hybrids, we will have battery electric vehicles and we also sell a limited number of hydrogen models (Mirai) – but definitely we’ll have this full spectrum of our vehicles.

“We say that we are going to do  5-million electrified vehicles by 2030 of which  1-million will be battery electric vehicles (BEV),” he adds.

Crucially, Toyota has announced that by 2025 every single model in its range will have an electrified powertrain as an option. The company also says that it will start launching BEV models after 2020 with  10 expected in the first few years of the decade.

Ultimately, it plans to phase out models that use only an internal combustion engine, probably between 2030 and 2040 according to its strategy document. By 2050 the company plans to have zero CO² emissions across its range, with the majority being hybrid, followed by plug-in hybrid. Together these will account for  more than 75% of its global models, with the remainder being made up of BEV and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

It’s unclear how quickly this strategy will be implemented in SA though, with Van Zyl  saying it will be based on local demand in individual markets. Europe, for example, has strict emission targets that automakers have to meet and alternative powertrains are key to achieving those targets, SA does not, in spite of being a signatory to international climate change agreements, have targets.

We can certainly expect to see more hybrid options coming to the market though and the big one will of course be the Hilux. Van Zyl would not commit to answering questions on plans to electrify the Hilux, referring only to the statement that the company will have all vehicles available with an electrified powertrain. All vehicles? That would have to include the Hilux too then.

Toyota’s plans to have no internal combustion engine-only vehicles by the latter half of the next decade will also mean massive changes to its line-up in SA, although its strategy appears to show a focus on hybrid rather than BEV or hydrogen in the country and in Africa. However, SA could benefit from a shift to hydrogen which, as Van Zyl says, could become an energy source for homes and businesses rather than just a source for mobility.

For now though, the focus, at least publicly for Toyota in SA, is on the short term, with it implementing the promise of its global president, Akio Toyota, to provide more exciting models.