Toyota pushes back on zero emissions goals by converting older models

CHIBA, Japan (AP) — To accelerate the global movement toward sustainable vehicles, Toyota is simply suggesting replacing the inner workings of vehicles already on the roads with cleaner technology like fuel cells and electric motors.

“I don’t want to leave any car enthusiast behind,” chief executive Akio Toyoda said Friday, appearing on stage at the Tokyo Auto Salon, an industry event similar to global auto shows.

The message was clear: Toyota Motor Corp. wants the world to know that it hasn’t fallen behind in electric vehicles, as some critics have implied.

Japan’s leading automaker, behind luxury brands Lexus and the Prius hybrid, is showcasing its clout: it has all the technology, engineering, financial reserves and industry experience to remain a strong competitor in green vehicles.

Toyoda told reporters that it would take a long time for all cars to become zero emissions, as they only represent a fraction of vehicles sold. Changing old cars to go green, or “conversion”, was a better option, he said.

Toyoda, the grandson of the company’s founder and himself a racing enthusiast, also hoped to debunk the stereotype that clean cars aren’t as fun as regular cars.

On Toyota’s Gazoo Racing stand, the maker of luxury Lexus models and the Camry sedan showed a video of its world rally triumph, as well as electric and hydrogen versions of the Toyota AE86 series, including the Toyota Corolla Levin, to highlight what Toyoda called his “conversion” strategy.

The automotive industry is undergoing a transformation due to growing concerns about climate change. Car manufacturers are often accused of being the culprits.

Toyoda said green efforts in the auto industry were beginning to be appreciated in many countries, but he felt less appreciated in Japan.

Toyota has led the industry with its hybrid technology, exemplified by the Prius, which has both an electric motor and a gasoline engine, alternating to provide the most efficient drive. This has often been seen as reflecting his reluctance to go fully electric.

Battery electric vehicles make up around 20% of the car market, despite the hype around newcomers like Tesla and even Dyson. Europe remains ahead of the United States and Japan in the transition to electricity.

And is it therefore unfair to categorize Japanese automakers as green laggards?

On the one hand, the scarcity of certain components like lithium could drive up the prices of electric vehicles, and consumers could stick to hybrids, says Matthias Schmidt, chief automotive analyst at Schmidt Automotive Research.

“If this was 2025 and you were asking the same question, I’d say the Japanese OEMs missed the boat. But seeing as it’s 2023 and companies like Toyota are starting their BEV rollout, their timing is probably in times,” he said.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter

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