It took Toyota two decades to sell 11 million hybrid and electric cars. But in another 12 years, Toyota thinks it can sell 5.5 million of them annually.
Until now, Toyota had been reluctant to commit to dedicated battery-electric cars, instead offering limited-scale, expensive retrofits like the RAV4 EV. Now it plans to have 10 battery-electric cars in its lineup by the early 2020s and to sell one million fully electric cars annually by 2030. By 2025, all new Toyota and Lexus models will offer hybrid or electric trims. To put those numbers into perspective, Toyota’s prediction of 5.5 million electrified-vehicle sales in 2030 is more than half its current 10 million worldwide sales of all its vehicles.
This certainly is not the end of internal combustion, however. Toyota will sell dedicated electrified vehicles as it does now, such as the Prius and the Mirai, while offering an option of hybrid and electric powertrains across its lineup. This means traditional hybrids in the grand Prius tradition, plug-in hybrids like the Prius Prime, performance hybrids for Lexus, heavy-duty hybrids for trucks, electrified powertrains for low-cost models, battery-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel-cell electrics for both passenger and commercial duties.
It’s interesting that despite naysayers and the dearth of refueling stations, Toyota isn’t giving up on hydrogen, the world’s most abundant element. Without going into specifics, Toyota said it will arm hydrogen-heavy markets (likely meaning California) with more fuel-cell vehicles, including trucks, starting in the 2020s. But since plug-in gasoline-electric hybrids are much simpler to build and sell in all 50 states, we can expect many more of those models.
To aid that effort, Toyota said it plans to make the world’s “best automotive prismatic battery” with longtime supplier Panasonic. Toyota has used prismatic batteries—which are thinner, lighter, and potentially better for underfloor packaging than the cylindrical cells found in most electric-car batteries—for years in the Prius. It’s also continuing research on solid-state batteries, a technology that could offer faster charging, higher power density, and a longer life.
There’s still no consensus on battery formats among global automakers. Executives at both BMW and Volkswagen, for instance, speaking during the recent Los Angeles auto show, pointed to prismatic cells as the format that would work best for the future, but they underscored that they aren’t planning exclusively for any one specific format because none has yet emerged as dominant.
Over the longer term, the battery announcement could disrupt relations between Panasonic and Tesla, which produces cylindrical lithium-ion battery cells at its Gigafactory in Nevada. Anything Panasonic develops for Toyota will be proprietary—and, interpreting Toyota’s subtle wording, the prismatic and solid-state designs could upstage the cells Panasonic currently builds for Tesla. On the other hand, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda stated last week that a goal of the Toyota-Panasonic partnership is to reduce the cost of batteries over time, and he underscored that this isn’t a closed alliance.
Toyota announced in June that it had sold off its remaining stake in Tesla, officially demarcating the end to battery R&D between the two companies. If the battery performance and cost improvements achieved by the Toyota-Panasonic alliance go beyond what the Gigafactory can achieve as the world’s largest lithium-ion battery plant, Tesla could get into a tug of war with Toyota over Panasonic. By profit margins and sheer size, we’re pretty sure which company would get drawn into the mud.