The earth apparently shifted in the last few days. Toyota is joining the battery car race in a very serious way.
The timing is interesting here. Just as General Motors began production of its Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle (pictured above) in Michigan, on the other side of the world, Nikkei reported that Toyota Motor plans to begin mass-producing electric vehicles (EV) by 2020. Shocker.
Until very recently, Toyota had been at best lukewarm about EVs. Top officials argued that the charging grid in most countries is not robust enough to support a mass-market move to EVs. Moreover, Toyota had argued that batteries are too expensive and range is too limiting.
Toyota has, in fact, been in favor of expanding hybrids and plug-in hybrids in the short term, before moving ahead with hydrogen fuel-cell cars.
But over the last few days, reports have emerged that once-skeptical Toyota sees an important place for EVs. Why the change of heart at Toyota? The Bolt and Tesla’s promised Model 3 almost certainly have had a role to play here.
Ah, the Bolt. It will begin arriving in selected showrooms in the United States late this year, billed as the most-affordable long-range EV in Canada. Canadian deliveries will start next year at a base price of $42,795. Range: 383 km, more than 33 km more than the Model 3 due for sale about a year after the Bolt hits showrooms. With subsidies in Ontario, consumers will pay a base price of $31,434 for the Bolt.
In terms of raw sales, the Bolt will be a minor player, at least initially. The forecasting firm IHS expects GM will sell about 30,000 Bolts in 2017.
Through the end of September, global plug-in sales totaled 515,000. The good news for EV fans is that plug-in sales are up 54 per cent year-to-date globally.
But that number may be a conservative estimate. Tesla claims to have 373,000 Model 3 orders on its books. Volkswagen and its luxury brand, Audi, have said plug-ins are at the centre of its long-range plans – as do all the other major car companies in the world, from the Volkswagen Group to BMW, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and the rest.
Heck, even Ferrari is moving quickly here. CEO Sergio Marchionne says that beginning in 2019, most if not all of Ferrari’s lineup will have some sort of gasoline-electric hybridization, reports The Detroit News.
Marchionne says this represents a “fundamental shift” for the high-performance brand. He could be talking about the entire auto industry. A fundamental shift is now underway, indeed.
But don’t underestimate the importance of Toyota jumping on board the EV bandwagon. Nikkei says Toyota will create a dedicated in-house team for planning and developing plug-ins. Timing? As soon as the new year. The goal: create an EV with a range of 300 km on a single charge.
With Toyota firmly in the game, the world’s automakers are now in a heated race to develop mass-market battery cars. The game most certainly is on.