Shares of General Motors have surged 34 per cent in 2021 – that’s three weeks’ time – on news of the legacy automaker’s EV (electric vehicle) plans and a surprising and promising technology tie-up with Microsoft.

With this news, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas – an EV enthusiast in general and a Tesla cheerleader in particular — told CNBC that GM my be authoring one of the best turnarounds ever.

“What they are doing may end up being one of the most profound strategic turnarounds, not just in the auto industry, but in business,” said Jonas.

Various commentators and insiders are suggesting that GM’s EV and autonomous vehicle (AV) strategies may deliver a rich payoff – both financially and reputationally. GM’s Microsoft deal holds the potential of a “win-win,” we have been told repeatedly. Others are touting GM as the latest ESG play (environmental, social and governance), one that is leading the auto industry.

Meantime, IIHS Markit, a respected research and forecasting firm, predicts global EV sales rising by 70% this year alone. Last year, the firm added, when all is tallied, EV sales are expected to have hit 2.5 million units in the recessionary Year of COVID. In 2025, global sales will top 12.2 million, indicating annual growth of nearly 52% (compounded), IHS Markit said in its December forecast.

Toyota Mirai: an electric car, but a fuel cell provides the electrons, not a battery.

EV and “green” car sales more broadly are being driven by four key factors, notes Deloitte Insights in its latest deep drive into EVs: Electric Vehicles: Setting a Course for 2030.

The four:

  • Changing consumer sentiment (thank you, Greta Thunberg, for shaking up a world ready for your messaging);
  • Policy and legislation (thank you to those who recently voted for those who voted Liberal in Canada, and to the American who picked Joe Biden and the Democrats, with their trillion-dollar commitment to EVs and an overall green agenda);
  • Original equipment manufactures who have made a global commitment to non-polluting cars (thank you Tesla for scaring the heck out of legacy car companies, forcing them to take concrete actions);
  • And, overall corporate acceptance (thank you to the many companies committing to fleet purchases of EV now and into the future).

That’s the big picture. I, however, want to zero in on Toyota Motor, the world’s biggest laggard in EVs and a seeming outlier in EVs and the wider green movement. Indeed, Toyota is fighting the electrification wars with old-school hybrid electric models and great hopes for decades-long promise of hydrogen fuel cell cars – the latter being electric cars with the electrons sourced from on-board hydrogen, rather than from a lithium-ion battery, or a battery of some other chemistry.

Deloitte, in fact, lays out a rather stark near-term view of Toyota on the EV front. Yes, last year Toyota inked a joint venture with China’s BYD to develop pure EVs, and, yes, Toyota’s Hino struck a strategic alliance with BYD for commercial BEV development. (Futurist investor Warren Buffett is a big investor in BYD.) But this year, Deloitte notes that Toyota is targeting a measly 30,000 EV sales.

Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid.

By 2025, adds Deloitte, the VW Group (including Audi and Porsche) aims for global EV sales of 3 million annually, or 25% of total sales. Toyota? The goal is 500,000 sales a year. GM wants at least 1 million EV sales annually by 2025. Hyundai is shooting for 670,000 EV sales a year in 2025. Volvo wants half of its sales to be EVs by 2025.

Toyota, in a word, is lagging a trend that has shaken the automotive world to its roots. By the end of this decade, VW will have 70 new electric models (by 2028, in fact), Daimler expects half of its global sales to be electrics and GM’s Cadillac is planning for the majority of its models to be electric.

Yes, Toyota is a notoriously conservative and cautious car company. Nonetheless, Toyota takes the long view in product plans, though the company is secretive and defensive when it comes to details. Toyota might have a secret strategic EV plan we’ll one day actually see.

We do know that last month Toyota announced an electric SUV (sport-utility vehicle) for Europe, one based on Toyota’s e-TNGA modular EV platform, and Automotive News reports that a Toyota EV is coming to North America. Toyota has also announced a mass-produced EV will use a new solid-state battery pack before 2025.

Honestly, though, it seems as though Toyota is being dragged into the EV world, kicking and screaming. With good reason.

Toyota officials repeatedly argue that battery technology is not advanced enough for wholesale EV adoption. Toyota says its hybrid technology is an ideal way to meet tougher emissions standards worldwide, while batteries and fuel cells mature.

As one Toyota official told Car and Driver, “hybrid success has given us the foundation we need, for other electrified powertrains – which will be introduced when the time, the market, and the infrastructure are right. And that time is getting closer.”

RAV4 Prime, the plug-in hybrid.

Hybrids, then, are Toyota’s present and near-term future in the electrified vehicle race. As Toyota Canada noted recently, “Electrified vehicle sales represented a record 25.8% of Toyota Canada Inc. (TCI) overall sales in December, up 96.2% for the month with 3,521 units sold.”

Toyota’s current crop of hybrids includes the range-hobbled but still new RAV4 Prime plug-in to go with the equally limited and frustrating Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. And it’s possible to get a regular old hybrid in any number of Toyota and Lexus models – including the Corolla.

Still, you can’t buy a full battery-electric Toyota or Lexus brand model in Canada today, and you’re unlikely to be able to buy one for some time, even as the number of new EV offerings explodes in Canada.

So, a question: What does Toyota know that all these other car companies and investment analysts can’t see?

Comments are closed.