In just a few short months, Toyota has gone from EV sceptic to committed battery-electric carmaker. It’s a shocking about-turn.
With the release of detailed plans for its 2022 bZ4X – the first of a range of Beyond Zero or BZ electric vehicles — Toyota has thrown in the towel. The world’s second-largest and most profitable automaker has ended its formal opposition to EVs and done a 180.
Or as The Verge so quaintly put it, “Toyota finally gets off its ass and announces a real electric vehicle strategy.”
In a way, Elon Musk and Tesla – Tesla, the world’s most VALUABLE car company — have won at least Round 1 in what promises to be a long-running EV bout. A very personal one, too.
I will get deeper into the ongoing slugfest between Musk and Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda. First, step back and appreciate how quickly Toyota has gone from EV-bashing to EV visionary.
Just months ago, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda was loudly proclaiming that electric vehicles are overhyped and that if EVs go mainstream in Japan and elsewhere, they’ll blow up the grid and put scads of autoworkers on the dole.
Now Toyota Motor says it will have 15 new battery electric vehicles by 2025. Nikkei Asia has reported that Toyota wants to sell at least 500,000 electric vehicles annually in 2025.
That’s a big number, though still just 5% of Toyota’s total global sales for any one year. Note, too, that Musk says Tesla will sell “a few million cars a year” by 2025 or thereabouts. Volkswagen AG has its sights set on producing 1 million electric cars by the end of 2023.
So, we are entering Round 2 in the EV fight. But this heavyweight Battle Royal is going the full 12 rounds, with legacy carmakers like Toyota, with its deep pockets, along with the Volkswagen Group and others fighting to hold off upstarts like Tesla and Lucid, Fisker and Nikola and others.
Toyota has the will, the resources, the global reach and a loyal, committed base of customers. Musk is unimpressed. He has made it clear that he thinks Toyota is the automotive equivalent of the Yamato, Japan’s powerful but doomed WWII battleship.
Musk’s colossal hubris may lead him to yet take a fall, by underestimating, perhaps even dismissing, Toyota. Toyota is no Yamato. It’s a sprawling car company, yes, but also a rich and disciplined one. Toyota took seemingly forever to get into this fight, but to borrow a line from history, this once-sleeping giant is now awake.
As interesting as the EV race is, it’s not as entertaining as the very personal drama unfolding between Musk and Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota Motor’s founder. This whole Toyoda vs. Musk clash has become more than just business; it’s become a schoolyard brawl.
Akio Toyoda not long ago took direct aim at Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk. Toyoda told Bloomberg that Tesla may have the “recipe” for the car of the future, but Toyota has “a real kitchen and a real chef.”
Toyota cooks in vast and far-flung R & D facilities and its manufacturing is global. Toyoda himself wears the apron and a white hat, no question.
But perhaps more than anything, I suspect that what grates most for Toyoda is the share price story.
“We are losing when it comes to the share price,” the grandson of Toyota’s founder told Bloomberg.
Yes, Tesla’s market capitalization is equal to the next 10 largest carmakers combined, including Toyota. That’s irritating for Toyoda, no doubt. But there’s more to this story.
You see, Toyota sold its stake in Tesla far, far too soon, missing out on a massive gain. Toyota dumped its 3% of Tesla in late 2016 when Tesla was trading at around $40.50. Tesla today trades at about $1,000/share.
The best estimate is that in late 2016 Toyota dumped about 2.3 million Tesla shares, for a total of about $93 million. Today, those 2.3 million Tesla shares would be worth some $2.3 billion.
Yes, Akio Toyoda was CEO in 2016. Of all the decisions he’s made at the top of Toyota, that may rank as the one he’d most like back.
Of course, it’s personal.