Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda has made no secret of the fact that he really hates electric vehicles. This weekend he offered this latest episode:
“People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Toyoda told reporters in Thailand. according to to The Wall Street Journal. “That silent majority questions whether electric cars are really OK to have as the only option. But they think it’s the trend, so they can’t talk out loud.”
He just might be right! It wouldn’t surprise me at all if a majority of car drivers dislike electric cars. After all, the old auto industry dragged its feet on EVs. In cases where they had promising produce, they let it wither on the vine. In other cases, the products rolling off the assembly line were clearly the bare minimum needed to comply with the law. They would probably prefer to keep making gas and diesel vehicles, and if those go away, at least they’ll have an alternative to batteries, which have become an industry-wide headache as supply chains experience growing pains.
Toyota’s electric intransigence may seem strange to some. The company pioneered the mass-market hybrid-electric powertrain, which debuted on the Prius and has spread across the range. From that, it has almost certainly gained decades of experience with electric motors, battery packs and battery management systems, which are also key components of an electric powertrain.
But while hybrids may have seemed like a major breakthrough, they weren’t a radical change for an industry that had become accustomed to adapting the internal combustion engine ad nauseam to make up for its shortcomings. Hybridization added electric motors to get the car rolling and assist at low speeds, where fossil fuel engines are least efficient; it did nothing to eliminate the internal combustion engine.
The ranks at every old automaker are filled with mechanical engineers, many of them experts at squeezing extra tenths of a percent out of internal combustion engine technology. While they may be capable enough when it comes to designing electric powertrains, it’s not their core competency. Switching to electric cars would put electrical engineers in the driver’s seat.
From that perspective, Toyota’s embrace of hybrid technology should not be seen as a springboard to an electric future, but as yet another attempt to extend the reign of the internal combustion engine.