Photo/Illutration Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota Motor Corp., explains the automaker’s strategies for better electric vehicles at a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 14. (Tsubasa Setoguchi)

Toyota Motor Corp., the worlds No. 1 carmaker, decided to radically shift gears by putting its rivals on notice that it intends to sell 3.5 million electric vehicles annually by 2030 as part of efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

Prior to its Dec. 14 announcement, Toyota had been wary of embracing the global trend toward an all-out shift to fully electric models.

Standing with a line-up of EVs under development at a showroom in Tokyo’s Odaiba district, Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota, underscored the company’s readiness to roll out more EVs.

“We want our customers to experience the fun and style that the only EVs can offer,” he said.

In May, the company announced that its global strategy would center on selling 10 million units in 2030 with hybrid vehicles being the mainstay. It said 6 million units would be either hybrids or plug-in hybrids. EVs and fuel-cell vehicles together accounted for 2 million units.

It said the strategy was designed to meet the differing needs of local markets around the world.

“Our enemy is carbon, not the internal combustion engine,” Toyoda said. “We need to have various technological options to hand.”

And even as late as September, Toyoda, who also chairs the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, told a news conference that pursing EVs single-mindedly and rejecting other forms of technology for car engines was the wrong path to take.

“Some Japanese politicians floated the idea that all vehicles should be battery powered and continuing to have a domestic manufacturing industry may no longer be valid,” he said at the time. “But I oppose that idea.”

EVs, despite being much cleaner than gas-powered engines, are not necessarily a panacea to tackling climate change, say experts. They noted that if EVs run on electricity derived from fossil fuels, they play an indirect role in emitting carbon.

Minimizing carbon emissions still remains a formidable challenge in terms of the lifecycle of a vehicle from production to eventual scrapping. Not only that, the manufacture of batteries requires a huge amount of energy, much of which is still derived from fossil fuels.

Transitioning to EVs would allow the auto industry to jettison layers of subcontractors that provide parts for internal combustion engines, with massive job losses being the result.

That is partly why Toyoda remained cautious about rushing headlong into EV production at the expense of other engine technology. In essence, shifting to all-out EV production to reduce the company’s carbon footprint would have a direct impact on employment in the industry.

Toyoda’s position at times was viewed as being too wishy-washy on the issue of responding to climate change in the global market.


The New York Times, reporting on Toyota’s reluctance to embrace an all-out transition to EVs, ran an article in July under the headline, “Toyota Led on Clean Cars. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them.”

In November, Greenpeace placed Toyota in joint last place in a global ranking of decarbonization efforts by 10 leading automakers, saying the company had become the key obstacle to the auto industry’s shift to all-out EV production.

Touted as a remedy to help reduce global warming, the market for electric vehicles is booming. For instance, the market value of Tesla Inc., which specializes in battery-powered cars, topped $1 trillion (113 trillion yen), more than three times that of Toyota, in October. Tesla’s sales volume is only one-10th of that of Toyota.

Some Toyota executives have expressed concerns that Toyota suffers from an image problem.

“The company has been portrayed as being against EVs,” said Jun Nagata, an operating officer with Toyota. “What we think has not been conveyed accurately.”

As a result, Toyota has decided to put more muscle into the production of EVs as other carmakers in the global market jump on the EV bandwagon.


Honda Motor Co. plans to transform its entire line-up of global sales to EVs and FCVs by 2040 and has earmarked 5 trillion yen for research and development costs in this area over the next six years.

Nissan Motor Co., on the other hand, projects that EVs and hybrids will account for half of its global sales by fiscal 2030. It plans to commit 2 trillion yen to the development of batteries and related devices over the next five-year period.

Toyoda made an impassioned plea for his company to be viewed as a carmaker that is also strong in producing battery powered vehicles.

“Our company should be assessed from our target to sell 3.5 million EV units alone,” not including FCVs, he said at the Dec. 14 news conference.