How Did Toyota End Up So Far Behind on Electric Vehicles?

It innovated with the Prius but then seemingly decided hybrids were good enough.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
2023 Toyota bZ4X
Photo: Toyota

For years, I defended Toyota’s reluctance to sell an electric vehicle. It was just a conservative company waiting until there was more demand for EVs. And it’s not like it wasn’t doing anything with batteries and electric motors. Toyota sold both conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Making an EV when the time was right would be like flipping a switch for Toyota. Except here we are in 2023, and it feels like Toyota legitimately does not want to sell EVs.

The company’s first mass-market battery-electric vehicle, the bZ4X, feels like a half-hearted attempt at entering the EV market, and sales last year reflected that. In 2022, only 1,220 people in the U.S. wanted a Bz4X enough to actually buy one. Granted, it went on sale partway through the year and got off to a bit of a rough start due to the wheels falling off. But still, you’d think Toyota out of all the automakers would do a better job launching its first EV.

So what’s going on here? Slate recently published a deep dive into the Toyota EV story that digs into that exact question. And there’s definitely something going on. After all, it was only a couple of months ago that news broke that Toyota had stopped development on many of its future EV projects and planned to reboot its entire EV strategy.

Advertisement

There aren’t exactly any shocking revelations in the article, but it does a fantastic job of walking the reader through just how much Toyota president Akio Toyoda doesn’t like EVs. And even if you thought you knew how anti-EV Toyoda is, seeing paragraph after paragraph explaining it in detail still drives home the point. Hard.

In a report from think tank InfluenceMap, Toyota is listed as one of the top three companies globally standing in the way of global climate policy. The only companies that outrank Toyota on the list are ExxonMobile and Chevron. Yikes.

Advertisement

The entire article makes for a really interesting read, so definitely head over to Slate and read the rest of it.