Toyota Woke Up in 2019 to Realize People had 'Sudden' Urge for Electric Cars

Toyota’s RAV4 EV concept from............... 2010. Photo Credit: Toyota
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

I would say that today is Tuesday, June 11, 2019, but it appears that if you’re a major automaker or automotive researcher, apparently it’s the mid 2000s. I guess everyone woke up this morning and realized that electric cars are a thing. Maybe they’d been napping! I don’t know. Let’s get into that and more in The Morning Shift.

1st Gear: Toyota Claims “Sudden Surge” in EV Demand

Last week, Toyota laid out some ambitious plans for building significantly more all-electric vehicles than it had previously figured on. Half of all of its sales, in fact, by 2025.

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This week, though, Toyota has elaborated a bit more on its plans, as Automotive News reports from Tokyo:

Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi, Toyota’s r&d chief, outlined the road map in a briefing about Toyota’s EV plans. He cited the “sudden surge” in EV popularization in markets around the world for Toyota’s new plan.

“Progress has surpassed the target,” Terashi said. “We have entered a new age.”

Of course, anyone who has paid any attention to cars in the slightest over the past ten years will tell you that electric cars have been on the rise, and “sudden” is probably the last word you’d use to describe it. So what’s really going on? Automotive News adds another detail:

To achieve these plans, Toyota must accelerate EV development, partly in response to increasingly stringent emissions requirements in China and Europe. It plans to start making EVs in China next year on its way to releasing at least 10 battery-powered models worldwide by the early 2020s.

Ah right, new regulations mean that EVs are a must. Toyota also highlighted that it wanted to get a solid-state battery ready before the Olympics in Tokyo. So regulations, steady demand, and pride. That sounds a bit more believable than a “sudden surge” in anything.

2nd Gear: British Researchers Realize Charging EVs Is Difficult For Long Journeys

Continuing the theme of people waking up in 2008 for some reason, British engineers just published a new report on the difficulties of covering long distances in pure EVs because charging takes a while.

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The news comes to us not from a time machine but from a new report today from the Financial Times detailing how the UK is still slow on charging:

To test the UK’s readiness for electric vehicles, David Wright, chief electricity engineer at National Grid, sent some colleagues on a 565-mile round trip from the utility’s offices in Wokingham, Berkshire, to Teesside.

The goal was to see how easy it was to make a long journey using the UK’s vehicle charging network, which varies greatly in speed, accessibility and location.

“Nine hours of driving, four hours of charge,” Mr Wright recounted of the journey at a BP conference on electric vehicles in London last month.

Parliament’s business, energy and industrial strategy select committee has described Britain’s charging infrastructure as “poor” and “lacking in size and geographical coverage”, and experts say this is one of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the UK.

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The conclusion of the FT’s report is that “Difficulties with recharging on long journeys one of biggest barriers,” which I feel like I could have told them myself.

Hell, my coworker Michael Ballaban and I did the same kind of trip back in, what was it, January of 2016?

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3rd Gear: Ford’s First EV For China Is Coming Later This Year

Ford still hasn’t even shown us what its all-new EV crossover for America is going to look like, the hotly-anticipated Mach 1. Meanwhile in China, the company is gearing up to sell an all-electric version of an existing car already on sale, as Automotive News China reports:

Ford Motor Co. is set to start selling its first electric vehicle in China in the second half of the year.

The EV is the battery-powered version of the Ford Territory compact crossover. It has a range of 360 kilometers (224 miles) on one charge, Ford said.

The Territory last year became the first Ford-badged passenger vehicle produced at Jiangling Motors Corp.—Ford’s truck venture with Changan Automobile Co.

Like the gasoline variant, the electric Territory will also be assembled at Jiangling Motors, rather than Changan Ford Automobile Co.—Ford’s car partnership with Changan.

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Indeed, this Ford is a rebadged and re-trimmed version of the Yusheng S330 that has been on sale since 2016. I will say that I sat in one (a new Ford Territory) while I was at the Shanghai Auto Show this year and it was lovely inside and out.

It does go to show that you can spend a ton of money and develop a very fancy EV, or you can slap some batteries in an old car and call it a day.

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4th Gear: Alibaba Smart Speaker Going Into Audis, Renaults, Hondas

While Amazon’s Echo voice assistant is going into Volvos and BMWs, Chinese tech/gear/online sales giant Alibaba will have its own version and it’s headed to Audi, Renault, and Honda, as Reuters reports:

China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd on Tuesday said its voice-controlled assistant will feature in local vehicles from Audi AG, Renault SA and Honda Motor Co Ltd, as the tech giant expands in artificial intelligence.

The Tmall Genie Auto smart speaker will allow drivers to use voice commands to, for instance, place orders on Alibaba’s online retail platform and buy movie tickets, Alibaba said at the CES Asia 2019 technology trade show in Shanghai.

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It feels like the days of car companies developing all of their own infotainment on their own, their iDrives and whatnot, are a million years behind us.

5th Gear: FCA Announces New Autonomous Driving Tech Partner

One of the few things that Fiat-Chrysler seemed to be doing right was partnering up with Google’s Waymo to develop and test self-driving minivans. Now there’s more going on in the FCA driverless-tech scene, as the company is adding another Silicon Valley startup partner, Aurora. The tie-up seems directly oriented at getting cars to consumers, as The Detroit News reports:

“As part of FCA’s autonomous vehicle strategy, we will continue to work with strategic partners to address the needs of customers in a rapidly changing industry,” FCA CEO Mike Manley said in a statement. “Aurora brings a unique skill set combined with advanced and purposeful technology that complements and enhances our approach to self-driving.”

The Aurora partnership aims to give Fiat and Ram commercial customers options for autonomous vehicles. It’s a move other Detroit automakers are making, too. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. are working separately on autonomous vehicles that could move either people or goods.

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I’m excited to see how this will go, which could not be poorly, definitely, for sure.

Reverse: The Greatest Tragedy In Racing

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Neutral: Why Does It Feel Like EVs Are Still So Far Behind?

It’s 2019. If you’d asked me ten years ago what the EV scene would look like by now, I’d be sure that there would be battery-electric cars on sale from every major automaker, and mainstream models, too, not just weird hatchbacks. What is taking so long? Or is my view skewed?

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Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.