Toyota prefers to convert old vehicles to electric to cut emissions, chief executive says

Changing existing models to go green is better than waiting for all cars to become sustainable, according to Akio Toyoda

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, speaks at the Tokyo Auto Salon in Chiba, Japan. Bloomberg
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To hasten the global move towards sustainable vehicles, Toyota is suggesting simply replacing the inner workings of vehicles already on the roads with cleaner technology such as fuel cells and electric motors.

“I don’t want to leave any car lover behind,” chief executive Akio Toyoda said on Friday at the Tokyo Auto Salon, an industry event similar to the world’s car shows.

The message was clear: Toyota wants the world to know it hasn’t fallen behind in electric vehicles, as some detractors have implied.

Japan’s top car maker, behind the Lexus luxury brands and the Prius hybrid, is highlighting its clout: It has all the technology, engineering, financial reserves and industry experience needed to remain a powerful competitor in green vehicles.

Mr Toyoda told reporters it would take a long time for all cars to become zero emission, as they only make up a fraction of the vehicles being sold.

Changing old cars to go green, or “conversion”, was a better option, he said.

Mr Toyoda, the grandson of the company founder and an avid racer himself, was also hoping to debunk the stereotype that clean cars are not as fun as regular cars.


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At Toyota’s Gazoo Racing booth, the car maker showed videos of its triumph at world rallies, as well as the battery-electric and hydrogen-powered versions of the Toyota AE86 series, including the Toyota Corolla Levin, to underline what Mr Toyoda called its “conversion” strategy.

The car industry is undergoing a transformation because of growing concerns about climate change. Car makers are often blamed as the culprits.

Mr Toyoda said ecological efforts in the car industry were starting to be appreciated in many nations, but he felt less appreciated in Japan.

Toyota has dominated the industry with its hybrid technology, exemplified in the Prius, which has both an electric motor and petrol engine, switching back and forth to deliver the most efficient ride.

That has often been viewed as reflecting its reluctance to go totally electric.

Battery electric vehicles make up about 20 per cent of the car market, despite the hullabaloo about relative newcomers such as Tesla and even Dyson.

Europe remains ahead of the US and Japan in the move towards electric.

And so, is it unfair to categorise the Japanese car makers as green laggards?

For one, the scarcity of certain components such as lithium could drive up the prices of electric vehicles, and consumers may stick with hybrids, says Matthias Schmidt, chief car analyst at Schmidt Automotive Research.

“If this was 2025, and you asked that same question, I would say the Japanese OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] have missed the boat. But seeing it is 2023, and the likes of Toyota are beginning their BEV roll-out, their timing is likely bang on schedule,” he said.

Updated: January 14, 2023, 5:23 AM