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If All-Electric Cars are Catching on, Why Hasn’t Toyota Joined the Race?

Toyota Rav4 EV (Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz)

Toyota Rav4 EV (Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz)

In Obama’s 2009 State of the Union speech, he called for a million electric vehicles on American roads by 2015. That was the goal when he entered office the first time. Now, four years later, he’s upping the ante and calling for a complete (future) elimination of oil-fueled vehicles from American highways, however, this time he didn’t provide a specific timeline.

Tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good,” citing an article from the New York Times. This statement may come as a surprise to some as information about faltering EV sales, but it’s no news to anyone.

In 2012, nearly 488,000 green vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles) were sold in the U.S., according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Of those thousands, only 14,251 were all-electric vehicles. The majority (more than 434,000) were hybrids.

What About Toyota Automakers?

So the real question is if all-electric cars are all the rave, why hasn’t Toyota joined the race? Toyota is known for dominating the hybrid market with its savvy technology and of course the Prius. The newest member, the Prius C, was recently awarded the title of greenest car of the year from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy — beating out the all-electric Honda Fit EV and other plug-ins. But the company has yet to take hold of the all-electric world, leaving some to examine its reason.

Behind the Scenes

The answer is because supplying Americans with only electric vehicles isn’t yet a profitable venture. Customers are more interested in buying efficient, green and decently priced used cars at Toyota of Dallas or Portland lots than they are paying extra for technology that is controlled, inconvenient and expensive. Batteries just aren’t measuring up yet.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada to automotive specialists in Tokyo this past year, according to Forbes.com. It seems as though members of Obama’s Cabinet aren’t easily converted yet, either.

Even Energy Secretary Steven Chu couldn’t jump on the electric bandwagon, though he tried to remain positive when reporters asked about the million-car benchmark earlier in February at the Washington D.C. auto show.
“It’s ambitious, but we’ll see what happens,” Chu told the NY Daily News.

Chu, who was the leading advocate in the Obama administration for alternative energy development, will resign in coming weeks, according to CNN.com, to return to an academic life of teaching and research.

On the Horizon

But, Toyota’s plans to move forward in the electric demand could be in the near future.

Though somewhat quietly, the company is steadily improving its technology and testing its options. Last fall, the automaker released a new, all-electric version of its current Rav4 in California as a sort of an experiment. In an agreement with Tesla Motors, Inc., Toyota paid approximately $100 million for the supply of Tesla’s electric powertrain system, which includes a battery, gearbox, charging system, motor, inverter and all the associated software, according to the agreement found on Sec.gov. The Rav4 EV is only sold in the Golden State right now but according to ConsumerReports.org, Toyota will re-evaluate that sometime this year.

Geoffrey Torres works exclusively on hybrid and EV cars. He shares tips and ideas on how drivers can save money and energy by switching to alternatively fueled vehicles.

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