During the question and answer session of Toyota’s battery EV (BEV) strategy briefing on December 14, there was a scene in which President Akio Toyoda revealed his honest thoughts as a car enthusiast when asked about his personal feelings toward BEVs.
I was quite surprised with today’s announcement, but what I want to know more is about President Toyoda’s true feelings about BEVs.
I think you have a lot of aspirations for hydrogen and hybrids, and your true thoughts have been made public on many occasions, but for battery EVs, I think it’s more like “here, we’re doing it” - kind of a business-like presentation.
I want to clarify this. Personally, President Toyoda, do you like BEVs or not? If it’s difficult to respond as the president of the company, you can respond as driver Morizo.
Akio is known to be a petrolhead. During a talk session at the Tokyo Motor Show 2019, while showcasing Toyota’s future concept cars at the venue, he shared his honest feelings toward engine vehicles, saying, “I like cars with wild flavors such as the smell of gasoline and a lot of noise.”
As part of Toyota’s endeavor in expanding options for carbon neutrality by 2050, from May of this year, he himself has taken the wheel of a hydrogen-powered vehicle in the Super Taikyu Series races.
From the perspective of fostering environmentally-friendly technology, Akio sends enthusiastic encouragement to the team that has been competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the WEC (FIA World Endurance Championship) with Toyota’s hybrid system from 2012.
With that in mind, Akio, either as Master Driver of Toyota or driver Morizo, has not shown a moment in which he enthusiastically enjoys driving BEVs.
As most of the reporters asked questions to delve into the company’s BEV strategy, this straightforward and personal question thrown to Akio put a smile on his face, making him admit that “it’s a great question.” Akio responded as follows.
If I had to make an answer, I was not interested in Toyota’s past BEVs, but I am getting interested in the BEVs that we are now developing for the future.
After improving my driving skills, I test-drove a battery electric Toyota 86 for the first time here at MEGA WEB. The comment that I gave after my test drive was that “it’s an electric vehicle.”
We have the Lexus brand and the Toyota brand, and we are an OEM pursuing distinctiveness in each brand. But when it comes to BEVs, a car becomes more like a commodity.
I think you saw my honest feeling inside me. Of course I supported BEVs in terms of business, but the question was whether I was supporting them as driver Morizo.
I’m a master driver, and in the training I had gone through back in the days, I always drove an FR vehicle.
But recently, I now participate in rally races and the Super Taikyu races. In these motorsports, I now drive a four-wheel drive vehicle as well. My sensibility as a master driver has changed with these vehicles.
I now think that electric motors have higher efficiency than gasoline-only-powered vehicles. If we have a good four-wheel drive platform, it can become an FF vehicle or an FR vehicle through control technology.
So, with that kind of control technology, I think Morizo will be able to drive fast and safe on any circuit or rally course.
Nori-san (rally driver Norihiko Katsuta) has won the All-Japan Rally Championships this year. The professional drivers of ROOKIE Racing are very active in motorsports at various circuits.
Those driving skills of professional drivers are reflected in our vehicles to make them safer and more fun-to-drive. I have such expectations.
At the same time, this platform has enabled us to make vehicles that allow amateur drivers like me to enjoy driving on various roads, however rough, whether it’s a mountainous road or snowy road or whatever. This is a big change in our company.
Control technology plays a key role there, but it alone can’t push major improvements. If we try to create driving flavor only through control technology, it's like adding crispy tempura to overcooked noodles.
But over the past several years, starting with our Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) initiatives, we have made steady improvements in the vehicles’ basic frame, chassis and body rigidity, under the banner of “let’s make ever-better cars.”
We also opened the Shimoyama proving ground, and we are now testing and developing cars under these tough conditions.
With this environment, I think we are now at a point where we can develop safer and faster vehicles with more fun-to-drive aspects. I look forward to developing such BEVs as well moving forward.
That’s why it’s not just a business matter anymore. Even as driver Morizo, I have strong expectations for and desire to give my feedback to our development, such as “making this kind of cars would be fun” or “we want to create our unique autonomous driving as an automaker even in the era of autonomous driving.”
We will continue to make serious efforts in BEVs and other powertrains such as fuel cell electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, and gasoline-only vehicles that have exciting sounds.
I’m still quite serious about them as Morizo and as the president of Toyota. We’re working with our colleagues and partners very seriously in all of these fields. We want to provide customers with vehicles that can make them happy.
This comment could only come from Akio, who takes the wheel himself and is responsible for the driving feel of Toyota vehicles as Master Driver and Morizo. “We will continue to make ever-better cars with BEVs”－this might be the very message that he wanted to convey the most to car enthusiasts.