Electric vehicles are only going to become popular, if some of the legacy car companies start making them. The two most important global brands are VW and Toyota.
Between them there is a deep reach product portfolio, covering nearly every price point and with a presence in all geographies. Tesla has been a great disrupter for electric vehicle advocacy, but it will be the volumes and global distribution of VW and Toyota which make the transition to battery-powered cars viable.
VW has already announced its electric vehicle strategy. This includes 70 new battery-powered vehicles by 2030. Toyota has been evaluating the market and resisted committing too early. But all of that is about to change.
Waiting to go full-EV for two decades
The curious reality is that Toyota has always been keeping on trend with battery-powered vehicles, ever since the debut of its Prius hybrid, back in 1997. Conservative by nature, Toyota will never launch a product without market justification.
The Prius has always been a real-world laboratory for Toyota’s engineers, enabling them to assess battery technology without risking expensive over-investment.
Toyota’s entry to the electric vehicle market was always expected to signal that the adoption tipping-point has been reached. When Toyota commits to a segment or new product development horizon, the consequences are huge, because of its size and importance in the global car market.
All of this makes a new Lexus product debut, which happened earlier this month, very interesting. The UX300e might not appear to be a defining car in Toyota’s history, but it is. Years from now, it will be championed the company’s first electric vehicle, paving the road for many battery-powered models to follow.
In the right pace – at the right time
The symbolism of Toyota finally making its first production vehicle with pure batter power, is huge. One of the most significant barriers to electric car production, is the sourcing of batteries.
Producing high-energy batteries, in the configuration and volumes that the automotive industry requires, is vastly different from that of other electronics industries, such as Smartphones and laptops.
Toyota is at a massive geographic advantage, to produce electric vehicles, as many of its production assets are in Asia.Most of the world’s lithium-ion battery production is concentrated in also Asia.
This is a legacy of the consumer electronics industry, which contracted most of its manufacturing to Asian countries in the 1990s and 2000s. Moving batteries around is difficult and expensive. This is one of the major problems that VW has in ramping-up its electric car production: sourcing and securing a big enough battery supply chain.
Toyota does not have similar issues, because many of its factories are in locations where it can conveniently leverage the Asian battery supply network.Panasonic is the secret to Tesla’s success. Without the Japanese company’s battery expertise and production assets, Tesla’s electric cars simply would not be possible.
For Toyota to partner with a fellow Japanese battery company, would be strategically powerful and easy to do. The Lexus UX300e might not be the fastest, most impressive or expensive new car reveal of 2019. But in some way, it might be one of the most important. As it symbolises that Toyota has finally started its production vehicle journey, with battery power.
Toyota’s recent announcement of a partnership with Chinese electric car vehicle brand, BYD, shows that it is fully embracing the transition to a battery-powered future.