The Haters Go After Toyota

The OEM that started the electrified-vehicle revolution is the new target of NGO and media attacks.

Prius, the vehicle that made hybrids cool and electrified propulsion popular, enters its fifth generation in 2023 with serious style and 57-mpg efficiency. (Toyota)

Want your company to be the target of haters? Here’s a sure way to do it, as proven in 2022.

Design and engineer vehicles that set the industry standard for reliability. Manufacture them using a production system of your invention, that is the global template for process efficiency and quality. Then launch a groundbreaking product that stuns your competitors, becomes synonymous with fuel economy and practicality — and delights more than 5 million customers across the planet. That ‘green car’ icon — Prius — is now entering its fifth generation with serious style and even greater efficiency.

You, Toyota Motor Co., have succeeded on these fronts because you run your business conservatively. Your methodical product development and high standards in validation are legendary among suppliers. Your process-centric approach has made your enterprise the world’s largest automaker.

Unfortunately, the bigger the organization, the fatter the target. And increasingly, the haters are waging war on Toyota. In the past year, the usual environmental NGOs and media soap-boxers have been slamming the company that made hybrids cool and electrified propulsion popular. Toyota has not committed to 100% battery-electric vehicle production, but the haters want that pledge within a timeframe they dictate. My morning news feed usually includes some wannabe ‘expert’ dissing Akio Toyoda for not flipping a switch to shut down his company’s ICE and hybrid plants tomorrow.

Toyota has announced a 10-year plan to accelerate its EV programs. It’s expected to increase those investments and turn up the product-development wick, a top company executive tells me. But that’s not good enough for the more strident enviros, who typically go by the title “campaigner” because “attorney” is too transparent. And it’s not good enough for the media noodlers whose personal vehicles (if they own one) are often clapped-out GTIs or beater Civics. Even the cheapest new EVs are priced way beyond the salary ranges of this ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ bunch.

While haranguing Toyota and the industry in general, the haters don’t understand global automaking (nor do they want to) and refuse to accept its myriad benefits. Instead, they

convince themselves that loyal users of Hilux pickups, Land Cruisers and Tacomas in places like Australia, Africa and the U.S. Midwest are lusting for EVs. Electrification’s ultimate success must come from market demand for EVs (rather than retail subsidies) and involves a whole lot more than wiring up big cities in the U.S. and Europe.

A fact that the haters find distasteful: Sales of ICE and hybrid vehicles are footing the bill for EV technology development. Toyota’s profits from RAV4 and RX, Supra and Sienna — and the stalwart Tacoma — are helping to fund the company’s R&D in solid-state lithium battery chemistry, for example. ICE and hybrid sales across the industry are expected to serve that vital role for some time to come, as my colleague Bill Visnic reports in the December 2022 issue of SAE’s Automotive Engineering. Personally, I want EVs to be mainstreamed and priced for working people to afford. But that’s not going to happen tomorrow, as SAE readers know. We’re in a period of mobility history where every technological problem solved is followed by two more technical, business, or existential challenges.

Of course, we’ve seen the hater thing before, with an ironic twist. Two decades ago, many of the NGOs and media whiners who today are blasting Toyota over its product strategy were attacking every OEM except Toyota over…those accursed SUVs that are now the dominant vehicle type.