Monday, July 26, 2021

Toyota Bet on Hydrogen Power. Now It's Fallen Desperately Behind

A very interesting and informative piece.

There's a bit of muh for me though. 

I haven't driven a Toyota since the mid-1980s, when I drove a maroon little Toyota pickup. Once that thing wore out, my wife and switched to Honda, and we only recently switched makes: My wife now drives a KIA, and I'm cruising all cool and macho (and old) in my Dodge Challenger. *Wink.*

At NYT, "Toyota Led on Clean Cars. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them":

The Toyota Prius hybrid was a milestone in the history of clean cars, attracting millions of buyers worldwide who could do their part for the environment while saving money on gasoline.

But in recent months, Toyota, one of the world’s largest automakers, has quietly become the industry’s strongest voice opposing an all-out transition to electric vehicles — which proponents say is critical to fighting climate change.

Last month, Chris Reynolds, a senior executive who oversees government affairs for the company, traveled to Washington for closed-door meetings with congressional staff members and outlined Toyota’s opposition to an aggressive transition to all-electric cars. He argued that gas-electric hybrids like the Prius and hydrogen-powered cars should play a bigger role, according to four people familiar with the talks.

Behind that position is a business quandary: Even as other automakers have embraced electric cars, Toyota bet its future on the development of hydrogen fuel cells — a costlier technology that has fallen far behind electric batteries — with greater use of hybrids in the near term. That means a rapid shift from gasoline to electric on the roads could be devastating for the company’s market share and bottom line.

The recent push in Washington follows Toyota’s worldwide efforts — in markets including the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia — to oppose stricter car emissions standards or fight electric vehicle mandates. For example, executives at Toyota’s Indian subsidiary publicly criticized India’s target for 100 percent electric vehicle sales by 2030, saying it was not practical.

Together with other automakers, Toyota also sided with the Trump administration in a battle with California over the Clean Air Act and sued Mexico over fuel efficiency rules. In Japan, Toyota officials argued against carbon taxes.

“Toyota has gone from a leading position to an industry laggard” in clean-car policy even as other automakers push ahead with ambitious electric vehicle plans, said Danny Magill, an analyst at InfluenceMap, a London-based think tank that tracks corporate climate lobbying. InfluenceMap gives Toyota a “D-” grade, the worst among automakers, saying it exerts policy influence to undermine public climate goals.

In statements, Toyota said that it was in no way opposed to electric vehicles. “We agree and embrace the fact that all-electric vehicles are the future,” Eric Booth, a Toyota spokesman, said. But Toyota thinks that “too little attention is being paid to what happens between today, when 98 percent of the cars and trucks sold are powered at least in part by gasoline, and that fully electrified future,” he said.

Until then, Mr. Booth said, it makes sense for Toyota to lean on its existing hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions. Hydrogen fuel cell technology should also play a role. And any efficiency standards should “be informed by what technology can realistically deliver and help keep vehicles affordable,” the company said in a statement. Last year in the United States, a group of leading automakers reached a compromise on tailpipe emissions standards with California, which sought to impose tougher emissions standards than the Trump administration wanted. Toyota didn’t join that compromise agreement.

More recently, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry lobby group, argued in closed-door meetings in Washington that the California compromise, which is expected to be a model for new standards from the Biden administration, is in fact not feasible for all of its members, according to two of the people with direct knowledge of the discussions. The chairman of the alliance is Mr. Reynolds, the Toyota executive.

The Biden administration wants to use tougher emissions rules to rapidly increase sales of electric vehicles. Congress could also approve billions of dollars for construction of charging stations as well as tax incentives for electric cars and trucks.