With an international agreement to curb climate change looming over the coming decades, countries around the world are starting to look at timetables for phasing out the production of new gasoline-powered cars.
But in the U.S. and elsewhere, an unlikely opponent has emerged to fight an ambitious transition to all-electric vehicles.
Toyota, whose Prius once made it the darling of eco-conscious car buyers, is opposing stricter emissions limits and electric vehicle initiatives around the world, the New York Times reports.
The world’s largest automaker says it embraces electric vehicles and is working to reduce its overall emissions, but it contends that a swift transition from gas vehicles to electric ones is unrealistic — and that hybrids like the Prius should continue to play a role.
Critics, however, argue that the company is merely seeking to protect its bottom line after years of betting on the wrong technologies in the race to clean up the auto sector.
Toyota brought gas-electric hybrids into the mainstream and invested heavily in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which can be refilled quickly, emit only water vapor, and travel long distances without needing lengthy recharges. But those vehicles remain expensive, and the extensive investment needed to increase hydrogen fuel production and build filling stations has largely failed to materialize.
Electric vehicles, by contrast, are traveling longer distances, recharging more quickly, and becoming more cost-competitive every year.
One regulator told the Times that Toyota has been “caught flat-footed” by the shift, and the result is that a company long known for a cautious approach has turned into one of the most politically active. Company officials reportedly lobbied congressional staff against a quick EV transition last month, and Toyota did not join a 2019 emissions compromise between other major automakers and the state of California.
One group says Toyota has gone from a leader to the worst in the auto industry when it comes to corporate climate lobbying.
Some analysts believe that hydrogen fuel cells could still become competitive with electric vehicles in coming years, but for now, even Toyota acknowledges that “all-electric vehicles are the future.” The company is now producing them for the Chinese market and says it plans to introduce 15 battery-electric models by 2025.