It seems like Toyota is increasingly warming up to EVs. Despite being set to launch 15 BEVs by 2025 and sell 1.5 million electric cars by 2026, two years ago, the company still drew significant criticism from peers, investors and consumers alike for its refusal to fully embrace the EV revolution. However, it seems like Toyota might finally change its trajectory under its new management.
As it turns out, the company’s motorsport division, Gazoo Racing has recently commenced testing on its first electric prototype.
Chairman Akio Toyoda also revealed that he’s been personally supervising the project. Toyoda even went as far as to personally test the prototype to ensure it checks all the right boxes. For the industry veteran, the electric sports car is more than just a commercial stunt, as he has set some strong criteria for it. «The starting point is not what powertrain the car has, but how fun it is to drive regardless of that powertrain.», said Toyoda, who insisted that the car will share common traits with gas-powered vehicles under the Gazoo Racing banner. Consumers can thus expect the electric Toyota GR sports car to be at least as fun to drive as the GR86, the GR Yaris, or the 382-horsepower GR Supra.
The Electric Toyota Sports Car Will Have A Manual Transmission
A rear, side right shot of a 2023 Toyota GR Supra parked on a racetrack.
As of now, we have yet to be given a name, a place, a time, or specs for the upcoming Toyota sports EV. Heck, not even Akio Toyoda knows when production will commence. The Chairman even went on to imply that the GR might not be available for customers in the first place, saying: “Whether it makes it to the market or not, what the company is trying to do is explore the idea of what it is that we shouldn’t lose in a car even if it becomes BEV.» However, what we do know is that the Toyota electric sports car will still provide the experience of a gasoline-powered vehicle as it incorporates simulated engine noise to mimic manual ICE car. Toyoda, also stated that the car will harbor the appearance of a BEV, but drive with the panache of a gasoline-powered vehicle that makes its electric powertrain unnoticeable. The manual transmission, however, comes with a twist, according to Takashi Watanabe, Toyota’s chief engineer. Watanabe clarified that the gearstick and clutch wouldn’t be directly linked to the motor, but would instead simulate switches by altering the torque settings accordingly.
Front 3/4 view of red Toyota GR Yaris parked.
With the lack of info comes an abundance of intrigue and possibilities. It’ll notably be interesting to see if the upcoming electric GR will feature solid-state battery technology, which was initially pioneered by Toyota. The groundbreaking solid batteries, which have yet to become a commercial reality, could make the electric GR sports car one of the most efficient on the market. The Japanese manufacturer has been toiling away on SSBs since 2012, and is currently planning on incorporating the technology into a hybrid model by 2025.
Toyota Has Previously Lobbied Against Electric Vehicles
Toyota has a long history of opposing the expansion of electric vehicles, which dates back to 2009, when Toyoda took the reins. The Japanese automaker even went as far as to lobby against the spread of electric cars through the mediation of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a DC-based lobbying group chaired by Toyota Motor North America official, Chris Reynolds. Instead of following the EV revolution, Akio Toyoda had instead opted to prioritize hydrogen cars, such as the Toyota Mirai, and hybrids such as the Prius and 2024 Lexus NX. Only last year, the former CEO stoutly leveraged the power of his industry group JAMA to pressure the Japanese government into fully endorsing hybrid cars through its economic policies. Toyoda argued that hybrid and hydrogen vehicles were an eco-friendly alternative, especially with the use of synthetic fuels. The combative stance on climate policies had previously triggered the ire of numerous groups, namely Greenpeace Australia Pacific, which accused the company of “putting their petrol-fuelled profits ahead of Australian consumers and the planet”. A study from Greenpeace even showed that Toyota generated less than one-percent of sales from zero-emission vehicles, and thus ranked last in its decarbonization efforts. For reference Toyota’s only fully-electric vehicle, the bZ4X, secured 1,220 US sales last year, while the Tesla Model Y enjoyed the most commercial success with 243,800 copies sold.
Toyota Might Go All-Electric Due To Pressure From Investors
Front three-quarter shot of a 2023 Toyota bZ4X near the coast
Despite being the second-largest manufacturer in the world, Toyota only sold 20,000 electric vehicles last year, which only account for 0.2 percent of its total production. The low manufacturing rate put the carmaker at risk of losing significant momentum in a fast-paced market where global EV sales rose by 60 percent since 2022, which prompted investors to quickly urge for a policy change.
“We’re concerned that Toyota is missing out on profits from soaring EV sales, jeopardizing its valuable brand and cementing its global laggard status,” said Anders Schelde, who’s the chief investment officer at AkademikerPension, a Danish pension fund which is part of a shareholder group that owns 400 million of Toyota stock. This could have been part of the reason why Toyoda ended his 13-year tenure as CEO of the company to become Chairman, on April 1. The former president stepped down in favor of current chief branding officer Koji Sato, who has been leading the Lexus and GR sub-brands since 2020. While Sato ensured that the company would accelerate BEV development with a new approach, things further escalated when Toyoda recently faced governance challenges from investors at its latest annual shareholder meeting. Prominent backers, such as New York’s pension system, voted against Toyoda in protest of his reluctance to take an all-electric approach, according to the Wall Street Journal.
These administrative tensions could have thus played a part in the announcement of the upcoming electric Toyota sports car. The company announced on March 31 that it would introduce three new BEV-specific platforms that would double range and enhance battery endurance for its new models launched in 2026. In light of the recent turmoil, we can expect Toyota to take further measures to entrench itself in the EV industry, and offer proper competition to other dominant manufacturers such as General Motors, which has taken an aggressive electric strategy over the last few years.