Toyota to mass-produce electric vehicles

Toyota intends to start mass-producing electric vehicles by 2020, hoping to expand its lineup of green automobiles beyond hybrid and fuel-cell cars.

Eyeing a full-scale entry into the electric vehicle market, the Japanese automaker will create an in-house team for planning and development as soon as the new year. Toyota will seek cooperation from group companies to start production quickly.

Toyota aims to develop an EV that can run more than 300km on a single charge. The platform for models such as the Prius hybrid or Corolla sedan is being considered for use in building an electric sport utility vehicle.

The automaker will bolster development of batteries, a core component that determines the vehicle’s performance, through the company’s battery material research department established in January. But Toyota also may procure batteries from outside sources to keep costs low for EVs while offering good performance, including driving range and charging time.

Toyota’s EV launch timetable coincides with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when the world will be watching Japan. The vehicle also would be released in key markets where governments are pushing for EV adoption. In the U.S., the state of California requires environmentally friendly cars to make up a certain percentage of vehicles sold by automakers. China also is encouraging EV purchases by offering generous subsidies.

Toyota has kept its distance from EVs. The company sold electric SUVs developed with Tesla Motors in the U.S. from 2012 to 2014, but the Japanese automaker apparently believed that EVs would not go mainstream due to issues such as the high cost of batteries and limited driving range. Toyota focused on hybrid and fuel-cell cars instead, taking a different path on green vehicles than such compatriots as Nissan Motor.

But many nations have introduced EV-friendly rules and measures to promote the vehicles, and improvements have been made in driving range and charging infrastructure. These changes prompted Toyota to lean toward expanding its green-vehicle strategy to include EVs.

Toyota’s shift also responds to moves by rivals. Volkswagen has announced a plan to have EVs account for almost 25% of sales by 2025, up from 1% now, after an emissions-cheating scandal in the U.S. came to light last year for diesel cars, the core of the German company’s green-vehicle strategy. China’s leading EV manufacturer, BYD, is boosting production. And Tesla enjoys strong demand for its EVs, including a small sedan due out next year.

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