By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO, Sept 24 Toyota Motor Corp has
scrapped plans for widespread sales of a new all-electric
minicar, saying it had misread the market and the ability of
still-emerging battery technology to meet consumer demands.
Toyota, which had already taken a more conservative view of
the market for battery-powered cars than rivals General Motors
Co and Nissan Motor Co, said it would only sell
about 100 battery-powered eQ vehicles in the United States and
Japan in an extremely limited release.
The automaker had announced plans to sell several thousand
of the vehicles per year when it unveiled the eQ as an
pure-electric variant of its iQ minicar in 2010.
"Two years later, there are many difficulties," Takeshi
Uchiyamada, Toyota's vice chairman and the engineer who oversees
vehicle development, told reporters on Monday.
By dropping plans for a second electric vehicle in its
line-up, Toyota cast more doubt on an alternative to the
combustion engine that has been both lauded for its oil-saving
potential and criticised for its heavy reliance on government
subsidies in key markets like the United States.
"The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet
society's needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can
run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge," said,
Uchiyamada, who spearheaded Toyota's development of the Prius
hybrid in the 1990s.
Toyota said it was putting its emphasis on that technology,
an area in which it is the established leader. Toyota said on
Monday it expected to have 21 hybrid gas-electric models like
the Prius in its line-up by 2015. Of that total, 14 of the new
hybrids will be all-new, the automaker said.
Toyota has previously said that it expects to have a hybrid
variant available for every vehicle it sells. In a gas-electric
hybrid like the Prius, a battery captures energy from the brakes
to provide a supplement to the combustion engine, boosting
overall mileage, particularly in stop-and-go city traffic.
Pure electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, carry only
lithium-ion batteries. Consumer demand for the vehicles has been
capped by their limited range and the relatively high cost of
the powerful batteries they require.
FAR FROM TARGET
The decision to drop plans for more extensive rollout of its
eQ city car leaves Toyota with just a single pure EV in its
line-up. The automaker will launch an all-electric RAV4 model in
the United States that was jointly developed with Tesla Motors
Toyota expects to sell 2,600 of the electric-powered sports
utility vehicle over the next three years. By comparison, Toyota
sold almost 37,000 Camry sedans in August alone in the United
States, the automaker's largest market.
Toyota is also far from its plug-in hybrid sales target. The
automaker planned to sell between 35,000 and 40,000 Prius
plug-in hybrids in 2012 in Japan. So far it has sold only 8,400,
or about 20 percent of its target.
The plug-in Prius is designed with a battery that can be
charged for just over 20 km (12.4 miles) of battery-powered
driving. After that, the vehicle behaves like a more traditional
hybrid and relies on its gas engine for extended range.
"We believe that there is social demand for the plug-in
hybrid, but our efforts to let the customers know what it is
have not been enough," Uchiyamada said.
A broad industry consensus sees plug-in cars accounting for
only a single-digit percentage of total global sales over the
next decade. Nissan remains more bullish, forecasting that by
2020 one-tenth of all cars sold will be electric.
Globally, Nissan has sold about 38,000 Leaf electric cars
since the vehicle's launch at the end of 2010.
U.S. President Barack Obama has set a goal of getting one
million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, a target many
analysts say will be impossible to achieve.