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Strategy shift: Toyota commits to all-electric vehicles, forms special team

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Toyota is shifting position on all-electric cars. Toyota Motor Corporation has formed a small, in-house group to fast-track electric car development, as reported by Reuters.

The new unit, which launches in December, will be responsible for electric car development and marketing strategy and will draw on other corporate resources. Starting with four people, the team will pull in engineers, designers, and any other needed personnel.

Toyota spokesperson Itsuki Kurosu said, “Regulations on lower emissions vehicles are changing very quickly, so we also have to respond quickly. With its small size, the new venture will be able to be more nimble in its planning and decision making, to speed up the process to develop electric cars.”

The initial four team members will come from Toyota itself and three other Toyota group entities, including machine manufacturer Toyota Industries Corporation and parts suppliers Aisin Seiki Company and Denso Corporation.

Consistent with its earlier pledge that all Toyota vehicles will be emissions-free by 2050, the company is now preparing to move forward with full-sized all-electric vehicles. Previously Toyota’s focus has been on hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs). Earlier this month, however, the company said it was considering coming to market with all-electric cars. Japan’s largest automaker had also said before that it would continue its success with hybrids because of their greater range and because of the high price of batteries and the long charging times for all-electric vehicles.

Competitors Nissan and Volkswagen have been committed to all-electric cars as the best option for zero-emissions vehicles going forward. While Toyota has been working on short-distance, ultra-compact electric vehicles, it has stayed away from all-electrics. With yesterday’s announcement, however, the corporate focus has shifted. Part of that decision may have been influenced by positive market pressure for electric cars and by the long timeline for FCVs.

“The company’s position is changing,” CASA analyst Chris Richter said, “They still talk about hybrids and fuel cells but I think there is a recognition that battery electric cars are getting a lot of traction right now. It’s going to take an awful long time before fuel cells are a competitive alternative to electric vehicles. In the meantime, a lot of things are going on right now (with battery electric cars) and they need to be there.”

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