Toyota shows eQ EV, but cancels plans for mass production

Toyota eQ chargingToyota built an electric version of its microscopic iQ city car (known as the Scion iQ in the U.S.), but it won’t put it on sale. Just days before that car, dubbed eQ, was set to debut at the Paris Motor Show, Toyota announced that it is shelving plans for a mass-market electric car.

Toyota first discussed the iQ EV two years ago, saying the electric version of its smallest car would be a mass-produced item, just like Japanese rival Nissan’s Leaf. However, Toyota has changed its plans.

“Two years later, there are many difficulties,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s vice chairman, told Reuters. In expressing his company’s concern over the limits of EV technology, Uchiyamada vocalized what nearly every other carmaker has denied in the name of green credibility.

“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,” Uchiyamada said.

As an alternative to all-electric vehicles, Toyota will continue to promote hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars. The makers of the Prius hope to have 21 hybrid models on sale by 2015, and eventually have a hybrid version of every car the company makes.

Instead of building an EV for the masses, Toyota will only build a small number of eQs, perhaps 100. This low-volume approach puts the eQ in the same category as the Honda Fit EV and Smart ED.

Toyota’s other electric vehicle, the RAV4 EV, is also a limited-production proposition. Only 2,600 of the electric SUVs will be sold.Toyota eQ rear three-quarter view

The eQ itself may not be ready for prime time anyway. Its 47-kW electric motor can only propel this pint-sized car to 77 mph, with a maximum range of 52 miles. In comparison, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the smallest mainstream EV sold in the U.S., can reach 81 mph, has a 62-mile range, and has two more doors.

Since the eQ is so small, Toyota had to trim the size of the battery pack. This means interior space remains the same as in a gasoline iQ, but it also means the eQ needs new seat heaters and a new windshield defogger that draw less current.

On the plus side, the eQ’s downsized battery charges quickly. A full charge from a 230-volt outlet takes three hours, and an 80 percent charge is possible in just 15 minutes with a quick charger.

Toyota’s decision to abort its EV mission may be sudden, but it isn’t too surprising given the company’s success with hybrids. Pure-electric advocates like Nissan and Mitsubishi can’t claim a success like the Prius, so this might be a case of “to each, his own.”

At any rate, buyers will not be missing much. Even in gasoline-powered form, the iQ just isn’t enough car for most people. The same appears to be true for the electric eQ.