It's fair to say that despite being possibly the most advanced manufacturer in the world in terms of hybrid technology, Toyota has been the slowest of all the global big players when it comes to pure EVs. Side-projects like fuel cell electric propulsion and some weird battery-powered concepts for moving people around at the now postponed Tokyo Olympics aside, Toyota is yet to launch a global BEV.
What we do know is that Toyota is planning for 50 per cent of its sales to be 'electrified' by 2025 – as announced mid last year when it reaffirmed its partnership with Subaru. The trouble is, electrified doesn't mean EV, and in the case of Toyota almost certainly means hybrid or PHEV. However, now there is a tangible indication that the world's largest automaker is staggering in the direction of BEVs.
BYD is quite possibly a brand you've never heard of, but they are the largest EV maker in China. They're also famed for completely ripping off designs from other, larger manufacturers with a design centre that seems to use the 'facsimile' method of penning new cars...
There's not a huge amount of detail in the official comms as to what the outcomes of the partnership will be, but in broad brush strokes the venture will work together to 'research' electric vehicles across segments. As part of what we assume will be predominantly R&D-driven cooperation, the new company will work to speed up the adoption of EVs in China.
Chairman of BYD Toyota EV Technology, Toyota's former head of powertrain Hirohisa Kishi, said: “With engineers from BYD and Toyota working together under the same roof, we aim to develop BEVs that are superior in performance and meet the needs of customers in China by merging the two companies' strengths and also through friendly rivalry.”
Now that the company has been incorporated, it will begin formal operations in May 2020, though how this will be affected by the current global situation is unclear at the moment.
It's notable that this deal is wholly focussed on China. Granted, Toyota is geographically very close, and China has the largest EV market in the world, but the USA and Europe are on course to overtake it in the coming years. You don't exactly have to dig deep to work out why China is getting basically all of Toyota's focus when it comes to EVs; the country is pushing EVs far harder than many other markets so the company needs an alternative to its emissions-producing cars.
Sadly, it's pure economics.
Alongside the news of Toyota's new partnership with BYD, the company looks to be significantly increasing its lithium-ion battery production capacity by 2025. As reported by analysts Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, the company plans to have 60GWh of production capacity by 2025 (also the date by which Toyota expects 50 per cent of its sales to be of 'electrified' vehicles). This is the equivalent of more than a million 60kWh batteries per year.
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reckons that it will develop its increased production in conjunction with existing supplier, Panasonic. And at 60GWh, Toyota's capacity would sit only behind LG and CATL in terms of global scale (using today's figures). Even forecasting forwards, Toyota would be a big global player in 2025 at this size.
Here's the rub; realistically most of this capacity is going to be dedicated to operations in Asia, notably the BYD Toyota EV Technology venture. It's also expected that despite the renewed focus on battery electric power, Toyota will remain dedicated to pushing fuel cell technology development alongside BMW.
In reading this piece it will come as no surprise to you that we find ourselves frustrated with Toyota. Its stubborn commitment to hybrid technology seems incongruous today, especially in Europe where emissions regulations are tightening and the market for zero-emissions cars is growing significantly faster than any other sector. We're doubtful that any of the vehicles which might be developed alongside BYD will have global appeal, so from what we can tell, Toyota still has a mountain to climb in creating a truly 'global' EV model; something it will have to do at some point very soon.