The Toyota bZ4X is the brand’s first mass-produced electric vehicle set to go on sale in various markets next year, which will then be followed by six more bZ (beyond Zero) models due to be launched by 2025. While we know plenty about the bZ4X, specific details of the carmaker’s upcoming EVs are scarce for now.
However, Toyota has given us some idea of what to expect from its EVs, with Cooper Ericksen, group vice president of product planning and strategy for Toyota Motor North America (TMNA), revealing that outright range and high prices aren’t the company’s focus.
Instead, Toyota’s EVs will be competitive in terms of affordability, durability and environmental responsibility, which are qualities that made the Prius a success. Meanwhile, Toyota’s luxury brand – Lexus – could offer long-range EVs with 644 km (400 miles) to 805 km (500 miles) of range thanks to bigger battery packs.
In an interview with Green Car Reports, Ericksen said Toyota views affordability as necessary for environmental friendliness, which requires selling enough EVs at a level that is impactful. As the company sees it, if more people can afford to make the switch to EVs, it would be better for the environment.
“‘Nothing happens until you sell a car’ is an expression we have internally,” said Ericksen. “To have a positive impact on the environment, you must sell a high volume of cars…so it’s really important that the price point is such that we can make an actual business model out of it,” he added.
The company has already committed a lot of resources to develop batteries with the aim of reducing their costs (by 50% from the bZ4X), which, in turn, will bring down the price of EVs. Those EVs will slot into its line-up as modest, shorter-range models rather than being flagships, and the company expects to sell millions of EVs by the end of the decade.
When it comes to range, Toyota will not be purely pursuing obscenely large figures that seems to be the current obsession these days. “The bottom line is, over time, we view EV range similar to horsepower. People who are affluent and can afford a really expensive vehicle can afford a lot of horsepower,” Ericksen said.
“Batteries are expensive, and the bigger you make the battery, the more expensive it is. So, the trick, I think long-term, is not all about range, range, range; the trick is matching the range and the price point to what the consumer can afford. And as people become more accustomed to operating an EV, I think the anxiety over range is going to dissipate,” he continued.
Ericksen goes on to say that many EV shoppers are going to understand they don’t need 482 km (300 miles) or 644 km (400 miles) of range or more, and certainly not if it’s a second or third car that they are purchasing.
This “just enough” approach will need to be done right, as a J.D. Power study cited in the report revealed that EVs with a range of more than 322 km (200 miles) had higher levels of satisfaction than those with less. Toyota says the bZ4X offers up to 402 km (250 miles) of range from its 71.4-kWh lithium-ion battery.
“We’re trying to right-size the battery to the customer use case, to get the right price point, right peace of mind. And we think we’re pretty much there with the bZ4X now. Will there be customers longer-term that demand higher ranges? Absolutely,” commented Ericksen.
He also explained that longer ranges of over 644 km (400 miles) will be the goal for luxury models, which Lexus has already previewed with the LF-Z Electrified concept. The show car features a 90-kWh lithium-ion battery to achieve its long range, although this requires more cells that result in a heavier carbon footprint (to produce them).
“But the low end to me is the more curious number. What’s the lowest number that you can put out there that achieves the affordability and the use case for that customer? “I think we have some examples in the market over the past five years or so that we can learn from. It’s something we’re going to have to figure out because it has a huge impact on resources,” Ericksen said.
He goes on to say that convincing EV buyers that they need to pay more for a larger battery with a seldomly used capacity isn’t the right path and considerations must be made on resources or raw materials used. “We have to be really careful, you know, if we build EVs with 200-kWh batteries, and you can build four EVs for that one…we have to think about that as a society and as an industry to figure out what’s best for consumers in the environment,” he explained.
Toyota also says its EVs benefit from the know-how obtained from the continuous development of its hybrid technology. This includes battery durability and longevity, with the bZ4X’s battery said to be able to retain 90% of its capacity after 10 years – low degradation – while service staff that have worked on hybrid models will be familiar with high-voltage systems to provide on-the-ground support.
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