Going Green: Toyota to Phase Out Conventionally Fueled Cars from 2020 Onward

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By 2050, gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel-cell cars and electric vehicles will account for most of Toyota’s global vehicle sales, the world’s best-selling auto maker disclosed in a story run by the Wall Street Journal.

Toyota has timed its assumptions well, plotting a road to near extinction for its conventionally fueled cars as the industry grapples with the fallout of Volkswagen AG’s diesel-emissions scandal.

Accordingly, gasoline- and diesel-engine powered cars – which accounts for roughly 85% of Toyota global vehicle sales – would be near zero, Senior Managing Officer Kiyotaka Ise said.

“It wouldn’t be easy for gasoline and diesel cars to survive,” Ise told a media briefing in Tokyo. “With such massive decline in engine-powered cars, it’s like the world is turning upside down and Toyota has to change its ways.”

Toyota’s vision highlights its bet on hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles as pollution concerns grow and auto makers compete to identify what could be the dominant next-generation technology to power cars.

Nevertheless, the global car maker isn’t entirely quitting on gasoline and diesel engines. Some regions will still have to rely on gasoline or diesel cars because of limited infrastructure such as charging for electric or hydrogen vehicles, Ise said. Also, hybrid vehicles like Toyota’s Prius carry conventional engines along with motors and batteries.

Such a massive shift in technology won’t happen quickly. There is widespread consensus in the industry that gasoline and diesel vehicles will gradually be replaced by alternatively powered vehicles, but consumers haven’t adopted them on a large scale, partly due to charging infrastructure hurdles.

Toyota, which has focused on hybrids, last year started selling fuel-cell cars that run on hydrogen and emit only water from the tailpipe. Fuel-cell cars, which can be charged in minutes and have a longer driving range than electric vehicles, are more suited for long-distance driving than electric cars, Toyota has said.

Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell car can run 312 miles with a full-tank of hydrogen based on U.S. testing standards. Rival Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf electric car has an average range of 84 miles with a fully charged battery, while U.S. startup Tesla Motors Inc.’s Model S electric car has a range of 230-270 miles.

As for now, Toyota is still highly reliant on gasoline- and diesel-powered cars: Last year, around 14% of Toyota’s global sales were hybrid vehicles, including plug-ins. Most of the remaining sales were vehicles powered by gasoline and some diesel, though a detailed breakdown wasn’t available.

The vision to eliminate gasoline- and diesel-powered cars was a part of Toyota’s wider green car strategy unveiled Wednesday. By 2020, Toyota aims to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from new vehicles by more than 22% compared with its 2010 global average. It ultimately hopes to take that to a 90% reduction by 2050, the auto maker said. To do so, Toyota plans to sell roughly 7 million gas-electric hybrid vehicles world-wide over the next five years, it said.

Toyota has sold around 8 million hybrids since it started selling them 18 years ago. Toyota also plans to sell at least 30,000 fuel-cell vehicles a year world-wide by around 2020, it said.

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Henry Sapiecha

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