Why Toyota’s Akio Toyoda has no time for BS

With the responsibility of not only his company and his country on his shoulders, Akio Toyoda has millions and millions of diverse customers looking for transportation. They don’t all have the same needs, which is why he describes his business as an “automotive department store.”

“We as the department store, should not tell people ‘you can buy this product, not that one,’ ” he said.

I suspect what he’s really worried about is regulators forcing the stores to deny customers certain products.

As Akio Toyoda sees it, a focus on carbon-neutrality should try to reduce the most carbon.

A wealthy Californian might think that since an EV emits no carbon, then that would be the obvious solution for all vehicles.

But the availability of lithium and nickel and other critical minerals are more or less finite, especially in any given slice of time, like a year or a decade. Especially this year and this decade.

Toyoda’s math is about as compelling for carbon-reduction as it is confounding for the simple political solution: He says Toyota can produce eight plug-in hybrids with 40 miles of electric range for every 320-mile battery-electric vehicle and save up to eight times the carbon emissions.

The “up to” is an absolute-best-case scenario, but based on the experience of Chevy Volt owners I’ve known, it would be at least seven times the carbon reduction — and that’s a lot.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the investors and regulators and their EV enthusiasm; I suspect they fail to recognize the truly unique phenomenon that is Elon Musk’s Tesla. (Toyota, as you may recall, was an early investor in and partner with Tesla. The Japanese giant unloaded its UAW-organized factory to Tesla via GM’s bankruptcy and netted a nice profit on the stock — though in hindsight it also left billions on the table.)

But the point remains that no one else is Tesla. And if everyone had Tesla’s lineup — with an entry-level sedan that starts around $48,000 — we’d be looking at a profoundly smaller auto industry with millions fewer employed people in multiple countries.

Toyoda is polite, of course. He describes certain zero-emission vehicle goals as “very difficult” and “rather difficult” rather than using more definitive or salty language.

It isn’t natural for him to be assertive, he insisted. But in the face of this EV passion or fanaticism, he knows he needs to be more direct: “It is also necessary for us to present the hard facts to those people who are making and laying down rules for us.”

Just like his brother Bob: No BS.

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