(p. A1) “People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Mr. Toyoda said to reporters during a visit to Thailand. “That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly.”
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(p. A6) The world’s biggest auto maker has said it sees hybrids, a technology it invented with the debut of the Toyota Prius in the 1990s, as an important option when EVs remain expensive and charging infrastructure is still being built out in many parts of the world. It is also developing zero-emission vehicles powered by hydrogen.
“Because the right answer is still unclear, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just one option,” Mr. Toyoda said. Over the past few years, Mr. Toyoda said, he has tried to convey this point to industry stakeholders, including government officials—an effort he described as tiring at times.
Global car companies have made a sharp pivot to electric vehicles within the last few years, driven in part by the success of EV-only maker Tesla Inc.
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At the same time, the legacy auto makers have a much broader base of customers, including many living in rural areas and developing economies with unreliable electricity supplies.
And their gas-engine businesses are still driving the bulk of profits needed to fund the costly shift to electric vehicles, which not only requires the development of new models but also construction of new facilities and battery plants.
The infrastructure to charge electric vehicles is meanwhile still lacking in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, making owning an EV still a challenge for many types of consumers.
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Ryan Gremore, an Illinois-based dealer, who owns several brand franchises, said he gets a lot of customers inquiring about EVs, in part because of limited supplies.
That might give the impression of robust demand, but it is unclear how it will materialize when inventory levels at dealerships normalize, he added. “Is there interest in electric vehicles? Yes. Is it more than 10% to 15% of our customer base? No way,” Mr. Gremore said.
Mr. Toyoda’s long-held skepticism about a fully electric future has been shared by others in the Japanese car industry, as well.
Mazda Motor Corp. executives once cautioned that whether EVs were cleaner depends largely on where the electricity is produced. They also worried that EV batteries were too big and expensive to replace gas-powered models and better suited to the types of smaller vehicles that Americans didn’t want.
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(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 18, 2022, and has the title “Toyota Chief Says ‘Silent Majority’ Has Doubts About Pursuing Only EVs.”)