Toyota Motor’s top executive lobbied the Japanese government to make clear it supported hybrid vehicles as much as battery electrics or face losing the auto industry’s support, a senior lawmaker told a ruling party meeting, according to Reuters.
The lobbying by Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota and chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) industry group, came as the automaker has faced increased scrutiny from green investors who say it has been slow to embrace battery-electric vehicles and pressed governments to slow a transition to them, the news agency noted.
Akira Amari, a former industry minister and a veteran member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), requested changes to the government’s annual economic policy roadmap at a 3 June meeting, saying he had spoken with Toyoda a day earlier, according to notes and audio of the meeting reviewed by Reuters.
The final version of the document included a reference to “so-called electric-powered vehicles” and appeared to put fossil-fuel burning hybrids on equal footing with zero-emission battery vehicles, even though environmentalists say there is a vast difference.
“I spoke with Chairman Toyoda yesterday and he said that JAMA cannot endorse a government that rejects hybrids,” Amari told the policy meeting of LDP lawmakers, according to the notes and audio.
Use of synthetic fuel, such as from hydrogen, would make hybrids “100% clean energy” cars and the policy document should make that explicit, Amari reportedly said.
“If we don’t make that clear, JAMA will push back with all its might,” Amari said, according to the notes and audio.
“If we don’t say that hybrids are included in the category of electric vehicles, that won’t look good,” he said, adding that a reference to electric-powered vehicles should be changed to “so-called electric-powered vehicles”.
Amari confirmed to Reuters he asked for the inclusion of “so-called” to make clear that electric vehicles were not limited to battery electric vehicles and included hybrids. He said he asked for no other changes.
He confirmed he had spoken to Toyoda.
“What Mr. Toyoda is trying to say is that hybrids running with synthetic fuels are good for the environment because they are extremely fuel efficient. He said he would be extremely unsatisfied if hybrids were rejected. That’s what he told me. He asked if the LDP were rejecting hybrids and I said that we were doing no such thing.”
Amari told Reuters that, by developing synthetic fuels, automakers would be able to produce zero emission internal combustion engines. Such fuels could also be used in aircraft which can’t run on battery power, he said.
In a statement to Reuters, JAMA said the auto industry was making every effort toward its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Since the goal was carbon neutrality, it was important to broaden options and not be limited to specific technologies, it said.
It was also necessary to respond to various situations and customer needs in each country and region, it said.
A Toyota spokesperson referred Reuters to JAMA.
Reuters said the final version of the document, available online, refers to Japan’s 2035 target of all new domestic car sales being “so-called electric-powered vehicles,” and specifically mentions in the main text that such vehicles include hybrids.
An earlier draft from 31 May, also available online, shows the reference to hybrids only in a footnote, Reuters said. The main text refers to the 2035 target as having all new car sales being “electric-powered vehicles”.
The report noted Toyota has said fossil fuels, not internal combustion engines, are the problem. As well as the hybrids it popularised more than two decades ago with the Prius, it also champions hydrogen technology, although that has so far not caught on the way battery-electric cars have.
Hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, accounted for almost 44% of the new passenger cars sold in Japan last year, while battery electric vehicles accounted for less than 1%, according to data from the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.