Here’s something unexpected from Toyota. The Japanese giant is looking at mass-producing long-range electric vehicles (EVs) that would hit the market around 2020, the Nikkei newspaper reported, picked up by Automotive News Europe.

Toyota has previously overlooked EVs as its green solution, preferring hybrid cars for now and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) as the long-term answer. This is as rivals, most notably the Renault-Nissan Alliance, bet big on EVs. Toyota had considered EVs suitable only for short-distance commuting because of the high price of batteries and lengthy charging times.

The Japanese daily, which did not cite any sources, said Toyota would set up a team early next year dedicated to developing EVs that can travel more than 300 km on a single charge. It added that Toyota aims to begin selling its first long-range EV in 2020 in Japan, as well as in other markets that are promoting a switch to EVs, such as California and China.


Toyota did not confirm, nor did it deny the report, saying that it does not comment on product development plans. The carmaker said it continues to develop various fuel-efficient technologies, including EVs, with the best application for each in mind. The company has a stated aim to make all of its vehicles emissions-free by 2050.

What prompted the change of heart? Industry experts say emissions regulations in California, considered by many to be a global benchmark, and China’s push to increase electric car usage could be behind it.

“Toyota has been a major hold-out on EVs, but it appears that it now realises that without them it may be difficult to satisfy tightening regulations. Not (having EVs as an option) would run the risk that it could face sales restrictions in some areas,” said Takeshi Miyao, MD of consultancy Carnorama.

Toyota, the undisputed leader in hybrid tech, has touted FCVs as the most ideal green car of the future. The zero emissions Mirai FCV has comparable driving range and refueling time with conventional cars, which makes it easier to live with compared to EVs. However, the lack of hydrogen stations at present is a major hurdle for FCVs. There’s a concerted effort by the Japanese government and its big three carmakers to boost infrastructure back home, but there’s less will elsewhere.