Toyota warns it could leave electric car sector

By John Parnell

Toyota Europe has said it could walk away from the electric car market unless it is confident that electricity supplies will be decarbonised in the future.

Didier Stevens, Toyota Europe’s head of government affairs and environmental issues told RTCC that policy makers and utility firms also had a role to play in ensuring electric vehicles got off the ground.

“We need to cooperate with the electricity providers so that what we present to the market, in its totality, is a clean solution, otherwise we’d prefer to step back,” he said.

“We always assess a vehicle from well to wheel. If the electricity is not sourced from renewables then it makes little sense.”

Toyota’s electric hybrid Prius combines a 1.8 litre VVT-i petrol engine with two electric motors to provide low fuel consumption (Pic: Toyota)

The UK parliament recently failed to add a decarbonisation target to its new energy bill. Stevens believes this is the kind of policy that could protect the environmental integrity of electric vehicles in the future making utility firms reduce the average CO2 emitted from their power, either by capturing carbon or using clean energy sources.

“We are looking with some concern at the German plan of having 1m electric vehicles on the road by 2020. If more and more of their electricity is going to come from coal, then this does not solve the problem. It just shifts the emissions to another area. This is not how it should be,” added Stevens.

Toyota is currently focused on hybrid and plug in hybrid vehicles but Stevens says it will introduce an electric vehicle in Europe by 2015.

How effective it and other electric vehicles are at reducing emissions will depend on how much clean energy countries are using on their grids, he added.

EU targets

The EU is currently negotiating its 2030 climate and energy policies. The UK has called for a 50% reduction in emissions but is against an EU-wide renewables target.

“If renewable targets can help then why not,” said Stevens. “We don’t need to wait till its too late. we can do it now so why not. If the renewable targets are removed there will be serious question marks. Some pressure is always needed. Look at the progress made on CO2 emissions standards for cars, would that progress be made without targets? I doubt it.”

The EU recently announced a suite of alternative fuel targets that included a goal to build 1 million electric vehicle charging points and facilities for hydrogen and gas powered vehicles too. While Stevens welcomed the plans, the reception has not been universally positive.

“We see a little reluctance from the energy sector. The electricity sector is interested but for different purposes. The utilities are more interested in electric vehicles as an energy storage solution than anything else.”

With renewable energy not always generating power when it is needed, using it to charge electric vehicles overnight would help to even out the distribution of power that they generate.

There are also fears that governments could attempt to recoup some of the lost revenue from fuel duties as people turn to electric vehicles, by charging a higher rate for electricity used to power electric cars. This could threaten the economic viability of going electric and offers governments a poison pill that would threaten the sector.

Developing world

Rapid vehicle growth in the developing world is having a major effect on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions but costly electric and hybrid vehicles are not always the best solution.

“The Chinese are very much concerned about fuel consumption and air quality. I don’t think the introduction of new technologies will be an issue in China. The government can make it happen.

“The situation in India is different. We have to produce vehicles that fit the market and we are considering a low cost vehicle for India, it will most probably be petrol. The first stage is to provide mobility and the infrastructure has a lot of progress to make,” said Stevens.

“That vehicle will have a modern, clean engine however. It will be affordable and as clean as possible. In Brazil we will focus on gas powered vehicles. We could go to India and offer plug in hybrids but only a few would buy them so we wouldn’t achieve clean mobility, they would just revert to the old methods.

“If we build electric cars nobody can afford nobody wins, not us, not the governments, not the environment.”

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