Toyota has abandoned an aggressive sales strategy for its new fully electric compact car, citing slowly developing battery technology and a misinterpretation of the market.
The Japanese automaker says it will only sell around 100 of its eQ battery-run cars domestically and in the United States in a limited release. In 2010, at the eQ’s unveiling, the company said it planned to sell thousands of the vehicles per year.
However Toyota’s vice chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, who led the company’s development of the Prius hybrid vehicle, says there have been several changes in the market since that announcement.
"Two years later, there are many difficulties,” Uchiyamada said at a press conference. “The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society's needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge."
Since its 1997 release, the Prius hybrid has received widespread praise for its potential to save fuel. The decision to scrap the new eQ as a production model leaves Toyota with just one non-conventional car in its lineup and places a question mark over the future of an alternative to the traditional combustion engine.
Toyota said it will concentrate its efforts on hybrid engine technology, in which it remains the industry leader. It plans to roll out 21 hybrid gas-electric cars similar to the Prius over the next three years, including 14 brand new models.
Among those is an all-electric RAV4 crossover SUV, developed in conjunction with Tesla Motors, which will be released in the US. By 2015, Toyota forecasts sales of 2,600 electric RAV4s – that compares with sales figures of 37,000 for its conventional Camry sedan in the month of August alone.
In the Japanese market, Toyota is far behind its projections for 2012 hybrid electric sales. It had forecast up to 40,000 vehicles sold, but with nine months of the year gone it has only sold 8,400.
Hybrid vehicles are steadily becoming more popular in Japan, with 2011 sales reaching 310,000 vehicles – 26% of the country’s total automobile sales.
However in other key markets, figures are less encouraging. Hybrid sales in the US continue to depend heavily on state subsidies, with Toyota only selling around 179,000 models last year – barely 1% of the 1.6 million vehicles sold nationwide.
Nonetheless, Toyota predicts a bright future for hybrid vehicle sales, with forecast figures of 1 million worldwide for 2012. It also said it expects its own annual hybrid sales to reach that number over the next three years.
Key Statistics - World Hybrid Car Market
- The global hybrid car market is expected to expand at an annual growth rate of almost 19% for the period between 2011 and 2015. One of the main contributors is the growing consumption of oil worldwide. (source: TechNavio)
- Electric vehicles are forecast to account for 35% of the cars made by the year 2025, with around 25% expected to be hybrids and 10% fully-electrical, though fully-electrical vehicles may also increase in popularity. (source: IDTechEx)
- Some 65% of carmakers predict a rise in fuel cell technology investment through 2025.(source: BCC Research)