Convert old cars to EVs? Akio Toyoda has a plan
CHIBA, Japan — Akio Toyoda has a new proposal for the global auto industry’s war on carbon levels: He wants to convert old cars to electrics.
Even if all the world’s new vehicles are replaced by EVs someday, the Toyota Motor Corp. CEO reasons, it will still do little to cut emissions from the hundreds of millions of fuel-burning vehicles already on the road.
Moreover, there are millions of car buffs with their beloved vintage rides. How can the owner of a ’63 Porsche 911 or ’70 Pontiac GTO keep driving without being legislated off the road?
“If only new cars are electrified, we aren’t going to be able to achieve carbon neutrality,” Toyoda said last week. “We also have to consider vehicle units in operation.”
Toyoda’s proposed solution: Carbon-neutral conversions. Take an old car and make it green by dropping in an all-electric or hydrogen powertrain.
Toyoda floated his vision last week at the Tokyo Auto Salon tuner show, unveiling two carbon-neutral, fun-to-drive concept vehicles derived from the legendary Toyota AE86 hot hatch.
The AE86 BEV Concept ditches its gasoline engine for a battery and motor. Its AE86 H2 Concept counterpart drops its gasoline powerplant for a hydrogen-burning one.
The makeovers called to mind the DeLorean retrofitting featured in Back to the Future. Dabbling with conversions is just a first step in a long development process, the world’s largest automaker admits.
However, the gambit underscores Toyota’s commitment to a multipronged fight against carbon emissions in an era when many competitors seem focused on EVs.
“There’s a competition to announce BEVs as quickly as possible now because of regulation,” Toyoda said. But industry sentiment, he insisted, is shifting toward Toyota’s strategy of offering a “widest possible” array of powertrains.
“The atmosphere is changing. There are more people supporting us. I am talking about reality — the users’ reality and the market reality,” Toyoda said. “The silent majority is speaking up.”
Toyota is not anti-EV, the company says. It plans to sell 3.5 million of them in 2030. On an absolute basis, that is enough volume to constitute a standalone automaker in its own right, Toyoda said.
Moreover, Toyoda confirmed at the Auto Salon that his company is working on a new dedicated EV platform to strengthen its portfolio and competitiveness.
But Toyota is also a full-lineup automaker, with a sizable presence in many markets, such as Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, that are nowhere close to adopting the strict emissions rules being pushed in places such as Europe. To address the needs in different markets, Toyota envisions many roads to reducing carbon dioxide.
It’s apples and oranges to compare Toyota with big EV boosters such as General Motors and Volkswagen, Toyoda said.
“They don’t have hybrids, they don’t have a global market, they’re not full lineup,” he said. “It’s a different competition, and it’s not the same players.”
Toyota’s strategy covers everything from EVs and hybrids to hydrogen combustion and next-generation bio fuels.
And now, retrofitting older cars with new technologies will become another path.
“Many automakers target a 100 percent shift to battery EVs, anywhere between 2030 to 2040,” Toyoda said. “But the reality is that we cannot achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 simply by shifting all new-car sales to EVs. … It is important to provide options for cars that are already owned.”
Toyota has been studying the matter since last year as part of its carbon-neutrality strategy.
Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada identified the challenge last autumn in an interview with Automotive News in which he took aim at critics of Toyota’s holistic approach.
“Whenever I hear such criticism, I wonder do they really understand the big picture?” he said.
“In reality, there are many more cars on the street than new cars sold every year,” Uchiyamada said. “We have to make all cars carbon neutral, including those already on the streets.”
The U.S. had 276 million passenger and commercial vehicles registered in 2020, according to the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
Toyota has a task force charged with charting the way to carbon neutrality, Uchiyamada said. Teams are based on powertrain type: hydrogen fuel cells, battery electrics and an umbrella group of hybrids, plug-ins and conventional internal combustion.
Toyoda didn’t offer a timeline for marketing carbon-neutral car conversions or talk costs. But he said development could progress briskly, as it has with Toyota’s hydrogen engine technology.
Work on conversions won’t distract from developing dedicated EVs because Toyota has siloed its dedicated EV program, Toyoda added.
But Toyota’s motorhead boss pitched conversions as yet another way to keep cars exciting.
“I wanted to make a proposal that there are options for car lovers too,” Toyoda said. “Why is it that people don’t approve of multiple pathways and only accept one?”
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