Toyota Canada, as part of the carmaker’s global push to launch 70 new electrified vehicles by 2025, will begin selling its first battery electric vehicle, the bZ4X, by the middle of next year, officials announced at a virtual pan-American unveiling this week.
The bZ4X will join an exploding new segment of electric vehicles — crossovers — an important development for the adoption of EVs. Most EVs to this point — Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi iMiev, Chevrolet Bolt — have been cars, and they have struggled despite generous incentives in three provinces to gain any foothold in a market dominated by the light truck segment. In February 2021, light trucks, which includes pickups, crossovers and SUVs, accounted for 88 per cent of Canadian vehicle sales.
Cyril Dimitris, vice-president, marketing and sales, for Toyota Canada, said following buyers into segments they are buying is key to EV adoption.
"It’s very important that we get cars into the market that people want to buy, and not because of government incentives," he said. "Certainly, that will lead to greater acceptance of EVs."
Those government incentives — Ontario, for instance, once offered up to $14,000 in rebate for the purchase of an EV — put money into the pockets of early adopters, but as Canadians flocked to crossovers and SUVs, the EV was left behind. Market share for EVs have so far struggled to break four per cent of sales in Canada.
The federal government still offers an incentive of $5,000 for battery EVs and $2,500 for plug-in hybrid vehicles. EVs still face hurdles in the marketplace as consumers remain leery about running out of juice and being stranded, and wonder whether the EV can meet their needs in terms of travel and trips to the cottage.
When bZ4X — bZ stands for beyond zero, as in zero-carbon — launches, the EV crossover segment will be crowded, with rivals from Ford, Nissan, Volkswagen, General Motors, Tesla and Mazda.
Toyota Canada vice-president Stephen Beatty said the company has electrified vehicles — referring to either hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric — in all segments in which it competes in Canada. The market share of Toyota’s electrified vehicles — from hybrid RAV-4 and Prius to plug-in hybrids RAV-4 Prime, among others — has grown from 10 per cent in 2000 to 28 per cent today and is expected to grow to 40 per cent by 2025.
He said the company is actively pursuing other strategies, such as its hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle Mirai, a new model of which will also launch in Canada in 2022. Beatty expects hydrogen fuelling infrastructure, currently limited to a small number of stations in B.C. and Quebec, will expand to more parts of Canada.
The company is also working on alternative fuels such as biofuels, as well as electric and hydrogen options for its large-truck subsidiary, Hino Truck. Using multiple approaches to carbon reduction is necessary, he said.
"From 2000 to 2019, the fleet in Canada grew by 10 million vehicles and is expected to grow by five to six million more by 2030," he said. "It’s pretty clear that if you want to turn the corner on carbon reduction, you need to look at a broad range of technologies."
Which is why Beatty is lobbying for emissions regulations that allow the use of a variety of technologies rather than demanding only one technology, such as battery EVs. "We will be pressing governments to adopt a technology-neutral approach. Don’t set goals based on a particular technology, set goals based on the objectives you’re trying to reach."
Toyota is also expanding its Corolla nameplate, but it’s expanding it not into the small-car segment but into the bottom end of the crossover segment. The Corolla Cross looks more like a small RAV-4 than a Corolla, and it offers a choice of all- or front-wheel drive. Also, 1,500-pound towing capacity comes standard. The Corolla Cross hits the market in the third quarter of 2021.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.