Toyota is continuing with its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2050, with the automotive giant taking a multi-pathway approach, focusing on enhancing (and investing in) its current new-energy vehicles (NEVs) and pioneering new energy solutions. We joined the local arm of the Japanese company for an exciting preview of what’s to come.

THE MAGNIFICENT 6

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Toyota RAV4 PHEV.

In addition to (traditional) hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery-electric (BEV) vehicles, the firm is focusing on pursuing fuel-cell and hydrogen systems, while adding a sixth pillar — carbon-neutral internal combustion engines (ICE). “We are unique globally in terms of tackling all six right at the same time,” said Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) President and CEO Andrew Kirby.

(As a reminder, TSAM currently offers four petrol-electric models, the Corolla Cross, which we tested in 2022, the Corolla sedan and hatch, and RAV4 hybrid. However, the firm has announced that the RAV4 PHEV (plug-in hybrid), which we’ve sampled, will, in time, form part of the line-up. The local NEV line-up of Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, comprises several hybrid derivatives, including the IS300h, which we drove on the local launch in 2021.)

A TALE OF TWO THEMES

Toyota Crown BEV.

With these technologies Toyota is focusing on two themes — inheritance and evolution. The former relates to the manufacturer’s philosophy of striving to be the best it can be — the “best-in-town” carmaker — by producing “even better” vehicles and push the boundaries with their product offering. As part of the automaker’s new direction is its internal mobility concept, with which it aims to become more than “just” a carmaker, but a mobility company. In terms of BEVs, Toyota aims to evolve safety technology and multimedia. The firm plans to bring operating systems to new levels. Customers will be able to customise how the vehicle drives through adjusting the feel of how it handles and its suspension.

FUEL-CELL FUTURE

To demonstrate the fuel-cell technology, TSAM has brought in the Mirai, the world’s first fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV). The Mirai (seen above) was first shown on local shores at the State of the Motoring Industry (SOMI) earlier this year.

However, the fuel-cell technology wasn’t showcased with only the saloon mentioned above…Docked at Pier 6 at the V&A Waterfront was the Energy Observer, with which Toyota is an official partner.

Energy Observer.

The Energy Observer is a unique vessel, designed to push back the limits of zero-emissions technologies. It is equipped with Toyota fuel-cell tech, running on (green, as it is produced by seawater electrolysis) hydrogen. Solar, wind and tidal power are also used to power this specially converted catamaran. This laboratory on water experiments and tests these solutions to showcase the practical implementation and viability of clean energies. Interestingly, the fuel cell weighs less than the batteries combined, while producing 10 times more energy (from hydrogen) than what’s provided by the myriad solar panels fitted to the Energy Observer.

In addition, continuing hydrogen, Toyota will be using motorsport to push the boundaries of this tech. The company recently revealed the GR H2, a hydrogen-powered racing car set to compete in the hydrogen catgegory at Le Mans.

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Toyota GR H2.

FOR CONTINENT AND COUNTRY

Regionally, TSAM will continue to look into the six pathways. However, although having a serious intention do this in a way to create a carbon-neutral environment, the company mentions it needs to be honest and clear on how to reduce its carbon footprint. Toyota isn’t going to aggressively switch to tech that’s not affordable. The aim is to “leave no one behind”.

“In reality, when we look at the continent of Africa, we need to consider the energy and electricity situation of the countries,” said Kirby. “We need to be honest and clear about how we introduce vehicles to accelerate pathway to reduce carbon footprint … We are not going to lose sight of it.”

However, TSAM does have an aggressive strategy to improve hybrid sales. TSAM, the biggest player in SA regarding HEVs, will first focus on expanding its HEV offering, as these vehicles, unlike PHEVs and BEVs, take no electricity from the grid. In addition, Toyota aims to enhance the quality and value of its HEVs. “It is significant step in right direction.”

TSAM says its HEVs currently make up 3 per cent of its total sales figure. However, the company plans to increase this to 10 per cent in 2025 and 20 per cent in 2030.

Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid.

However, the automaker says it’s important to pursue PHEVs. Regarding the latter, the firm plans on developing a system with an extended all-electric range of 200 km. In 2026, the company who pioneered the mass-production of HEVs with the Prius, will launch a total of 10 next-generation BEVs. FCEV will likely be introduced in the future, first for the use in commercial offerings.

INTELLIGENCE IS CENTRAL

Toyota has invested in a “game-changing” laboratory, where it’s building a city to test system integrations and myriad “really advanced” technology —  connecting cities and vehicles to infrastructure, the integration of logistics systems and real-time traffic information.