It was an unusual beginning at the Tokyo Motor Show last Saturday with a press meet held in English and not Japanese as one would have generally expected. To top it all, the person doing the honours was a Frenchman!

As Didier Leroy, Executive Vice-President of Toyota Motor Corporation, began his address, it took time for visiting international journalists to get used to the fact that they did not require their translation headsets on. Perhaps this also reflected a new global face of the world’s largest carmaker where one would have typically expected a top Japanese official to deliver the speech.

Leroy is, of course, no lightweight in the managerial hierarchy and set the ball rolling by emphasising on Toyota’s new brand tagline, ‘Start Your Impossible’. As he put it, this reinforced the message of making ‘Mobility for All’ a reality.

From Toyota’s point of view, this is also about challenging ‘its own impossible’ and contributing to a society in which everyone can participate and push boundaries. Leroy then recalled what President, Akio Toyoda, had said about those who exceed others in their passion to make an ‘ever better society’ eventually emerging the leading players in future mobility.

Eight decades earlier, it was Toyoda’s grandfather who worked towards meeting the mobility needs of Japanese society. Today, the arena is completely different with fresh challenges for industry. According to Leroy, Toyota views this change “as an opportunity to transform ourselves”.

Yet, even as new territories such as human support robots or car sharing services are emerging on the landscape, there is still something special about cars. “I believe that is why cars are fun, and people see cars as something they love, rather than just a machine,” he said.

This is where products on display such as the GR Hybrid Sports and TJ Cruiser were a reminder that unless cars are fun, they are not really cars. Despite this, added Leroy, the passion for mobility at Toyota goes beyond cars. “For us, it means expanding our capability into technologies that can help people move around town or across the room with a better experience,” he said.

Toyota’s second area of focus is automated driving, which is key to realising its ‘Mobility for All’ vision. In ‘chauffeur’ mode, its cars will be smart enough to handle all driving tasks while in ‘guardian’ mode, the idea is to combine human and machine skills to make driving safer.

Electric mobility

Leroy then moved to electrification, the hottest topic of discussion across the automotive industry worldwide. He recalled the Prius, the first mass-produced electrified car 20 years ago and the pioneer in this space.

Toyota sells 37 electrified cars in more than 90 countries with nearly 1.5 million units sold annually and over 11 million sold in the past 20 years. “In fact, if you take the entire global market for electrified vehicles today, Toyota’s market share stands at 43 per cent,” said Leroy.

It is this experience that the company will bank on as it embarks on the next journey towards pure EVs. A beginning has been made with the creation of a company with Mazda and Denso to develop EV architecture.

Toyota, added Leroy, had also also invested in advanced battery research for a very long time and believes that its solid-state battery technology can be a “game-changer with the potential to dramatically improve driving range”. There are more than 200 engineers striving to commercialise this technology sometime in the early 2020s.

However, this focus did not imply that Toyota was moving away from fuel cells. On the contrary, the two new FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) on display reflected its firm commitment to realise a hydrogen society. While the Fine-Comfort Ride prefigures a premium FCV with spacious interior and a driving range of around 1,000 km, the new FC Bus concept, ‘Sora’ debuts next year.

Creating clean environment

In a presentation on the following day, Kiyotaka Ise, President, Advanced R&D and Engineering Company, said over 85 million tonnes of carbon dioxide had been reduced by these 11 million electrified vehicles sold in the last two decades. The amount of CO2 reduced by one Prius is approximately one tonne annually when compared to a petrol-driven vehicle with similar engine displacement.

Ise then recalled the words of Akio Toyoda who had said that the market would not be limited to a single powertrain over the next 10 to 30 years,. After all, some areas are rich in underground resources or have high power generating capacity while others do not.

By 2050, Toyota will have far more electrified vehicles, which will do their bit in reducing CO2 emissions substantially. President Toyoda had also reiterated that what was more important than ‘who launched the first electrified vehicle’ was to consider ‘who offered the best electrified vehicle for customers and the market’. This pretty much sums up the company’s objective going forward.

New methods

Toyota is also attempting to establish new methods of vehicle manufacturing. After all, the number of EVs sold is still low, with even the bestselling model doing just 50,000 units annually per year. In this backdrop, economies of scale will remain a challenge and this is where the partnership with Mazda and Denso could help the cause.

Ise also spoke of the benefits of FCVs, which are powered by hydrogen. In his view, they could be called the ‘ideal eco-car’ that can support sustainable mobility. It is in this context that the Hydrogen Council, formed early this year and comprising a host of automakers and oil companies, will play a big role worldwide.

The writer was in Tokyo recently at the invitation of Toyota Motor Corporation