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Toyota’s Troubling Electric Vehicle Track Record

The automaker must put EVs in the fast lane

By East Peterson-Trujillo

September 13th, 2022

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 90’s and 2000’s–which is to say, I grew up surrounded by the Toyota Prius. When the Prius hit the U.S. market in 2000, it was the ‘next big thing.’

On the sheels of a highly-successful global collaboration to combat the destruction of the ozone layer, hybrid vehicles were on the docket to help combat our next great challenge: global warming.

The Prius debut was particularly exciting because I also grew up surrounded by smog and dangerous air pollution. The cluster of metropolitan areas surrounding the San Francisco Bay has a population of over 7.5 million people. The combination of millions of people commuting and traveling in cars, some heavy industry, and frequent high-pressure systems can trap pollutants at sea level where people live. Communities are exposed to elevated levels of soot, ozone, and nitrogen oxides–all of which contribute to thousands of early deaths each year.

Thankfully, California just took a big step to protect communities’ health and mitigate climate impacts by banning the sale of gas-powered vehicles after 2035.

Some manufacturers are matching regulations like California’s pace for pace: in early 2021, GM committed to the same 2035 deadline for producing all-electric vehicles. But not all manufacturers are meeting this moment.

Once an environmental leader, Toyota is falling behind. 

The Prius is still on the road using hybrid technology which, despite being marginally better than it was in 2000, still depends on fossil fuels–and there are no plans in sight for a fully electric model. We are past the point of hybrid vehicles saving us from climate disaster.

Even worse: Toyota is now ranked the third worst company in the world for its lobbying against climate action. The only worse companies are oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Toyota must put its anti-climate action in reverse. That’s why Public Citizen is launching a campaign demanding Toyota make only electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030. Add your name to our petition.

Toyota’s track record

How did Toyota go from being one of the most environmentally friendly auto makers to one of the worst companies for the climate? And why?

  • Toyota went all-in on hybrids and now lags far behind other automakers–so it has opposed EV requirements in the U.S., U.K., India, and more.
  • Toyota lobbied to weaken greenhouse gas standards for vehicles. It even joined a Trump-era lawsuit to strip the state of California of its ability to set its own vehicle emissions standards–a position the company only walked back last month.
  • Toyota cheated on emissions testing and was fined a record $180 million last year by the EPA for violating clean air regulations, the largest civil penalty ever for a breach of federal emissions-reporting requirements.
  • Toyota debuted its only electric vehicle in the U.S. in 2022, but promptly recalled it because the wheels were falling off.
  • In early 2022, Toyota threatened to cease manufacturing cars in the U.K. if the country wouldn’t water down its strong clean car rules, which are slated to end diesel sales by 2030 and hybrid sales by 2035. The auto giant backed off after a newspaper exposed the threat.

Over a third of Americans plan to buy or lease an EV, or are seriously considering doing so. Fifty-five percent of U.S. voters support requiring manufacturers to sell only electric vehicles by 2030. Toyota’s opposition isn’t aligned with the people, our health, or a safe climate. 

Sign the petition now: Toyota, put EVs in the fast lane.

The Future is Electric

We need a complete transition to electric vehicles—and a revamp of our transportation systems—to end our reliance on polluting, dangerous fossil fuels.

As the largest global auto manufacturer, Toyota can shift the worldwide market on EVs.

The transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. It’s also a major source of air pollution in our communities.

Electric vehicles are far less polluting than those with internal combustion engines. Their benefits for public health and the climate are maximized when they are charged and manufactured with renewable energy, and their materials are produced with lower-emissions. The most recent reporting shows that the average EV produces vastly lower emissions than a gasoline vehicle—and that’s with current manufacturing methods, which advocates are working to clean up.

Given consumer appetite for electric vehicles and the rising number of states and countries requiring manufacturers to shift to producing them, there is no excuse for Toyota continuing in the slow lane. 

Aside from being the right thing to do, addressing its vehicles’ climate impacts is also good for Toyota’s bottom line. A whopping 90% of its manufacturing sites are at high risk for at least one climate hazard. As Toyota cars contribute more greenhouse gas emissions, the company is making it more likely that its facilities have to withstand stronger and more frequent storms. 

It’s clear that EVs are the future. Toyota should devote its energy to catching up and staying competitive, not trying to block progress and rendering itself obsolete.

Tell Toyota: shift gears. Commit to our future, to electric vehicles, now. 

It’s time for Toyota to power past the Prius and produce only electric vehicles by 2030—for our health and the climate.