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Americans are ready to go electric. Toyota and BMW are not…

Vehicle manufactures are holding back the electric vehicle revolution

By Robert Weissman

Electric vehicles and sustainable automotive technology have arrived. Many forward-looking car companies are racing to lead the inevitable transition to all-electric fleets. But others – Toyota and BMW notable among them – are refusing to prioritize electric vehicles and cleaner materials like green steel. In doing so, they are denying their customers better cars and obstructing progress toward fixing the climate crisis. 

This spring, the steel and automotive industries came together in Michigan for the 20th Great Designs in Steel Conference to discuss their partnerships. Nearly all of the major auto manufacturers have announced partnerships with steel producers to begin sourcing greener steel, citing the need to bring down carbon emissions in their supply chains. 

But while automakers like Toyota and BMW like to talk a big game about their commitment to sustainability, they will not commit to ending their dependence on dirty steel before 2050. There is reason to be skeptical that they plan to make the transition at all.

Automakers have real leverage over the vitally important future of steel manufacturing. Steel manufacturing is responsible for more greenhouse gas pollution than any other industrial sector, and automakers are among the largest purchasers of steel globally. In fact, about 54 percent of the average car is made of steel. To meet key climate targets, experts advise that the steel industry must cut carbon pollution in half by 2050

It’s not just steel. These companies are holding back the electric vehicle revolution. Toyota has been manufacturing the hybrid Prius as long as the Great Designs in Steel Conference has been taking place and has no public plans to update it for modern times. 

We wouldn’t accept a 2002 cell phone or television, but Toyota expects us to keep buying cars that rely on its 20-year-old hybrid technology. Other car companies like Ford have proven the popularity and profitability of all-electric models, but Toyota has thus far refused to make an all-electric Prius—or really invest in electric vehicles at all. Just last month, Toyota unveiled its first fully electric vehicle in the U.S. in a decade—the bZ4X—a model that hasn’t even hit dealer showrooms and which reviews have dubbed “solidly middling” and “perfectly OK.” 

Despite rapidly growing consumer demand for electric vehicles, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda called them “overhyped.” That’s not surprising from a company that’s been stuck in neutral, clinging to the market for hybrids as electric vehicle sales surge.  While other automakers are promising to exclusively sell electric cars by 2035, Toyota’s current reported goal is to sell 3.5 million EVs annually by 2030—only around a third of its current vehicle sales. 

Disturbingly, Toyota is compounding the harm of its climate-harming business model with a climate-devastating political strategy.  A recent lobbying report ranked Toyota as the third most obstructive corporation preventing governments from setting climate policies, coming only behind oil giants Chevron and Exxon. 

There are similar problems at BMW. BMW’s CEO Oliver Zipse has made clear that he does not support a transition to all electric vehicles. BMW claims it aims to sell over 2 million electric vehicles by the end of 2025. Yet it discontinued production of its first mass-produced electric vehicle, the BMW i3 with only 250,000 created. It currently has only one EV on the market, the BMW i4 M50, suggesting the company is not serious about investing in electric vehicles.

The auto market needs leaders, not laggards. The time is now to reimagine the automobile – from the supply chain to the engine to the body. The technology exists for the industry to scrap dirty power and dirty materials production. Electric vehicles are more viable than ever, and steel manufacturers have the technology to make clean, emissions-free steel. 

Automakers like Toyota and BMW have the opportunity to lead the industry towards a clean, fossil-free future. The latest report from the world’s leading climate scientists shows that a shift to electric vehicles could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by 80% to 90% of current levels by 2050. But to make that future a reality, automakers need to do more than talk and make empty promises. They need to commit to providing consumers with the green technologies that exist today.