Toyota is still greenwashing after change in leadership

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Toyota is still continuing its old ways of greenwashing and opposing electric vehicles, despite a change in CEO earlier this year from anti-EV stalwart Akio Toyoda to former Lexus chief Koji Sato, who had promised a more EV-friendly approach.

Toyota has a long history of opposing electric vehicles, both through lobbying and disinformation in its marketing. The company has consistently been the most obstructive global automaker when it comes to electrification, and among the slowest to scale up its EV efforts.

Most of this opposition came under previous CEO, Akio Toyoda. But earlier this year, Toyota seemed to finally recognize that these efforts were unproductive and replaced Toyoda with new CEO Koji Sato, citing Toyoda’s specific failure to adapt to the electric vehicle movement.

This gave some hope for Toyota, whose previous path threatened not just Toyota itself, but potentially the entire Japanese economy, given its importance as the largest company in the country. That path has already seen it getting squeezed out of the world’s largest auto market due to a lack of EVs to sell.

Many organizations called for Toyota to change its path when Sato came into leadership. And there has been some movement. Sato seems to be making some moves to increase EV production, but then again the company cut its already-pathetic near-term EV sales forecast by 40% earlier this month. And just last month, Toyota did make an enormous investment into its planned US battery plant – $8 billion is nothing to scoff at.

But the better part of a year after Sato’s appointment, Toyota is still up to its same old marketing tricks, trying to confuse the public into thinking its gas guzzlers make it a leader in green technology.

Toyota does this through its marketing campaigns and material which confuse conventional hybrids – which run 100% on gasoline and gain no energy from any other non-fossil, non-polluting source – with electric vehicles which can run on non-fossil sources. It also focuses on unrealistic, distant-future solutions which seem to exist only to push timelines back.

Public Citizen recently confronted Toyota at the LA Auto Show encouraging the company to electrify. We talked to East Peterson-Trujillo, Public Citizen’s Clean Vehicles Campaigner about what Toyota and Sato have been up to in the last year, and they pointed out some of the greenwashing Toyota has still been up to.

For example, Toyota has changed its badging to say “HEV,” in place of “hybrid” as it has said in the past.

To be clear: hybrids are not EVs. While it is industry/scientific parlance to refer to hybrids in this way (along with FCEV for fuel cell, PHEV for plug-in hybrid, and BEV for battery electric vehicle), it is not the way the public refers to them, and Toyota knows this and has made the change to cover up its inability to make EVs. The public thinks that “EV” means electric vehicle, specifically battery-electric vehicle, and the conventional hybrids that make up a majority of Toyota’s “electrified” vehicle sales are not electric at all.

And that brings up another problem. Toyota’s extensive use of the word “electrified” is another misleading claim it uses to confuse consumers. This word is used by other automakers as well, but Toyota has crafted an entire marketing campaign around it – which it launched in September, well after the change in CEO.

The marketing campaign is called “electrified diversified,” and it is Toyota’s attempt to push vehicles that are entirely powered by fossil fuels as if they are an important part of an automaker’s strategy towards carbon neutrality.

But, again, hybrid vehicles like the (non-plug-in) Prius run entirely on gasoline. There is zero energy that enters the car system that is not put there by limited and polluting fossil fuels, of the kind which contribute to millions of deaths globally per year. You cannot power a Prius on carbon neutral energy, and a Prius is not zero-emission.

Toyota also has another campaign, “Beyond Zero,” which explicitly wants to “shift the conversation” from advocating for EVs to gas-guzzling hybrids instead.

Big picture, the “Beyond Zero” campaign aims to shift the conversation about electrification from the auto industry’s narrow focus on battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) to a broader perspective that encompasses Toyota’s more ambitious — and some would say more realistic — portfolio approach to transitioning away from internal combustion engines. That includes hybrid EVs, plug-in hybrid EVs, fuel cell EVs and battery EVs.

-Toyota’s marketing B.S.

We’re not sure how going to a more polluting solution, hybrids, is somehow “beyond” zero – so chalk that one up to Toyota lying about how science works once again. Lying, as its chief scientist does quite often.

The worst part is that Toyota’s B.S. is spreading. Ram recently described its plug-in hybrid as an “unlimited range” EV, echoing Toyota’s illegal “self-charging hybrid” claim. And we also noticed at the LA Auto Show that Kia was using “HEV” badging on its new gas-powered hybrid Sorento, which is a shame given that Kia actually has some great EV offerings, unlike Toyota.

Thankfully, Toyota has faced pressure from shareholders to improve its business in the face of climate change and a shifting automotive industry, but so far has not relented to this pressure and is continuing on its old path. It has also faced boycotts, and Toyota vehicles are the brand most likely to be traded-in when people buy an EV.

While in 2022 Toyoda was confirmed as CEO with over 95% of the vote, that vote share dropped to 85% when he was re-elected as chairman of the board in 2023. Both are high numbers, but that’s a significant change in support over the course of the year, and it’s quite rare for shareholders to vote against the board’s recommendation in just about any case.

We’d love to see Toyota stop pushing its anti-environment agenda through marketing – and we think that it still has an opportunity to do so with the new CEO – but the better part of a year in, it simply hasn’t made nearly enough progress.

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