Toyota President Akio Toyoda will be heading up the company’s newly formed electric car group, indicating that the Japanese automaker is taking all-electric vehicles much more seriously.
Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder Kiichiro Toyoda, has been leading the automaker since 2009. He’ll be joined by two of Toyota’s executive vice presidents, Mitsuhisa Kato and Shigeki Terashi.
The company will also bring an experienced engineer to the group. Koji Toyoshima, chief engineer of its Prius hybrid, will be heading up the new division’s engineering team.
Toyoda will lead these executives and a four-member EV strategy unit, which will include representatives from group suppliers – Denso Corp., Aisin Seiki Co., and Toyota Industries Corp. – and from Toyota Motor Corp.
“By putting the president and vice presidents in charge of the department, we plan to speed up development of electric cars,” said Toyota spokeswoman Kayo Doi. “The president will directly oversee the department’s operations to enable decisions to be made quickly and nimbly.”
Toyota has been feeling the pressure of governments in the U.S., China, and Europe, directing automakers to make and sell more all-electric vehicles. Competitors are touting all-electric cars as their most viable zero-emission vehicles. That group is led by Tesla Motors, Volkswagen Group, and Nissan, and is seeing other carmakers planning to join the ranks, including Daimler and BMW.
Toyota had been balking at embracing battery electric vehicles after a deal to jointly build the RAV4 Electric with Tesla was abruptly ended by Toyota in 2014. Since then, Toyota has favored hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, hybrids, and its new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid.
Toyota has been seeing improvements in its batteries, which likely influenced its decision to commit to EVs. Earlier this month, the automaker said it will develop cars with up to 15 percent greater range and longer battery life in the next few years.