Toyota Motor Corp. is slowly opening up to adding all-electric vehicles to its product lineup to meet regulatory compliance, according to a company executive.

While the Japanese automaker in not manufacturing any battery-electric cars at this time, Toyota realizes it must be flexible enough to introduce electric cars in markets with regulatory mandates or where the infrastructure is best suited to them, Executive Vice President Takahiko Ijichi said Tuesday to Automotive News. It’s not going to be easy, though, he said.

“EVs do have many challenges,” Ijichi said. “But different countries and regions have different energy policies, and depending on infrastructure availability, we would like to have a structure that allows us to consider the introduction of EVs.”

Toyota still prefers hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as its main preference on green drivetrains, he said. Toyota has pulled away from all-electric vehicles due to skepticism over its high cost, limited range, and long recharging time.

“If you ask the question — What is the ultimate environmentally friendly vehicle? — we’ll say it will be fuel cell vehicles. And our idea has not changed,” Ijichi said.

As a large global automaker, Toyota must make sure all bases are covered in alternative drivetrains. That does include battery-powered electric vehicles, he said.

Ijichi’s comments to Automotive News came a day after Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported that Toyota was planning to start mass producing all-electric long-range vehicles by 2020. The automaker will be setting up a development team near year to design a powertrain capable of going 300 kilometers (186 miles) on a single charge and have them available for deliveries in key markets that promote electric cars, such as California and China, the Nikkei article said.

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Earlier this year, Hiroji Onishi, head of Toyota’s China operations, said China’s fuel economy regulations will make it tougher for Toyota to reach the China sales goal of two million vehicles by around 2025. Toyota’s strategy to meet regulatory requirements through more sales of its hybrid vehicles was hurt by the Chinese government only allowing for battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to be eligible for the nation’s “new energy vehicle” credits.

Toyota abruptly ended its previous commitment to battery electric vehicles in 2014 when the company ended its two-year deal to build electric Toyota RAV4 crossovers with Tesla Motors. The company also announced it would be ending deliveries of its eQ, an all-electric version of the Scion iQ three-seater.

Working with Panasonic to improve its battery technology is helping Toyota gain confidence in plug-in electrified vehicles, Hiroaki Takeuchi, a senior Toyota engineer involved in the lithium-ion battery technology, recently told Reuters. Toyota has worked with Panasonic, which also produces Li-ion batteries with Tesla, to improve the precision in battery cell assembly with some fine tuning.

“Our control system can identify even slight signs of a potential short-circuit in individual cells, and will either prevent it from spreading or shut down the entire battery,” he said.

That control system and battery pack is being used in the upcoming Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, which can travel about 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) on battery alone before the gasoline engine takes over.

Safety and reliability have been of utmost importance to Toyota, a company known for taking several years to mass produce a new vehicle type. Stringent government mandates also seem to be influencing Toyota to lean toward adding PEVs to its product pipeline.

Automotive News