Toyota rolls out first battery electric car in cautious debut as rivals go full-throttle

TOKYO, May 12 (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) launches its first mass-produced cordless electric car in Japan on Thursday for leasing only, a strategy that will help the carmaker alleviate driver concerns about battery life. and the value of the resale but raised eyebrows to analysts.

Gasoline-electric hybrid models remain much more popular in Toyota’s domestic market than electric vehicles (EVs), which accounted for just 1 percent of passenger cars sold in Japan last year, according to industry data. However, the market is growing rapidly and foreign carmakers, including Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), are making visible raids on the streets of cities like Tokyo.

Combining insurance, repair costs and battery warranty in the deal, Toyota will lease the $ 39,000 bZ4X sports car (SUV) for the first four years. Cancellation during the first 48 months will mean an additional fee.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to

Although adoption of the EV is slow in Japan, this will change and Toyota may risk losing market share by focusing on a leasing model rather than a purchase, said CLSA analyst Christopher Richter.

“Everything you do that makes it difficult to buy may not be a good thing,” he said.

“It’s a strategy I don’t like so much. It really signals that Toyota takes the domestic market for granted.”

Toyota said in December that it would spend 8 trillion yen ($ 62 billion) to electrify its cars by 2030.

Toyota is aiming to lease 5,000 SUVs in the current fiscal year – roughly the same amount of electric vehicles that analysts say was sold to Tesla in Japan last year.

The carmaker plans to start selling the bZ4X in other markets later this year, and pre-orders have already begun in some European countries.

Toyota has not decided when it will start selling cars in Japan, a spokesman said.

‘Dispel Anxiety’

Electric cars have become popular in Europe through leasing programs offered by employers, and Toyota may try a similar approach to promoting electric cars, said Seiji Sugiura, a senior analyst at the Tokai Tokyo Research Institute.

For the first time, customers are concerned about battery life and the potential decline in the value of the exchange over time, said Shinya Kotera, president of KINTO, Toyota’s leasing division.

“Our role is to dispel concerns about electric cars,” he said.

Imports of battery electric vehicles jumped almost three times to a record 8,610 vehicles in 2021, according to industry data. Analysts estimate that about 60% of them are Tesla.

However, Japanese carmakers remain cautious when switching to all-electric tape.

Toyota pioneered the hybrid more than two decades ago and has big ambitions for both hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles, although it is investing more to increase its battery-powered EV range.

Rival Nissan Motor Co. (7201.T) was a pioneer in the mass market of electric cars with Leaf in 2010, but will release only its second battery-powered EV model, the Ariya SUV, also on Thursday. Ariya will be sold for the equivalent of $ 41,500, not including a government subsidy.

Honda Motor Co. (7267.T) in April set a goal to launch 30 models of electric vehicles worldwide by 2030 read more

(1 dollar = 129.7000 yen)

Register now for FREE unlimited access to

Report by Satoshi Sugiyama and Maki Shiraki; Edited by David Dolan and Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.