By now, you've probably seen it: the new ad for the Toyota Auris Hybrid. But on the off chance you haven't, here's the Cliffs Notes version:
Sometime in the future, a man and woman awake in their stylish apartment. It's got enough bells and whistles and Roombas to give Michio Kaku a heart attack (assuming that heart attacks are still a thing at that point.) Every wall, every surface is digitized, scanning the couple's bodies for imperfections as they prepare for a long day at the office.
And that's our first tip-off that this commercial isn't quite what it appears to be. After all, in a civilization so advanced, couldn't these folks just telecommute?
Another tip is the technology itself: there's too much of it. It's everywhere, it's big, and it's very, very intrusive.
Then there's the couple themselves: not the well-groomed models we've come to expect in futureporn like this, but a fairly average man and woman, donning ridiculous get-ups as though they're en route to a party at Padmé Amidala's house. (N.B. If you get that reference, I'm so, so sorry.)
Then, the kicker: the couple's car, which is a crank-start jalopy. They pull out of their swanky garage, joining dozens of other olde-tyme motorists, goggles firmly in place, like cosplay fans putt-putting off to a steampunk convention.
Twenty-seven seconds in, we get a text overlay, which reads, "No world will be truly advanced until automotive technology changes." See what they did there? By contrasting this Buck Rogers fantasy world with filthy combustion engines...oh, never mind. You get it.
A few seconds later, we finally learn what the clip is advertising: the Toyota Auris Hybrid. Which runs partly on gas, but you know, only partly. So the skies of this hellish urban landscape would be 50 percent less smoggy if only those damned steampunks drove hybrids.
What makes this ad so weird is Toyota's own position on zero-emission vehicles. In the commercial, Toyota clearly says that auto emissions are a terrible thing, but in practice, the company has balked at producing zero-emission, fully electric cars, insisting that fuel-cell vehicles are the only viable zero-emission option. (Its own FCV is expected to debut at the Tokyo Motor Show this November.) Meanwhile, Tesla's Elon Musk insists on calling such vehicles "fool cells", arguing that battery technology has plenty of room to grow.
Our take? Once upon a time, it might've seemed that Toyota was right. Despite needing a vast hydrogen infrastructure, fuel-cell cars looked like the holy grail of zero-emission vehicles, with hybrids and plug-ins ungainly stepping stones along the way.
But now we see that Musk has a point, too: battery technology is evolving -- and fast. Not only are batteries able to hold charges longer, but charging options are improving, too. And of course, electric cars have an advantage over fuel-cells because (a) they're already on the road, (b) consumers largely understand how they work, and (c) electric cars don't rely on the complicated roll-out of a completely new fueling infrastructure to match America's 175,000 gas stations.
So who's right: Toyota or Tesla? Share your thoughts below.