Toyota has shown very little interest in battery-electric cars.
The company has taken the position that hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains are more practical choices when it comes to reducing emissions.
But Toyota may be changing its attitude toward electric cars.
It may consider building more battery-electric cars in the future, Kouji Toyoshima—chief engineer of the Prius hybrid range—hinted in an interview with Forbes at a launch event for the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid in Japan.
This is because of changes in the way electricity is generated, Toyoshima said.
As more power is generated using renewable sources rather than fossil fuels, Toyota "would like to use more electricity" to power its cars, he said.
2016 Toyota Mirai - Quick Drive - Portland, July 2015 [photo: Doug Berger]
In North America at least, several studies over the past five years have shown that cars charged off the dirtiest, coal-fired grids still have well-to-wheels carbon emissions no higher than those of very fuel efficient internal-combustion cars.
As the power source gets cleaner, so do the cars charged from it.
ALSO SEE: Toyota: Negative On Batteries Because It Has More Experience Than Any Other Maker (Jul 2015)
The issue of well-to-wheels carbon emissions is not the only concern Toyota has expressed regarding battery-electric cars.
It has promoted the Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car as a more practical alternative, because its EPA-rated 312-mile range is more comparable to that of an internal-combustion car, as is its quick refueling time.
Yet Toyota only expects to sell 3,000 Mirai sedans in the U.S. by the end of 2017, and the model is only available in certain parts of California right now.
2017 Toyota Prius Prime
First shown at the 2016 New York Auto Show, it features styling distinct from the standard Prius, and an EPA electric-range rating of 22 miles.
The Prime could form the basis for future battery-electric Toyota models, Prius chief engineer Toyoshima hinted.
"We are using the EV-like plug-in hybrid as a step to using more electricity in the future," he said.
Honda and Hyundai both plan to offer hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric cars, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars together in their lineups, so could Toyota pursue a similar strategy?
[hat tips: Max Looker, John C. Briggs, others]