Toyota, Don’t Blow Your Moon Shot
Mr. Akio Toyoda, CEO
Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
Dear Mr. Toyoda,
I’m proud owner of a Toyota Prius (2011), a branded company car pictured below and affectionately named Penny by my staff. At least I was proud until I saw that you’ve petitioned the current administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll back CAFÉ standards.
As part of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Toyota Motor North America, Inc., signed two letters — one Nov. 10, 2016 that asked the president-elect to “harmonize and adjust” efficiency rules, and a similar one to former EPA Secretary Pruitt after he was appointed.
What happened to the breathtaking, moon-shot bravery that characterized your company when you designed and built the Prius in the first place? In 1993, you stepped up to President Bill Clinton’s challenge to develop highly efficient vehicles. Toyota spent $1 billion in research and development — one BILLION dollars — and you mobilized 1,000 engineers to create a car with 100 percent improvement in energy efficiency.
Even though it took 17 years for the Prius to reach profitability, there were two million of them worldwide by 2010. That alone is impressive.
Your bigger accomplishment, though, is that you effectively rebranded Toyota as the earth-friendly auto maker, rolling out quiet, cleaner-burning cars of the future. You conflated the Prius with environmental stewardship, and in addition to crazy-good gas mileage (Penny gets 43 mpg), you also created a brand in which you stood preeminent and alone for years.
I would expect your American competitors to seek the easy way out — companies that are bloated, subsidized industry laggards when it comes to fuel efficiency. Not only are they globally noncompetitive in that category, they’ve reneged on a prior commitment. In order to receive a $50 billion recession bailout, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler agreed to ramp up fuel efficiency in their vehicles. Their tapping the brakes on efficiency now shows bad faith and a betrayal of their commitment to American taxpayers who saved their bacon.
Though Toyota was not party to this agreement, I thought you were better than this. In seeking to roll back CAFÉ standards, American car makers are literally ceding ground to Toyota and any other auto maker with the smarts to create even more efficient cars and trucks as the planet transitions from carbon-based fuels.
The internal combustion engine (ICE) is over, and a recent Stanford study gives these cars until 2025 before they’re done. Manufacturers like Nissan and Tesla have grabbed the mantle of planetary stewardship with their cars. And while Teslas are sexy as all get-out, they’re still $35,000 at their cheapest, putting them out of reach for a number of car buyers.
Instead of throwing in with your analog American competitors, Toyota of all companies should step forward. As a businesswoman, I understand your need for profitability and risk avoidance. I also stand in awe as Toyota is the textbook case for a Manhattan Project for car fuel efficiency. You’ve done it before. Why not do it again?
Ditch your loser friends, and take your moon shot. And until you weigh environmental stewardship as heavily as you do profits, I’m done buying your cars.
PHOTO: (Top) Penny the Prius (author), (Bottom) Off Road Extreme (Hummer), https://www.offroadxtreme.com/news/does-general-motors-need-a-hummer/