CEO Koji Sato: ‘Toyota must do more, faster’

Last Friday, Toyota Motor Corporation’s CEO Koji Sato gave a stark assessment of the Japanese automaker’s work ahead in China, saying it must do more and move faster as its competition in the world’s biggest auto market surges. Toyota showed two new EV concept cars for the Chinese market at the motor show in  Shanghai.

Toyota is under pressure in China from local brands such as BYD  that have moved aggressively in tapping into the country’s growing market for battery-powered and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

“We need to increase our speed and efforts to meet the customer expectations in the Chinese market firmly,” Toyota CEO Koji Sato said during a roundtable interview with members of the foreign media in Tokyo. “Considering the impact of the Shanghai motor show, I believe China will become an advanced EV market.”

Two new EVs for China

The world’s biggest automaker by sales used the Shanghai show this week to unveil two new EVs, which will double the number on offer in China under its mainstream brand. The Japanese carmaker plans to bring them to market in China in 2024 together with its local partners. In addition, the bZ3 electric sedan has now officially gone on sale.

The two new concepts are the bZ Sport Crossover Concept, which will be produced and sold as a series model by FAW Toyota, and the bZ FlexSpace Concept electric SUV for production and sale by GAC Toyota.

The two concept vehicles follow different approaches: The crossover is designed to appeal to “younger Generation Z customers” and offer them “a personal space”. The bZ FlexSpace Concept, on the other hand, is a family-oriented vehicle focusing on utility.

Toyota did not give any details about the technology of the two concept cars in the press release, except for the fact that the powertrains are battery-electric. There will probably be differences since both cars were developed by separate development units.

The bZ Sport Crossover Concept, for example, is being developed by Toyota itself, FAW-Toyota, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing China (TEMC), and BYD Toyota EV Technology (BTET) via the Toyota-BYD joint venture, BYD’s Blade battery technology is likely to be used, as in the bZ3.

The bZ FlexSpace Concept developed by Toyota, GAC, GAC-Toyota, and TEMC, on the other hand, could be based on EV technology from GAC or its subsidiary GAC Aion, but this has not been confirmed.

bZ3 now on sale in China

As reported, Toyota is planning a total of ten new BEV models by 2026. So far, Toyota offers the bZ4X electric SUV globally and the bZ3 electric sedan in China, which is now officially going on sale there and for which Toyota has booked 5 000 orders so far.

Just in time for the Shanghai auto show, the electric sedan based on Toyota’s e-TNGA platform with battery and electric motor from BYD is available in China in three versions. These start at prices of 169 800 yuan (€ 22 495), and the top model is listed at a price of 199 800 yuan (€ 26 500).

The bZ3 is thus based on Toyota’s own e-TNGA electric platform. According to Toyota, the car is 4,73 meters long with a 2,88-meter wheelbase, 1,84 meters wide, and 1,48 meters high. Special attention was paid to aerodynamics during development; the bZ3 is said to have a drag coëfficient of only 0,218. However, Toyota does not provide any information on the frontal area.

The bZ3 electric sedan is now available on the Chinese market /Toyota

It’s time to catch up

Toyota already said recently it will launch 10 new battery-powered models and establish a specialized unit to focus on next-generation battery EVs as it seeks to step up its foray into battery EVs under its new leadership. On Friday, CEO Sato acknowledged that Toyota was producing a small volume of battery-powered vehicles compared to other automakers, adding the company was taking a phased approach to accelerate the battery EV rollout.

The first phase of that plan is marked by improving battery EVs following the launch of the company’s first models. After that, Toyota aims to sell an annual 1,5 million battery EVs in 2026.

Last year, Toyota sold just 24 466 battery EVs worldwide, including those of its luxury Lexus brand, accounting for 0,25% of its global sales of 9,5 million vehicles. A far cry from market leaders like Tesla or BYD, but also far behind a global competitor like the VW Group. Of those 9,5 million,  2,7 million were hybrids and a batch of fuel-cell vehicles.


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