Toyota Australia’s vice-president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley, who spearheaded the launch of the first Prius here 18 years ago, really wants to tell the world how successful petrol-electric hybrid vehicles have become.
There’s no doubt Toyota and Lexus are the leaders in petrol-electric hybrids in Australia, and it feels that while much of the public’s attention is devoted to niche full-electric cars like a Hyundai Kona Electric or Nissan Leaf, it deserves recognition for its different approach.
“Hydrogen fuel-cell [and EV] infrastructure, development and maturity will take some time. In the meantime Toyota has a credible alternative powertrain called hybrid,” Hanley contends, reinforcing Toyota’s plan to lob eight petrol-electric cars by 2020.
While hybrids emit tailpipe CO2 unlike EVs, Hanley does make one a point. By the end of 2019, the dozen electric vehicles on offer here will account for a small fraction of one per cent market share, due to their still-high costs to private buyers (the cheapest is the $44,990 Hyundai Ioniq, with about 230km real world range).
The price premium for a hybrid car that uses about 4L/100km is about $2000 over a regular petrol car, since the battery packs are smaller and the technology is more mature, meaning it can be made more popular as a technology bridge, and thereby cut emissions on a lower per-unit basis, but at greater scale.
As evidence, Hanley said the Camry Hybrid was now accounting for more than 50 per cent of orders, outselling the petrol four-cylinder and V6 options, and even the Corolla Hybrid accounted for about one-in-three orders. The imminent RAV4 hybrid SUV is expected to account for a whopping 40 per cent of that car’s sales.
“I may think even that is conservative… we’re pretty confident,” Hanley said.
This cluster (Corolla, Camry and RAV4) sit alongside the slow-selling Prius, Prius V and Prius C. A hybrid next-generation Kluger, and updated hybrid C-HR, seem likely soon.
“We’re very prepared for the future, whatever the government of the day launches in terms of CO2 legislation, we believe our brand is well prepared. What we are seeing is the market acceptance of hybrid, it’s moving.”
Industry data supplied by the FCAI shows that sales of hybrid cars in Australia this year sit at 3268 vehicles, about double the figure at the same point last year. About two-thirds of these are ‘non-private’ sales. From this number 3018 units were hybrid passenger cars (not SUVs), 40 per cent greater than sales of diesel-powered passenger cars.
Hanley was speaking with us at the announcement of a new hydrogen production and refilling facility at its old manufacturing plant in Altona this week.
Toyota has 13 Mirai FCEVs doing a local testing and feasibility study, and the Australian government and opposition are each set on turning hydrogen storage and production from renewable sources – for local buses and trucks, and export to Asia – into a key job-driver in the 2020s and beyond.
There’s one elephant in the room, though. Where’s Toyota’s full electric car in Australia? It has none, yet. Not even the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime. Hyundai has two EVs here already, Nissan is about to press go on the new Leaf, Tesla offers two (soon to be three) here, and Jaguar and BMW are about to be joined by Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Let’s remember that Toyota globally has pledged to make a zero emissions fleet by 2050 worldwide. Surely, we asked Hanley, it was incumbent on Australia’s top-selling car brand to lead the charge in this segment too?
“Plug-in electric will be available,” he said, but “right now hybrid is leading and in the foreseeable future I think that is what is going to happen”.
“We make no apologies for not having a full EV in the market today,” he added.