Toyota EV concept looks beyond zero

Toyota flicks the switch to EVs, announcing global electrification strategy.

Already the undisputed leader in sales of hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV) globally, industry giant Toyota has now set its sights on the burgeoning Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) market, revealing the first of what it says will be a total of 15 new BEVs at the recent Shanghai Motor Show.

The Toyota bZ4X concept is an all-new BEV model based on a new dedicated BEV platform that will be used to underpin a range of other electric models with Toyota stating the platform can be used “with multiple variations in terms of size and design.”

Significantly, the bZ4X is not just a flag-waving exercise but a pointer to an actual model that will begin production in Japan and China in 2022, ahead of worldwide sales by the middle of that year.

Toyota Australia has also confirmed it will introduce the bZ4X to the Australian market, with timing to be confirmed closer to launch.

The concept previews a family of new battery-electric vehicles from Japan’s biggest car maker and Australia’s number one selling brand, with Toyota stating there will be seven “bZ” models launched globally by 2025, as part of a 15-strong BEV range by that year.

In combination with new and existing hybrid, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell models, Toyota plans to have a formidable line-up of 70 electric models by 2025.   

Designed to highlight Toyota's commitment to carbon neutrality, the first two letters in the bZ4X concept’s name stand for “beyond zero”.

The company said the bZ series models would be built on new BEV-dedicated platforms that offered a “practical cruising range that considers the operating environment,” from which we can deduce it would likely offer different-sized battery options.

In addition, Toyota is promising an “open and freestyle interior and uniquely designed exterior utilizing BEV packaging”. 

Unusually, Toyota confirmed it was sharing the development of its new BEV models with several other automakers, including Chinese multinational BYD, along with fellow Japanese brands Suzuki, Subaru, and Daihatsu. 

bZ4X concept.

Toyota owns the Daihatsu brand outright and in recent years has been increasing both its cooperation with and its percentage ownership of Subaru. 

By sharing development costs, Toyota and its partners can spread the capital-intensive development costs of a new BEV platform while also achieving economies of scale with the purchase of batteries and other technologies. 

This collaboration is evident in the fact the bZ4X utilises a new all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that has been jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru.

A statement from Toyota said this approach took advantage of its expertise in vehicle electrification and Subaru’s experience with AWD technologies.

Toyota said the new model would combine a long wheelbase with a short overhang resulting in both a distinctive design and interior space comparable to a Camry sedan.

In addition to the use of regenerative energy systems, the concept also adopts a solar recharging system that recharges the battery while stationary and enhances the car’s cold-weather cruising range.  

Other features of the bZ4X concept include a uniquely shaped steering wheel that eliminates the need to change grip when steering and a steer-by-wire system that is claimed to provide “a smoother driving feel”.

The instrument panel is also positioned noticeably lower than in Toyota’s other models, contributing to a greater sense of space in the cabin while also improving visibility.

Toyota bZ4X concept.

News of the new bZ4X came just weeks after Toyota launched the Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle in Australia along with opening Victoria's first commercial grade Hydrogen refuelling station at its Melbourne technical facility.

A statement from Toyota noted the brand was a pioneer in hybrid-electric vehicles here and elsewhere with its various HEV models now considered mainstream and representing a claimed 85 per cent of all electrified vehicles sold in Australia. 

Toyota Australia Vice-President Sales and Marketing Sean Hanley said: "Adding the first battery electric vehicle to our range builds on our approach of providing a variety of powertrain options, while reducing emissions.

“Further bZ series vehicles will be considered and introduced as appropriate for Australia in due course, expanding Toyota's electrified vehicle choices.

"Our approach reiterates Toyota Australia's absolute commitment to reducing its CO2 footprint and the adoption of new technologies across our extensive range of vehicles, whilst recognising the different practical needs of Australian customers and geographies. 

“Offering a number of powertrain choices to suit customer needs is essential.

"Globally, Toyota has more than 20 years of proven design and development experience in electrified powertrains.

"We will continue to evaluate the market in Australia and strive towards increasing to a powertrain mix that includes a form of electrification across our vehicle range by 2030, excluding GR and performance models.”