TOKYO — Toyota is banking on bulletproof batteries to help sell its new bZ4X electric crossover.
Japan’s largest carmaker is pitching safety, performance and peace of mind as key traits of the next-generation power packs that will underpin its first serious foray into the world of electric vehicles.
The gambit capitalizes on Toyota Motor Corp.’s sterling reputation for reliability. And the messaging could be a key differentiator for Toyota’s upcoming EVs in a rapidly expanding field of rivals, as competitors such as General Motors and Hyundai Motor Group struggle with massive recalls of potentially defective and dangerous batteries.
In unveiling specifications for its new bZ4X midsize crossover last week, Toyota said safety and real-world range were the top priorities for the futuristically styled EV, which kicks off a blitz of seven new battery-driven vehicles to be released under its new bZ subbrand by 2025.
The bZ4X’s 71.4-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery and its 310-mile range are about on a par with the specs of competitors. But Toyota is emphasizing the intangible assets long baked into a brand that has been selling electrified vehicles since 1997 — “peace of mind” in performance and durability.
“Compared to other companies, we have more history and experience, so we would like to express Toyota’s character in the bZ series, including batteries,” said Kouji Toyoshima, chief engineer of the Toyota ZEV Factory, which spearheads the company’s EV products.
Toyota’s overture was perhaps a not-so-subtle dig at the likes of General Motors. America’s biggest automaker is still reeling from the costly and embarrassing recall of 143,000 Bolt and Bolt EUV models because a manufacturing defect led to increased battery fires.
GM resorted to advising drivers to park their Bolts outside and 50 feet away from other vehicles.
Hyundai, a day after unveiling its Ioniq 5 EV in February, said it would have to recall 82,000 EVs because of a potential for battery fires — a recall that was expected to cost $900 million. Most of the vehicles involved were Kona EVs in its home market of South Korea.
For its part, Toyota ticked off a number of measures it takes to ensure battery safety and durability.
First off, the carmaker promises that the battery packs will have top-class battery retention — keeping 90 percent of their capacity even after 10 years of use.
In addition, Toyota pledges that its world-famous, quality-obsessed manufacturing system will eliminate production glitches that can cause abnormal battery heating that leads to fires.
Meanwhile, redundant monitoring systems for battery voltage, current and temperature will add a layer of security. And Toyota will deploy a newly introduced high-resistance coolant to prevent fires from short circuiting. Finally, Toyota says its battery packs will be integrated into the body of the vehicle for maximum protection in case of a collision.
To extend the performance of the battery, Toyota designed the bZ4X to minimize power consumption everywhere else in the vehicle to conserve charge for powering the wheels. More efficient heating was a key focus, as maintaining charge in the cold winter is a key EV challenge.
The bZ4X adopts seat and steering wheel heaters and, for the first time in a Toyota, it uses radiant foot heating in the front seats. The goal is to heat passengers quickly and directly, without wasting heat on the whole compartment. It also uses a heat pump-style air conditioner.
Select models of the bZ4X in some markets will even get a solar roof panel.
Toyota calculates it can generate enough electricity over the course of the year to power the EV for 1,120 miles. In Japan, where drivers average about 6,210 miles a year, that accounts for an impressive 18 percent of the yearly mileage.
The on-board solar panel was something Toyota first tried in the Prius PHV plug-in hybrid.
The bZ4X goes on sale in mid-2022 and will target worldwide markets, including the U.S., Europe, Japan and China. The bZ in the subbrand’s nomenclature derives from Beyond Zero, a reference to zero emissions. The numeral stands for the vehicle class, the X for the body type.
As the first EV to ride on the company’s e-TNGA dedicated electric vehicle platform, it is a critical entry for Toyota as the world’s biggest carmaker belatedly dives into the global EV race.
Aside from the seven bZ models planned before 2025, which includes the bZ4X, Toyota plans two other electric vehicles from premium brand Lexus.
Toyota expects its global deliveries of electrified vehicles to quadruple to 8 million by 2030, from 1.96 million in 2020. About 2 million of the target figure will be zero-emission vehicles — hydrogen fuel cells and battery-electrics — though full-electric vehicles should account for the lion’s share.
The bZ4X will be produced in Japan and China and sold worldwide. Because volumes are expected to be limited, at least in the initial sales period, Toyota intends to manufacture the electric vehicle in mixed production on lines with traditional vehicles, said Daisuke Ido, project general manager of the Toyota ZEV Factory.
That is opposed to building it on an EV-only production line, as other carmakers do.
Toyota fleshed out specifications for the Japan-market edition on Friday, Oct. 29. While many of the details, such as battery size and range, may differ by market, the announcement tells the world where Toyota’s head is regarding EVs and foreshadows what to expect overseas.
The bZ4X was co-developed with Subaru Corp. It is the Toyota-branded sibling vehicle to the Solterra EV crossover that Subaru plans to introduce in the near future.
It will come in two layouts — front-wheel and all-wheel drive.
In Japan at least, both variants get a 71.4-kWh lithium ion battery.
The front-wheel-drive version gets a single 150-kilowatt motor on the front axle and can cover 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) in 8.4 seconds. It has a range of 310 miles.
The figure is based on the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Cycle, which is different from the U.S. standard set by the EPA.
The awd version has an 80-kilowatt motor on each of the front and back axles and can accelerate to 62 mph from a standstill in 7.7 seconds. Its range is 285 miles.
Inside, the bZ4X gets futuristic treatment befitting a next-gen EV.
A massive upright digital display dominates the dashboard, while the instrument panel is positioned low and recessed from the steering wheel, which juts toward the driver like a canon.
Toyota said this layout helps create a sense of open space in the cabin while improving visibility.
The bZ4X will offer two steering options. One is the traditional circular steering wheel. The other is a newfangled Formula One-style wing-shaped handle that connects via a steer-by-wire technology. Toyota calls this the “one-motion grip” setup and said it will be introduced in China and then rolled out to other markets from 2022, although it didn’t specify which ones.
Toyota says the one-motion control eliminates the need to change grips when negotiating U-turns, garage parking or winding roads.
The steer-by-wire system also eliminates annoying vibration from the road that normally transmits through a mechanical steering column.
And because there is no steering column, it also allows for more legroom.