After spending years largely resisting full electrification, Toyota will travel to the 2021 edition of the Shanghai auto show to preview its first mainstream EV. The crossover will make its global debut as a close-to-production concept.
Toyota has dabbled in electric cars before. Its Chinese arm sells a battery-powered version of the C-HR developed jointly with local partner FAW. It has also unveiled a handful of electric vehicles that blur the line between a golf cart and a car, but they’ve either been concepts or niche vehicles created mostly for crowded Japanese urban centers. The concept scheduled to make its debut in Shanghai is significantly different, because it will compete in one of the most crowded segments of the electric car industry when it goes on sale during the first half of the 2020s.
British magazine Autocar learned that the crossover (whose name hasn’t been revealed yet) will be about as big as a RAV4. It’s likely not a coincidence that the RAV4 is the best-selling model in Toyota’s American range, and one of the best-selling vehicles in the United States. It finished 2020 in fourth spot on the sales chart, behind perennially popular pickups sold by Ford, Chevrolet, and Ram, respectively. Clearly, the Japanese firm has volume in mind.
Toyota’s preview image intentionally keeps the concept’s full design hidden. Remove the blue sheet, pry off the body, and you’ll find the modular e-TNGA platform designed by Toyota and Subaru to underpin a full range of electric vehicles. Engineers can tweak its width, its length, its wheelbase, and its height, and the architecture can accommodate front-, rear-, or all-wheel-drive. Additional specifications, like range, haven’t been released.
Held biennially, the Shanghai auto show will open its doors to the press on April 19, so we expect to see Toyota’s electric concept car in about a month. It will make the transition into a production model in the coming years. When it arrives, it will compete against the Volkswagen ID.4, the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Tesla Model Y among other models.
Toyota’s move into the electric car space is a little surprising. In December 2020, company boss Akio Toyoda candidly spoke out against the electric-only future that regulators around the world are pushing the industry towards. “The more EVs we build, the worse carbon dioxide gets,” Toyoda said during a conference, adding that phasing out the internal combustion engine in the 2030s, like Japan plans to do, will make car ownership unattainable for many.