Toyota previews new electric crossovers amid commitment to multi-fuel future

Small electric SUV to be revealed fully in 2024

Toyota has presented its plans at its annual Kenshiki forum to achieve full carbon neutrality in its European operations by 2040. While that extends to all parts of the business, including logistics and manufacturing, it also means a raft of new vehicles. As part of Toyota’s “multi-pathway” approach that comes with the grandiose “no one left behind” mantra, internal combustion engines and hybrid power are still in the mix for now, though there’s more focus than ever on zero-emissions vehicles. Hydrogen will play a part in that, though on the passenger car side of things, battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are the focus of attention and Toyota confirmed the introduction of five new BEVs between 2024 and 2026.

Toyota Urban SUV concept

Urban SUV concept is close to production

One of the first new Toyota BEVs to hit the market will be a compact SUV to compete in the same sector as the Yaris Cross. A design concept for this model called the Urban SUV concept was presented at the Kenshiki event and the new car will be unveiled in production format in early 2024. A high seating position will be paired with interior versatility according to Andrea Carlucci, Vice President of Toyota Motor Europe (TME) – that’s expected to mean a sliding rear bench seat.

Toyota Urban SUV concept

Though few technical specifications were released, it was confirmed that the new B-segment SUV would be available with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive thanks to the use of single or dual motors. Additionally, there will be two different battery capacities to choose from.

Range-topping EV to be “design hero”

Following its world debut at the Shanghai motor show earlier this year, the Toyota bZ Sport Crossover concept was repainted silver and the “bZ” part of the name quietly dropped for its European premiere. Nonetheless, this BEV – or something very similar – is on its way to production, with a 2025 launch expected. It is the product of a joint venture established in China by Toyota and BYD.

The Sport Crossover concept is an extravagantly designed vehicle, referred to as the company’s future “design hero”, a halo model to sit at the top of the expanded electric car line-up. Its name and styling suggest that the showroom model will be a low-slung coupé-SUV, while its dimensions place it above most other cars in the Toyota range. It’s promised to have a large boot and particularly generous rear legroom, but no technical details about the car are available.

Last year’s bZ Compact SUV concept car is also expected to be unveiled shortly as a new BEV, while the final two electric models are likely to also be SUV-like.

Electric sports car on the cards, too

Fresh from its recent debut at the Japan Mobility Show, the Toyota FT-Se is a diminutive two-seat electric sports car and, while it doesn’t factor into the promised five new electric models by 2026, an electric successor to the much-loved Toyota MR2 will see the light of day in the future. It’s promised to be “low, light and fun” thanks in part to new high-energy-density battery technology. The concept features a GR (Gazoo Racing) badge on its nose, though Masahito Watanabe – General Manager of GR Vehicle Development Division – told that for now it’s only a design concept from Toyota and GR is focused on the company’s (highly successful) motor sport activities, not new road cars.

Both Toyota and Lexus are investigating the possibility of simulating the interaction of a manual gearbox in their sporty electric cars. This will become part of the new Lexus operating system called Arene, which is designed around personalising each car’s driving characteristics and feel according to its driver’s preferences.

Lexus Electrified Sport concept

Though not on hand to see in Belgium at this year’s event, the Lexus Electrified Sport concept is still intended for production in the future. It’s likely to use the so-called “gigacasting” production technique adopted by Tesla, allowing for more design freedom and better packaging. Further downsizing and weight reduction will also be targeted by the luxury brand, as previewed by the Lexus LF-ZC, a compact saloon concept with similar exterior dimensions to the Lexus IS, but more interior space than the much larger Lexus ES. It’s said to preview a new production car scheduled for launch in 2026.

Battery technology at the core of new models

Toyota has big plans for its battery technology, too, though new advances won’t arrive in time for the five new BEVs promised by 2026. First up will be a conventional lithium-ion battery with much higher energy density, referred to as a “performance” battery. It’s claimed to offer twice the driving range of the existing Toyota bZ4X (that’s quoted as up to 318 miles) while costing 20 per cent less to manufacture.

Toyota solid-state battery

On the subject of cost reduction, the next battery type will use the cheaper lithium iron phosphate (LFP) layout in a new shape and using a bipolar structure. Against the bZ4X’s battery, this should increase range by 20 per cent, but also bring down the cost by a significant 40 per cent.

For high-performance models, there’ll be another battery featuring a high-nickel cathode and the bipolar structure to bring down the cost and extend the driving range further.

Finally, Toyota appears ready to bring the much-vaunted solid-state battery to production. Andrea Carlucci said: “We have made a technological breakthrough that overcomes the long-standing challenge of solid-state battery durability. A method for mass production is currently being developed and we are striving for commercialisation in 2027-2028 with production capacity of several tens of thousands of vehicles.”

Solid-state batteries are expected to offer more safety, lower weight and faster charging than existing liquid-electrolyte technology, though there have been challenges in their construction to date delaying their introduction. Other car makers are known to be close to a similar breakthrough.

Hydrogen not forgotten

Some media interpreted an announcement at the Japan Mobility Show from Toyota to mean that it was stepping back from development of hydrogen technology for use in passenger cars, but it dismissed this suggestion at the Kenshiki event, and one of the main topics of discussion in Brussels was use of hydrogen power to achieve carbon neutrality. Admittedly, its immediate use is in a wide variety of applications away from cars. Toyota fuel cells powered by hydrogen are already in use in shipping and trucks, and a new fleet of hydrogen-fuelled HGVs is set to decarbonise Toyota’s logistics operations in Europe in the very near future.

In Japan and China, a fuel-cell-powered Toyota Crown will be available alongside the existing hydrogen-fuelled Toyota Mirai. The latter is already available in Europe and as part of its association with the Paris 2024 Olympics, Toyota will add 500 more examples of this large car to the fleet of 1,000 hydrogen-fuelled Mirai taxis presently operating in the French capital. Indeed, Toyota will bring a massive 2,650 vehicles to Paris for the Games, including old diesel coaches converted to fuel-cell power. It claims that the fleet will have a 50 per cent smaller carbon footprint than achieved at the previous Olympics.

Toyota also suggests that its next-generation fuel cell technology will come with a 20 per cent increase in driving range and a reduction in costs of more than 30 per cent. It’s due in 2026.

However, Toyota also continues to research the use of hydrogen in internal combustion engines. This has been proven already in motor sport in small numbers by the company and it is actively working on bringing the ambitious GR H2 Racing concept to reality to race at Le Mans in 2026.

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