What on Earth is going on at Toyota? It was bizarre enough that the company that introduced the ground-breaking Prius (and has since sold over 15 million hybrids) had in recent years pursued a flat-earth strategy, bad-mouthing EVs at every opportunity and lobbying hard against government climate measures.
Then came the news that the world’s largest automaker, a company that has long been considered the very epitome of automotive and manufacturing quality, has been forced to recall the only EV it has on sale in the US because—wait for it—the wheels could fall off. The recall has nothing to do with the bZ4X’s electric drive system, but still…
Now we learn that the problem with the bZ4X is so serious that Toyota has offered owners a full buyback (or the alternative of a loaner vehicle and a generous package of incentives). This indicates that the company doesn’t expect to have the problem fixed any time soon, and although the recall affects a small number of vehicles (only 2,700 are believed to have been sold so far), it’s a colossal embarrassment, and a serious setback to the company’s halting EV effort. (It’s also a colossal pain in the anatomy for buyers, who’ll have a tough time finding a replacement EV in today’s tight market.)
The irony is thick and multi-layered. “Here we have Toyota, the biggest automaker in the world with one of the highest reputations for quality—the company that introduced the kaizen manufacturing philosophy to the world and influenced manufacturers across industries—and they’ve completely screwed it up,” writes Electrek’s Jameson Dow.
Looking at the broader EV industry, where are all those pundits who’ve been insisting for the last decade that when Big Auto finally got serious about EVs, they’d crush tiny Tesla? (I’d like to introduce you to one pundit who was consistently skeptical about that one.) How’s that working out? GM was forced to recall every single Bolt it ever built, VW just fired legacy auto’s leading ‘lectric light, and now the wheels have fallen off of Toyota’s half-hearted EV program.
I for one would love to see some automaker—startup or legacy—mount a serious challenge to Tesla, which has abandoned its promise to develop affordable EVs, and lost its moral standing as the leader of the EV revolution. But the company continues to build great cars, and sell lots of them. Could Toyota have been that crusading automaker? We’ll never know.