What’s Up with Toyota’s Electric Vehicle Strategy? $TM

toyota logo Whats Up with Toyotas Electric Vehicle Strategy? $TM

I often wonder what caused Toyota to invest $50 million in Tesla.Obviously they deemed it important in expediting their introduction ofelectric vehicles.  But doesn’t a company the size of Toyota have aconsiderable gaggle of engineers who know their way around EVs, after adecade of tinkering with the Prius? 

Perhaps Toyota is so wrapped up in engineering and PR problems thatit wanted to get some of the R&D workload in electric vehicles offits plate.  Or maybe they figured that Tesla’s nimble management stylemight be able to make faster progress.  And note that currently, Toyotais not only a stockholder, but a customer as well; it placed an orderfor 35 electric conversions of the RAV4 EV, the competitor to the FordEscape, Honda CRV, and Chevy Equinox, all small sport utility vehicles.

I know others also struggle to make sense of some of the autobehemoths’ decisions, but I find Toyota’s behavior in the EV space to be especially mysterious. After the homerun they hit with the Prius, itseems otherworldly that they haven’t done a better job in advancingelectric transportation. They claim to they have no fewer than 10 EVmodels “under development,” and I suppose that could be true. But why on Earth would you wait while other folks take the lead and render you anafterthought in a strategic part of the industry?

Here’s a theory: it’s obvious that the car companies have gone intothe EV age kicking and screaming. But resisting this change, while itwas certainly in their interest, was not within their power — and nowtheir hand has been forced. My guess is that Toyota misread the timingof the pressure they would receive from Nissan and the others. Now,they’re playing catch-up — and under horribly adverse circumstances –part of which is the damage they sustained recently to their supplychain, with numerous vendors wiped out by the tsunami.

Nothing else can explain their lethargy in this space, andannouncements of totally lame products, like the Prius V. Here we are in mid-2011 and the new Prius still has no plug?

Sorry.  No plug?  No deal.?