TOKYO, April 7 (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) will introduce 10 new battery-powered models and target sales of 1.5 million EVs a year by 2026, aiming for steep growth in a market where it has long been lapped by rivals.
The world’s largest automaker by sales will also set up a new, specialised unit to focus on next-generation battery EVs, senior executives said at a briefing on Friday as they outlined plans under its new leadership team.
Toyota, including its Lexus luxury brand, now has just three battery models on the market and last year sold fewer than 25,000 of those worldwide.
Investors and environmental groups have criticised Toyota for being slow to embrace battery-powered cars, saying it has lost ground to Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and others that have more nimbly captured fast-growing demand.
The Japanese automaker has countered that EVs are just one option for customers and that gasoline-electric hybrids such as its pioneering Prius are a more realistic choice for some markets and drivers.
“In the next few years we will expand our line-up in the important battery electric category,” Chief Executive Koji Sato told the briefing, his first in the top job, but added that hybrids would remain an important pillar.
EVs are now expected to make up more than half of total worldwide vehicle production by 2030.
Meeting that demand will be critical for Toyota, which also said it would increase production in the United States, where the growth in EVs is outpacing that of the overall market.
Toyota’s target of selling 1.5 million BEVs a year in 2026 was 25% higher than a 1.2 million battery-powered units it was expected to sell by then according to an S&P Global Mobility forecast compiled before Friday’s announcement.
“There’s a gap of 300,000 units so that can be thought of as a difference of about a year,” said Yoshiaki Kawano, an associate director at S&P Global Mobility.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s impossible to achieve at all,” he said, adding the outcome would still depend on what models Toyota rolled out.
Toyota reported U.S. sales fell by nearly 9% during the first quarter. By contrast, General Motors Co (GM.N) saw an 18% boost, helped by greater demand for EVs from fleet and commercial customers.
U.S. consumers making the switch to electric vehicles are largely doing so from Toyota and Honda Motor Co (7267.T), data from S&P Global Mobility showed in November.
“Now that it is time to make the next big innovative leap, Toyota is falling behind and more and more folks in the U.S. are starting to understand that,” East Peterson-Trujillo, a clean vehicles campaigner with nonprofit Public Citizen, said in an interview ahead of the briefing.
Reporting by Daniel Leussink and Maki Shiraki; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Clarence Fernandez