Is Toyota Ready to Do a 180 and Build an All-Electric Vehicle?

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In late November of 2014, Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) introduced its midsized fuel-cell powered Mirai sedan. The car sold for $57,500, or customers could choose a 36-month lease at $500 a month with an upfront payment of $3,649.

The company sold just 34 units in 2015, but it has increased that total to 813 through October of this year. The car represented Toyota’s bet that fuel cells, not batteries, were the future of the auto industry. Now the company is not so sure.

Toyota is now reportedly looking at mass-producing an all-electric vehicle (EV) to reach the market in 2020. The proposed vehicle would have a range of 186 miles on a single charge. If true, that is a dramatic turnaround from the company’s earlier plan to build only short-range EVs designed for commuting or running around doing errands.

The report surfaced in Japan’s Nikkei newspaper and does not cite sources. Toyota itself has declined to comment.

According a Reuters report based on the Nikkei story, Toyota will begin building a team early next year to work on the EV. The company has already announced a plug-in hybrid Prius Prime to compete with the Chevy Bolt from General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and the Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) Model 3. But the Prius Prime’s range is just 22 miles on a full charge, a far cry from the Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt, but in the ballpark with the Volt.

In the United States, the infrastructure for EVs is just beginning to be built out while Toyota’s original plan for a similar infrastructure for fuel-cell vehicles won’t even reach 100 refueling stations until 2020. An EV was probably always in Toyota’s future, the company just didn’t recognize it.

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