Had Toyota kept its stake in Tesla and deepened the partnership, the automotive history could've looked a lot different. Still, Toyota sold its stake in Tesla in 2017 and pursued its own EV projects, culminating with the failed bZ4X crossover launched in 2022. Besides its bad habit of losing the wheels, the bZ4X also had a disappointing performance. Part of its problems were caused by the ICE platform it is built on. Toyota calls it e-TNGA, but it's the TNGA with a battery and an electric motor. The Japanese carmaker even assembles it on the same production line as other TNGA vehicles.
It's unclear why Toyota's CEO Akio Toyoda resigned in January, and his words were more puzzling than explanatory. "The new team can do what I can't do," said Toyoda. "I now need to take a step back in order to let young people enter the new chapter of what the future of mobility should be like." Could it be because he wanted to make more electric vehicles and couldn't convince the board, or because he opposed EVs and the board forced him to resign? No one but Toyoda knows that.
The new CEO Koji Sato will take over on April 1, and he has already hinted at a change of strategy. While Sato pledged to continue developing hybrid and hydrogen propulsion systems, he also talked of an overhaul of Toyota operations, with EVs as the most urgent matter. At the end of January, Toyota announced it was working on a new automotive platform developed exclusively for electric vehicles. The new architecture will not be ready until 2026, but it's an important step forward versus re-heating the e-TNGA soup.
New reports show that Toyota decided to develop the new architecture after engineers and executives witnessed a Tesla Model Y teardown. The American EV
"Taking the skin off the Model Y, it was truly a work of art," one Toyota executive who analyzed the Model Y told Automotive News. "It's unbelievable."
Tesla oversimplified the Model Y manufacturing thanks to using megacastings, thus eliminating hundreds of parts. The structural battery also contributed to the overall efficiency. One Toyota estimate shared with Automotive News shows Tesla cut down up to 220 pounds (100 kg) while improving efficiency and slashing costs. That's when Toyota executives realized they needed a new platform designed from the ground up.
But Toyota needs a lot more than matching Tesla in manufacturing efficiency. Given enough money and time, we're sure Toyota could produce electric vehicles at the same level as Tesla. It has money, but time is of the essence. And it lacks another essential ingredient: the mindset. Toyota needs a cultural change to accomplish that. It's a long way from Toyoda's claims in 2020 that Tesla "is not making something that's real" to the cultural revolution that Toyota needs to get to Tesla's level.