In a surprise announcement, Toyota executive vice president Shigeki Terashi unveiled an entirely new, all electric fleet of vehicles the company plans to launch globally by 2025.
That timeline is five years earlier than Toyota’s previous plan–and along with the new schedule, Toyota debuted six all-new, all-electric car models in one fell swoop. The line includes two crossovers, a wagon, a car, and pair of boxy, van-ish vehicles that look a lot like Toyota’s own Scions. These designs were not dubbed “concept cars,” yet they may or may not be final. Given that we’re more than five years out from when they would actually launch, it’s easy to imagine that the fleet might be altered somehow by the time it goes to market. (We’ve reached out to Toyota in hopes to clarify this point.) But in any case, they signify a radical departure from the Toyota design we’ve known for the last two decades.
In 1997, Toyota launched the first Prius hybrid. It used a mix of gasoline and electric motors to boost fuel economy in an era before all-electric cars were feasible. The Prius has grown longer over the years to accommodate families, but its unmistakable, soft wedge design is mostly unchanged. It never looked fast. It never looked tough. But it looked like a Prius, and it became what economists dubbed a poster child for conspicuous conservation, or our willingness to pay more for something to appear virtuous. A decade before Tom’s took over Nordstrom’s shoe department, Toyota reimagined the car as a virtue signal, not a status symbol: Driving a Prius wasn’t about being wild or wealthy, it was about being woke.
Toyota has somewhat stubbornly dug its heels into the ground when it comes to building hybrids, rather than fully electric cars. So far that’s been okay, since the entire auto industry has dragged its feet on going electric. But this sudden announcement is undoubtedly Toyota’s attempt to not be left behind as winds change. GM plans to have 20 all-electric vehicles on the market by 2023, BMW will have 12 all electrics on the market by 2025, and VW will literally cease all production of combustion vehicles by 2026 as it reinvents itself post emissions scandals. If Toyota isn’t careful, and it continues prioritizing hybrids without debuting its own all-electric cars, the first automaker to popularize electric drive components could be the last one selling us gas. This new announcement seems to show it’s steering toward a smarter future.
As Toyota preps its new line of electrics, its design language has changed, too. You can see the results of electrification in the designs: The front ends look shortened across the board, given that there’s no combustion engine under the hood (electric vehicles have small motors right on the wheels). The two Scion-like designs remind me a lot of a self-driving concept Ideo floated years ago, which was more or less a box on wheels, a vision of vehicles that could be used as rooms to socialize or work rather than cockpits to navigate.
Toyota’s new design language features cars that are faceted like gems, with edges that look sharp enough to cut. A frumpy Prius these are not. The front end of one of the new electric crossovers looks like it’s scowling at the world, challenging it to a fight. Its front wheel wells seem to lean forward, like an animal that’s ready to pounce.
Toyota is clearly no longer thinking about electric cars as a virtue signal. These are more like electric muscle cars, promising performance, a premium feel (check out the similarity of this line to what Toyota is doing with its sharp Lexus crossover or even its Rav 4), and I’d argue, even a certain territorial point of view from the OG electric car company in an age when many consumers are obsessed with what Elon Musk will do next at Tesla. Toyota’s electric cars aren’t here to be your kombucha-drinking friend with a trust fund. They’re here to be your intimidating, Beyond Meat-eating trainer.