Toyota has been a pioneer in hybrid vehicles, starting with the Prius and continuing with a nearly all-hybrid lineup in Europe, but the automaker will join the full-electric ranks starting in the first half of 2022 with the bZ4X compact SUV.
The bZ4X was shown as a concept at the 2021 Shanghai auto show in April. Beyond Zero will be an electric-only sub-brand, with seven bZ models expected to be launched by 2025. The letters "bZ" stand for "beyond Zero" highlighting Toyota's ambitions to have a net positive impact on the environment.
The compact SUV will be built on a dedicated EV platform called e-TNGA, and at least initially will be imported into Europe from Japan.
In an interview with Automotive News Europe, Toyota Europe CEO Matthew Harrison said the bZ4X will probably be a low-volume model at first. That is largely because the Toyota RAV4 compact SUV, with its conventional or plug-in hybrid drivetrains, will help the brand meet the European Union's emission standards in the coming years.
- Click here to read the full interview with Toyota Europe CEO Matthew Harrison
Harrison said it was too early to give a volume projection for the bZ4X for 2023, its first full year of sales "because we haven't really given pricing to the markets and validated the volume distribution."
"I think it's safe to say that we still expect the RAV4, in hybrid and plug-in form, to be the dominant model in this segment through to 2025," when the next round of emissions cuts are due, Harrison said.
The RAV4 was fifth in the compact crossover/SUV segment with 91,014 sales in Europe, according to JATO Dynamics market researchers. It was just behind another Toyota model, the slightly smaller coupe-styled CH-R crossover, with 101,910. The Volkswagen Tiguan led the segment with 136,616 sales.
Full-electric entrants in the segment currently include the VW ID4, Tesla Model Y and Ioniq 5. Renault is among automakers planning to introduce a full-electric compact SUV in the next few years.
The bZ4X was jointly developed with Subaru, which is 20 percent owned by Toyota. It leverages Subaru's all-wheel drive technology to offer what Toyota claims is "best in class high all-wheel drive capability." Subaru has said it will launch its own version of the car within the next five years.
It is technically not Toyota's first electric vehicle for Europe. The Mirai sedan uses hydrogen fuel cells to generate power to drive an electric motor. Toyota has long been a proponent of hydrogen power, even as other automakers focused on battery-electric drivetrains.