By Makiko Yamazaki
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan has changed a key policy document to show its support for hybrids is on par with battery electric vehicles after a lawmaker quoted Toyota’s chief as saying automakers could not support a government that rejected technology popularized by the Prius, according to notes from a ruling party meeting.
The wording changes, which included adding a reference to “so-called electric vehicles”, appear to put fossil-fuel hybrids on a par with zero-emission battery vehicles, even as environmentalists say there is a big difference.
Japan’s auto industry, particularly Toyota Motor Corp, has come under pressure from environmentalists and green investors who say it has been slow to adopt battery-electric vehicles and pressured governments to undermine a transition to them.
Akira Amari, a former industry minister and a veteran member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), called for changes to the government’s annual economic policy roadmap at a June 3 meeting, saying he had spoke with Akio Toyoda a day earlier, according to notes and audio reviewed by Reuters.
Toyoda is both chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) lobby and chairman of Toyota.
“I spoke with President Toyoda yesterday and he said JAMA cannot endorse a government that rejects hybrids,” Amari said at the policy meeting of LDP lawmakers, according to the notes and audio.
Using synthetic fuel, like hydrogen, would make hybrid cars “100% clean energy” and the policy document should make that explicit, Amari said.
“If we don’t make it clear, JAMA will push back with all their might,” Amari said, according to the notes and audio.
“If we don’t say that hybrids are included in the category of electric vehicles, it won’t look good,” he said, adding that a reference to electric vehicles should be changed to “vehicles called electric”. “.
Amari confirmed to Reuters that he asked for the inclusion of “so-called” to clarify that electric vehicles are not limited to battery electric vehicles and include hybrids. He said he didn’t ask for any other changes.
He confirmed that he had spoken to Toyoda.
“What Mr. Toyoda is trying to say is that hybrids running on synthetic fuels are good for the environment because they are extremely fuel efficient. He said he would be extremely unhappy if hybrids were rejected. That’s what he told me. He asked if the LDP rejects hybrids and I said we don’t do any such thing.”
Amari told Reuters that by developing synthetic fuels, automakers would be able to produce zero-emission internal combustion engines. These fuels could also be used in airplanes, which cannot run on battery power, he said.
In a statement to Reuters, JAMA said the auto industry was working hard to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Since the goal was carbon neutral, it was important to expand options and not not be limited to specific technologies, he said.
It was also necessary to respond to the different situations and needs of customers in each country and region, he said.
A Toyota spokesperson referred Reuters to JAMA.
The final version of the document, available online, refers to Japan’s 2035 goal that all new car sales in the domestic market would be “so-called electric vehicles”, and specifically mentions in the main text that such vehicles include hybrids.
An earlier draft from May 31, also available online, refers to hybrids only in a footnote. The main text refers to the 2035 goal as if all new car sales were “electrically powered vehicles”.
The annual policy document is of major importance to the government and serves as a framework for its future policy.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker by sales, said fossil fuels, not internal combustion engines, were the problem. As well as the hybrids it popularized more than two decades ago with the Prius, it also champions hydrogen technology, although this has so far not taken precedence over battery electric cars. .
Energy and climate think tank InfluenceMap ranked Toyota worst among major automakers for its climate policy lobbying record, which includes public statements and interactions with governments.
He has been criticized by his own investors, including pension funds, for his lobbying. Denmark’s AkademikerPension sold most of its stake in Toyota over the past year.
Last year, Toyota committed 8 trillion yen ($60 billion) to electrify its cars by 2030, half of which is earmarked for developing battery-electric vehicles. Still, he expects annual sales of these cars to reach just 3.5 million vehicles by the end of the decade, about a third of current sales.
He says hybrids make sense in markets where the infrastructure isn’t ready to support a faster transition to battery-powered vehicles, and that customers should have more choices for cleaner technology.
(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo, Maki Shiraki and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by David Dolan)
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