Akio Toyoda Talks EV with Tesla, Hints at New-Age Supra

NAGOYA, JAPAN — What will Toyota Motor Company get out of its recent minor investment in Tesla Motors? Perhaps an electric vehicle prototype, Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda told a group of American reporters Friday. Toyoda expressed enthusiasm for working with a new, Silicon Valley-based high-technology company and said through an interpreter they can “join hands and develop cars, in terms of being a joint-venture.”

Toyoda said his company is “building a prototype EV unit,” but would announce details to the press at a later date. When asked to clarify whether the EV car is a joint venture with Tesla, Toyota Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki said there are two Toyota EVs in the works. One car is from Toyota alone and the other is with Tesla. Bottom line is that Toyota will work with Tesla on something. Whether it ever goes public will depend on its engineering success.

Earlier, Sasaki expressed enthusiasm for Tesla’s use of household personal computer lithium-ion batteries, but conceded that “reliability goes down” when you string thousands of them together to power a car.

And, of course, one thing Toyota doesn’t need these days is a new reliability problem. The whole point of the American automotive and business journalists’ visit to Japan, ending Friday, was a deep dive into Toyota’s quality and safety operations.

Toyoda said that its investigation of more than 3600 unintended acceleration claims found no problem with its electronic throttle control systems. He also said Toyota has no intention of blaming customers for accidents caused by what the drivers claimed were unintended acceleration problems.

Toyoda skirted the issue of whether Toyota’s new quality and safety initiative is eating into its resources to build more interesting cars. His hints that Toyota might build a new-age Supra were no more than hints, and Toyoda acknowledged it will take the approval of the whole company to build such a car; that it’s not simply his decision. Watch for more detail and analysis coming presently in the Motor City Blogman blog.

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Auto News, Tesla, Toyota

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By Todd Lassa