Japan emphasized hybrids in policy paper after lawmaker cited Toyota chief’s lobbying

Japan changed a key policy document to show that its support for hybrids was on par with battery-electric vehicles after a lawmaker told Toyota’s chief that automakers could not support a government that rejected the technology popularized by the Prius, according to notes from a meeting of the ruling party.

The wording changes, including adding a reference to “so-called electric-powered vehicles,” appear to put fossil fuel-burning hybrids on an equal footing with zero-emission battery vehicles, though environmentalists say there’s a huge difference.

Japan’s auto industry, especially Toyota Motor Corp., has come under pressure from environmentalists and green investors who say it has been slow to embrace battery-electric vehicles and lobbied 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 that he was a day earlier. spoke to Akio Toyoda, according to the notes and audio reviewed by Reuters.

Toyoda is both president of the lobby of the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) and president of Toyota. “I spoke to Chairman Toyoda yesterday and he said JAMA cannot support a government that rejects hybrids,” Amari told the policy meeting of LDP lawmakers, according to the notes and audio.

Using synthetic fuel, such as from hydrogen, would make hybrid cars “100% clean energy” and the policy paper should make that explicit, Amari said.

“If we don’t make that clear, JAMA will push back with all our might,” Amari said according to the notes and audio.

“If we don’t say hybrids are included in the electric vehicle category, that doesn’t look good,” he said, adding that any reference to electric-powered vehicles should be changed to “so-called electric-powered vehicles.” †

Amari confirmed to Reuters that he asked for the inclusion of “so-called” to make it clear that electric vehicles were 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 economical. He said he would be extremely displeased if hybrids were rejected. That’s what he told me. He asked if the LDP rejected hybrids and I said we didn’t do that.

“Amari told Reuters that developing synthetic fuels could allow automakers to produce zero-emission combustion engines. Such fuels could also be used in aircraft, which cannot run on battery power, he said.

In a statement to Reuters, JAMA said the auto industry is doing everything it can to become carbon neutral by 2050. Since the goal was carbon neutrality, it was important to broaden the options and not be limited to specific technologies, it said. was also required to respond to different situations and customer needs in each country and region, it said.

A Toyota spokesperson referred Reuters to JAMA. The final version of the document, available online, references Japan’s target of selling all new domestic cars as “so-called electric-powered vehicles” by 2035, and specifically states in the main text that such vehicles include hybrids.

An earlier version from May 31, also available online, shows the reference to hybrids only in a footnote. The main text refers to the 2035 target for all new car sales to be “electrically powered vehicles”.

The annual policy memorandum is of great importance to the government and serves as a framework for its future policy.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker by sales, has said fossil fuels, not combustion engines, are the problem. In addition to the hybrids he popularized with the Prius more than two decades ago, he is also a proponent of hydrogen technology, although so far it hasn’t succeeded like battery-electric cars have.

Energy and climate think tank InfluenceMap has rated Toyota as the worst of the major automakers for its climate policy advocacy work, including public statements and interaction with governments.

It has been criticized by its own investors, including pension funds, for its lobbying efforts. The Danish AkademikerPension sold most of its stake in Toyota last year.

Toyota pledged 8 trillion yen ($60 billion) last year to electrify its cars by 2030, half of which is slated to develop battery-electric vehicles. Still, it expects annual sales of such cars to reach just 3.5 million vehicles by the end of the decade, or about a third of current sales.

It says hybrids make sense in markets where the infrastructure isn’t ready to support a faster move to battery vehicles, and customers should have more choice for cleaner technology.

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