Toyota Canada Inc., hosted its first ever virtual corporate dinner on February 24th. The annual event brings customers, media and stakeholders together to hear from Larry Hutchinson, President and CEO, Toyota Canada and Frank Voss, President, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada.

Frank Voss recently celebrated his first anniversary as President at TMMC. He leads 8,500 team members at TMMC, the largest volume Toyota manufacturing site in North America. The plant has also earned the most plant quality awards in the Americas. Frank spoke about the challenges the plant faced when the pandemic first struck Canada, and having to shut down production for an unprecedented seven weeks. The plant opened back up in July 2020 and has been running at full capacity ever since, only this time with strict new procedures to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

“There are exciting things on the horizon for the Canadian auto industry….recent news about electrified vehicle production in the province has captured a lot of attention. TMMC is already well-positioned for this next step since we’ve been producing high-tech electrified vehicles here in Canada for almost a decade.” Frank said in his speech. He talked about the companies nine billion dollar investment in its Canadian production facilities so far. Toyota is looking to localize its source for batteries that its electrified vehicle require and Frank believes “Toyota is uniquely positioned for a made-in-Canada electrified vehicle supply chain.” Frank ended his speech with thanking those who joined him and the rest of the Toyota team at this year’s dinner and he spoke on behalf of the 8,500 TMMC employee who are “looking forward to the future.”

Larry Hutchinson followed Frank paying homage to the many challenges the world is facing. “Last year we saw a confluence of issues, all impacting us at the same time. An increased focus on inclusion and social justice. Natural disasters and environmental issues that renewed everyone’s focus on reducing our collective footprint….our industry had to adapt to these new priorities and quickly.” Larry said the key takeaways for Toyota from this last turbulent year were the following; Toyota needs to be more electrified and emit less carbon, Toyota needs to be more connected and offer more shared services, and the company needs to work harder at being inclusive. He said the pandemic gave the company an opportunity to accelerate the evolution of the business. This meant investing is becoming more electrified, connected and inclusive. An example of this is Toyota’s new Eastern Canada Parts Distribution Centre (ECPDC) which received a “gold” level in building accessibility, making it one of the most physically accessible buildings of its kind in Canada. The ECPDC was also built with Toyota’s global 2050 Environmental Challenge in mind, recently being certified as a Zero Carbon building.

Larry also took the opportunity to share some of Toyota’s other initiatives such as the KINTO Share app, a dealer-based car-sharing model which allows customers access to a Toyota hybrid vehicle by using an app on their phone. In a Canadian first, Lyft drivers in the Greater Vancouver area have the opportunity to use KINTO Share to rent a hydrogen-powered, zero-emission Toyota Mirai, giving thousands of Lyft ride-share drivers and riders the experience of a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.

According to Larry, Toyota is on track to meet its goal that was set back in 2015, which is to reduce the emissions from the vehicles they sell by 90% by 2050. Larry said the company will offer an electrified option of every model available by 2025. Last year, Toyota sold more than 35,000 electrified vehicles- about the same as all battery-electric vehicles sold in Canada, by all the other auto manufacturers combined. At last year’s corporate dinner, Larry estimated that battery electric vehicles would make up 18% of Toyota’s sales for 2020. That estimate was greatly exceeded for 2020 with electrified vehicles accounting for 20-30% of sales every single month.

He also shared a realistic view of the current hype around BEVs, “the reality is, to date, truly effective battery electric vehicles are still beyond the reach of the average car buyer. For the most part, today’s BEVs are aspirational models- ones that capture the imagination and raise awareness of the technology’s potential. And that’s great. But don’t confuse aspiration with action. There’s a reason it’s rare for drivers who have a BEV to rely on it as their only vehicle, and why their BEV is often parked next to a big truck or SUV in their driveway. Battery electrics simply aren’t practical answers for most Canadian yet.”

He said for that reason, BEV’s don’t do much at this point in time to bring down overall greenhouse gas emissions today. Toyota agrees that “well-structured regulatory environment can help societies become more environmentally sustainable. But it’s also important to ensure that these regulations don’t stifle innovation of other potential solutions.” Larry pointed out that “regulations that are technology neutral and focus on overall carbon reduction would sharpen competition and foster new thinking, such a framework would encourage automakers to develop and market a wide range of solutions to the industry’s greenhouse gas challenges. Not just one that everyone hopes will be the silver bullet.”

In the meantime, Toyota is committed to building and selling vehicles that are making the biggest environmental impact right now.

He concluded the dinner with words of advice; “our industry’s future will be complex- made up of multiple powertrain technologies, multiple vehicle ownership models, multiple retail approaches and multiple new mobility options. So be wary of anyone who tells you they have a single answer. Because chances are, that means they don’t understand the complexity of the challenges we’re faced with. At the same time, it’s an exciting future and one that Toyota is ready to help create.”

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