Is Toyota Finally Facing Tesla Shock?

Is Toyota Finally Facing Tesla Shock?

Toyota has long been king of the hill in the auto world, or at least

Is Toyota Finally Facing Tesla Shock?

Toyota has long been king of the hill in the auto world, or at least competing for that title with Volkswagen Group if you added up all its brands and it was having a good year. At the top of the mountain for overall sales and also in the model sales rankings, you’d find Toyota quickly. That’s been the case in market after market, too. And for all the hype around Tesla disrupting the auto world, the focus has been on the higher-cost half of the market. But there are signs Toyota’s getting rattled.

First of all, in the first quarter, the Tesla Model Y outsold every Toyota model on the block. Well, it outsold every automobile model in the world!* Many or most Tesla fans — and even Tesla haters who follow Tesla news closely — expected this was coming. It’s long been considered a possibility for this model — before even the first Model Y was delivered. Reportedly, though, Toyota didn’t see it coming. An industry insider reportedly told Automotive News that it was a bit of a shock to the Japanese auto giant with the Model Y outsold the Toyota Corolla. “That was a big blow that really started tipping things,” they said.

One result is that Toyota has apparently gotten more serious about genuine electrification (not simply hybridizing models, but designing and producing fully electric vehicles — at last). Yoshio Nakamura, Toyota’s deputy chief of global production, now says (approximately a decade late to the party) that it’s going to learn some things from Tesla but then go ahead and do a better job than Tesla at producing electric cars. (Of course, he has to say that, right? What is he going to say, that Toyota is going to build worse electric cars more inefficiently?)

Here’s a quote from Nakamura: “Of course, we admit Tesla has wonderful technology. But that just motivates us to work harder to catch up. If we are to learn from them, it won’t be a copy. We will improve upon them through kaizen.” The most eye-catching part of that quote for me is “to catch up.” Nakamura is explicitly admitting right there that Toyota is behind. I guess it’s so obvious at this point that they can just say it, and especially with the Tesla Model Y becoming the best selling vehicle model in the world. As far as improving on EVs and the EV production process through kaizen, well, we’ll see what happens. I’m not saying Toyota won’t, but at this point, I’d also like to see proof before I take claims like this with anything more than a grain of salt.

The good news? Toyota is seemingly trying now! I think that’s worth celebrating.

*Tesla delivered more Model Y vehicles in the second quarter than the first, so one presumes it may well have been the best selling vehicle model in the world again, solidifying its position as the best selling vehicle model in the world in the first half of the year — but we’ll see.


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