Toyota pioneered the hybrid-electric Prius in 1997, but it has steered clear of developing all-electric cars. Executive vice-president Shigeki Terashi said last June that the company’s policy toward battery-electric vehicles hasn’t changed, citing a limited supply of batteries. “We are not shifting our focus to prioritize battery EVs, nor are we abandoning our [hydrogen fuel cell] strategy,” he said.
But with nothing to offer electric vehicle (EV) fans, the company has accelerated plans to release six new EVs starting in 2020, five years earlier than originally planned. It’s also begun promoting its existing line of hybrids as the next best thing.
In the meantime, Toyota’s controversial advertising campaign has marketed its hybrid cars as “self-charging” in company descriptions. The ads for Toyota’s Lexus brand refer to its electric motors as “self-charging” without cost to the driver, despite needing to draw energy from an internal combustion engine (and regenerative braking).
Norway, where electric vehicles now account for the majority of new cars sold, has now prohibited such advertising, reports Electrek. The Norwegian Consumer Authority stated last month (link in Norwegian) that Toyota’s advertising was a “misleading commercial practice” aimed at deceiving consumers and violating the country’s laws. “The Consumer Surveillance Authority has asked for answers in the case, confirming that any ongoing marketing is being changed or stopped, and that corresponding marketing is not repeated,” the authority wrote.
Toyota responded. “We stand by the wording ‘self-charging’ to describe our hybrid system,” a Lexus spokesperson responded by email noting authorities objected to the claim of free self-charging “Our claim is based on the fact that customers never have to charge the battery of their vehicle, as it is recharged during the vehicle use. There is no intention to mislead customers, on the contrary: the point is to clearly explain the difference with plug-in hybrid vehicles.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Toyota has found itself in trouble with the Norwegian authorities over this issue. In 2017, the government cited the company for misleading buyers by claiming its hybrid cars run in electric mode “up to 60% of the time.” In fact, officials found the actual electric driving time under real-world conditions was no more than about half.
Toyota did not immediately respond to press inquiries.