The first pioneer in electric cars was not Tesla but Toyota with its Prius model. Although it didn’t have a plug, it heralded the start of a new mass market for cars using a battery as part of the powertrain. This new market began in 1997 with sales of less than 500 units but today, cumulative Toyota hybrid sales account for more than 11 million cars.
Given the success of its hybrids and ever strengthening global emissions regulations, Toyota set a sales target of 1.5M electrified vehicles annually by 2020. In early February of 2018, however, the Japanese company announced that it has already hit its target this year—three years ahead of schedule.
Roskill view: most market analysts only focus on plug-in vehicles, citing low global penetration rates of less than 2%. They often forget to mention the already substantial penetration of non-plug-in hybrids. In 2017, sales of all cars that use a battery as part of their powertrain were around 6%.
Many automakers today complain about the difficulties in meeting margins by selling purely electric vehicles alone. Some of them are considering options such as Toyota’s non-plug-in hybrids, or even one degree less of hybridization through 48V systems.
Toyota announced at the end of 2016 that it would substitute the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in its hybrid vehicles for a new generation of Li-ion batteries. If this trend continues, more and more automakers could switch to Li-ion hybrid systems, while, at the same time, they try to improve margins on fully electric vehicles. This could, subsequently, increase strain on the battery raw materials market.