Toyota To Invest Record Profits Into Electric Vehicles And AI

By 10 Min Read

Toyota made a ton of cash last year—to be more precise, $34.5 billion in profits. Now, it’s looking to put that money to work by investing into some long-overdue electric-vehicle battery and software tech.

Welcome back to Critical Materials, your daily roundup for all things EV and automotive tech. Today, we’re talking about Toyota’s focus on EVs and AI, Tesla’s reported desire to debut the “Cybercab” robotaxi last month instead of August, and Daimler’s pleas for more semi-truck charging infrastructure. Let’s dig in.

30%: Toyota’s Got Plans For All That Money

Toyota’s new CEO Koji Sato has only been at the top of the chain for a year, but in that time, he’s led the Japanese automaker to a period of record profits. Now, it’s time for Toyota to re-invest those hard-earned dollars into something it’s been slacking on: EVs.

During a news conference this week, Sato announced that Toyota would be slowing its breakneck sales and new model push while it re-invests that cash surplus into a range of next-gen tech, among other things.

Toyota will tap into those earnings to provide a 42% increase in investments into what Toyota calls “growth” technologies—that means pledging $11.2 billion (a $3.3 billion increase YOY) to develop new EVs and AI-based software. And, yes, that amount will eat into 2024’s projected earnings, but Sato says that’s necessary for the future.

“We need this time of plateau for our long-term future growth,” Sato said, according to Automotive News. “We would like to make proactive efforts for future sustainable growth.”

The investment into EVs is an easy one to justify. See, Toyota has been very open about its historic view of hydrogen being the future—it’s convinced of that, actually, but it’s clear that Toyota believes that it will take a two-part stepping stone over hybrids and battery-electric powerplants to get there. That’s where the investment into EVs comes in: stay current and stay afloat.

The same goes for AI. It may seem like a silly investment to some, but it’s all the rage right now in the tech industry. And like it or not, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk alludes to, many car companies are turning into tech companies that build cars—or at least that’s now one of the many hats they wear.

Industry like Sanshiro Fukao, an auto analyst at Itochu Research Institute, agrees. In a statement to Automotive News, Fukao said:

The battlefield of auto industry seems to have started switching from electric vehicles to artificial intelligence rapidly and drastically. If Japanese OEMs spend a lot in R&D expenses or seek alliances with AI developers, it could decide their survival in the car industry.

The good news is that this will mean options for consumers globally. Toyota has done a fantastic job of sending out the ICE platform with a bang. Between the GR Corolla and GR Supra, enthusiasts have had a proper send-off from the automaker. Now it’s time to usher in the age of change.

60%: Elon Musk Actually Wanted To Reveal The Robotaxi In China Last Month

2024 Tesla Model 3 Performance

During a visit to China last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk proposed revealing the company’s robotaxi—sorry, Cybercab—as part of the potential upcoming FSD rollout in the country.

A new report from Reuters (citing a local report from the state-backed China Daily newspaper) outlines the CEO’s trip and preliminary approval from Chinese officials that are “welcoming Tesla to do some robotaxi tests in the country.”

However, no official green light has been given. Tesla and China must first ratify permission for the automaker to collect and transfer data to train its driver assistance features within the country’s borders, something that Tesla plans to partner with Baidu, at least in part, to accomplish. Reuters notes that this was not discussed during Musk’s surprise visit to China last month.

Reuters says that a person briefed on the matter said that Tesla is seeking to apply for robotaxi testing in Shanghai where its largest Gigafactory is located.

Tesla is betting big on the success of its robotaxi. In fact, the automaker pulled back its strategy to release a cheap, mass-market EV in favor of the robotaxi and then announced that Tesla would reveal its robotaxi on August 8th. Eventually, following heated backlash from investors, Tesla said that it would explore accelerating its next-gen EV platform in the coming months.

It’s interesting to see Tesla seeking to deploy its Full Self-Driving beta as part of a taxi fleet as well as on its customer cars. Tesla (like many big tech companies) has historically taken the “move fast and break things” approach. It has also raved about the need for Tesla to gather massive troves of data to train its AI model—so a slow, phased-in roll-out feels a bit out of the norm.

90%: Daimler Says U.S. Needs To Invest In Semi Truck Charging Infrastructure

Pepsico Tesla Semi Charging

The EV semi trucks are coming. Companies around the U.S. are working to pilot battery-powered semis for short-haul routes in the name of cutting costs even further, but there’s just one problem, according to Bloomberg: the big-truck charging infrastructure sucks.

Martin Daum, the head of Daimler Truck Holding AG, recently outlined the challenges faced in the U.S. and Europe to deploy these fleets of trucks alongside existing diesel-powered semis. One of the largest happens to be the lack of charging infrastructure to support the behemoths while on the road, and another is actually getting the permitting and costs sorted for stations that have megawatt-level capabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are only 6 public EV charging stations capable of delivering DC fast charging to heavy-duty (class 6-8) semi trucks, and 50 stations for medium-duty (class 3-5) semis in the U.S. It’s fair to say that the U.S. is already aware of this need.

In March, the Biden administration revealed a plan that would help to roll out a “ubiquitous and affordable charging and hydrogen refueling network for zero-emission trucks by 2040,” though that’s quite a stretch out considering that Tesla and other OEMs are delivering battery-powered trucks to customers today. If companies have a bad time rolling out these trial trucks due to infrastructure, it could set back future deployments over a sour taste.

“The clock is ticking, and time is running out quickly,” Daum said.

Daimler, Volvo, and Volkswagen have all been the targets of regulatory pressure to cut back on heavy vehicle emissions. As such, these companies have invested heavily into converting to battery power, and the charging hurdle seems to be one of the biggest to overcome—especially with heavy permitting and energy needs slowing the crawl.

100%: How Would You Design The Semi Charging Infrastructure?

New Rivian Charger

To safely tow huge trailers with massive amounts of weight, you need something with a bit of oomph behind it. We’ve been using semi-trucks to do this for decades now, and since the majority use diesel, fuel is readily available just about anywhere. With the truck-stop model and high-speed fuel dispensers, truckers have the perfect recipe to fuel up and go in minutes. 

Charging a truck? Well, that’s a different story. With the amount of semis on the road and the power needed to provide DC fast charging capabilities, there are a ton of considerations to take into account. Plus, let’s not forget their massive size—it’s not like they can pull up to a Tesla Supercharger. (And you’d need more than just a wet rag to get what you want; maybe a whole beach towel.)

Today, we’re all charging infrastructure experts. Tell me how you would design a charging network capable of efficiently handling large semis in the comments. See you there!

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