“A wholesale switch to electric cars is ultimately up to real-world car buyers”

Hyundai-Kia and Toyota-Lexus are already thinking way beyond electric cars, and Mike Rutherford thinks we’d be daft not to listen to them

Mobility future

Toyota-Lexus and Hyundai-Kia – the smartest motor manufacturing groups in Asia, if not the world – have again upset the automotive apple cart. And they’ve left many outwitted rivals scratching their heads as they struggle to match the quality, tech prowess and mental strength of these firms. 

Right now, Toyota-Lexus should be loyally singing from the motor-industry song sheet that reads “100 per cent-electric cars are the greatest thing since sliced bread”, but it’s not. In recent days, Director Shigeki Terashi stated that up until 2050 there will be a wide selection of vehicles and power units, not just EVs. “It’s too early to concentrate on one option,” he insisted. Toyota’s Chief Technology Officer, Masahiko Maeda, backed him: “Some people love battery-electric vehicles, but others don’t see the current technologies as convenient. In the end, what matters is what customers choose.” Or, regardless of what the global motor industry might prefer them to do, and politicians try to force them into, a wholesale switch to pure EVs is ultimately up to real-world car buyers, and what they decide they want and can afford. 

Separately, Hyundai-Kia is strongly suggesting that 100 per-cent electric cars are hardly the only solution. “Question everything” is its advice, so when you think you’ve decided on the brand of your next car, its price, bodystyle, fuel type, plus the sort of driving experience on offer, take a deep breath. Then reflect, reconsider, ask more questions, demand more answers. Should you be thinking car or vehicle? Instead of buying outright, might instant ‘robotaxi’ fares, or daily, weekly or monthly rental fees be preferable? Will your next vehicle have a motor that relies on either fuel from a forecourt pump or electricity from a wall socket or charging point? 

And as for driving, do you still want hands on the wheel in, say, tortuously slow traffic jams? Or do you press the ‘autonomous-drive’ button that might be on the dash of your near-future personal vehicle? Either way, Hyundai-Kia doesn’t much care. Bluntly, it matters not which mobility machines individual countries want and will legally accommodate. Why? Because Kia or Hyundai will manufacture an appropriate machine. In most cases it’ll have four wheels, sometimes three, two, one, or none. You pay your money and take your choice. In turn, H-K will hand over the goods. Pretty much whatever you want, you can have. H-K’s Chairman Chung is all about what he refers to as ‘Human-Centred Future Mobility Strategies.’ Very deliberately, mobility is his preferred word. Significant, that. He is as interested in quadrupedal robots and UAM (urban air mobility) as he is in privately owned cars. That’s why he (like Toyota) is already thinking way beyond electric cars. When the boss of Hyundai-Kia, plus experts at Toyota-Lexus, say that for many years there will be more to life than pure EVs, you’d be daft not to listen.

That “question everything” slogan is far deeper and more significant than it first looks. And as for “what matters is what customers choose” – it’s just the plain, simple, much-needed truth. In and around the world of EVs, we can never have too much of that.

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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