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After a lawmaker said that the head of Toyota lobbied for hybrids, Japan put more emphasis on them in a policy document

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English -  Notes from a ruling party meeting show that Japan changed a key policy document to show that it supports...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English -  Notes from a ruling party meeting show that Japan changed a key policy document to show that it supports hybrids just as much as battery-electric vehicles. This was done after a lawmaker said that the head of Toyota said automakers couldn't back a government that didn't support the technology made popular by the Prius.

The changes to the language, which included adding a reference to "so-called electric-powered vehicles," seem to put hybrids that run on fossil fuels on the same level as battery-powered cars with no emissions, even though environmentalists say there is a big difference.

Environmentalists and green investors have put pressure on Japan's auto industry, especially Toyota Motor Corp. They say that it has been slow to adopt battery-electric vehicles and has lobbied governments to slow down the switch to them.

Akira Amari, a former industry minister and longtime member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), asked for the change to the government's annual economic policy roadmap at a meeting on June 3. He said he had talked with Akio Toyoda the day before, according to notes and audio that Reuters listened to.

Toyoda is both the president of Toyota and the head of the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA).

"I talked to Chairman Toyoda yesterday, and he told me that JAMA can't support a government that doesn't like hybrids," Amari said at the LDP policy meeting, according to the notes and audio.

Amari said that the policy document should make it clear that hybrids could be "100% clean energy" cars if they used fuel made from things like hydrogen.

According to the notes and audio, Amari said, "If we don't make that clear, JAMA will fight back with all its power."

"It won't look good if we don't say that hybrids are also electric vehicles," he said, adding that "electric-powered vehicles" should be changed to "so-called electric-powered vehicles."

Amari told Reuters that he had asked for the word "so-called" to be added so that it would be clear that electric vehicles are not just battery-electric vehicles, but also hybrids. He said he didn't want any more changes.

He said that he had indeed talked to Toyoda.

"Mr. Toyoda is trying to say that hybrid cars that run on synthetic fuels are good for the environment because they use very little gas. He said that he would be very upset if hybrids were turned down. He said that to me. He asked if the LDP was against hybrids. I told him that was not the case."

Amari told Reuters that car companies could make internal combustion engines that don't pollute by making synthetic fuels. He also said that these fuels could be used in planes, which can't run on battery power.

In a statement to Reuters, JAMA said that the auto industry was doing everything it could to reach its goal of being free of carbon emissions by 2050. Since the goal was to get rid of all carbon emissions, it was important to have more choices and not just rely on a few technologies, it said.

It also said that different situations and customer needs in each country and region had to be taken into account.

A spokesperson for Toyota told Reuters to talk to JAMA.


The final version of the document is available online. It talks about Japan's goal that all new cars sold in the country by 2035 will be "so-called electric-powered vehicles," and it says in the main text that hybrids are included in this category.

In an earlier draught from May 31, which you can also find online, hybrids are only mentioned in a footnote. The main text says that by 2035, all new cars sold should be "electric-powered vehicles."

The government pays a lot of attention to the annual policy document, which is used as a guide for how policy will be made in the future.

Toyota, which sells more cars than any other company in the world, has said that the problem is fossil fuels, not internal combustion engines. Toyota also promotes hydrogen technology, even though battery-electric cars have become more popular than hybrids since the Prius came out more than 20 years ago.

InfluenceMap, an energy and climate think tank, gave Toyota the worst score for how it has lobbied on climate policy, which includes making public statements and talking to governments.

Its own investors, such as pension funds, have criticised it for lobbying, which is something it does. Over the past year, AkademikerPension has sold most of its shares in Toyota.

Toyota pledged 8 trillion yen ($60 billion) last year to make all of its cars electric by 2030, with half of that money going toward developing battery electric cars. Still, it thinks that by the end of the decade, only 3.5 million of these cars will be sold each year, which is about a third of what is sold now.

It says that hybrids make sense in markets where infrastructure isn't ready to support a faster switch to battery vehicles and that customers should have more choices for cleaner technology.

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