Tabuchi Scolds Toyota As It 'Holds Back' on Electric Cars

Toyota, astoday's Business Day sectionprint headline insists,is doing "The Electric Slide,"shuffling away fromelectric vehicles for a while, opting instead to improve its line of hybrid vehicles.

But that's a big no-no to electric car"evangelist" Tadashi Tateuchi, whom New York Times staffer Hiroko Tabuchi gave a platform to scold the Japanese automaker in an August 20 story.

While Tabuchilisted Toyota's valid reasons for opting to improve its hybrid technology, she then turned to Tateuchi to insist that "Toyota could launch an electric car tomorrow if it wanted to."

"Perhaps Toyota is scared," Tabuchi quoted a university professor at the close of her story.

"Whether you smoke a lot or you smoke a little, you're still a smoker," Tabuchi quoted Toyota competitor Nissan's chief executive Carlos Ghosn.

Of course electric vehicles just shuffle the carbon emission generationfurther up the energy food chain, as it were, given that roughly half of America's electrical grid is powered by coal-fired generators, a fact Tabuchi leaves out of her story.

Tabuchi did admit that Nissan has a reason to rib competitor Toyota. "Having invested little in hybrids," Nissan and Mitsubishi "hope to leapfrog straight to the next technology."

Yet even though there are major financial risks to rushing headlong into electric vehicles - the lack of an electrical infrastructurefor rechargingand the fact that many Americans' commuting and vacation travel habits are not conducive to short-range electric vehiclescasts doubts on the marketability and profitabilty of electric cars-Tabuchi's story closed by painting Toyota as an overly cautious, even scared, of going green:

"You don't see many competing technologies survive in a key market for very long," said Mr. Shimizu, the Keio University professor.

And more often than not in the history of innovation, a change in the dominant technology means a change in the market leader.

"Electric cars are a disruptive technology, and Toyota knows that," Mr. Shimizu said. "I wouldn't say Toyota is killing the electric vehicle. Perhaps Toyota is scared."