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Home Around-the-World Toyota Rolls Out First Battery Electric Car in Cautious Debut

Toyota Rolls Out First Battery Electric Car in Cautious Debut

Toyota Motor Corp  rolls out its first mass-produced battery electric car in Japan on Thursday for lease only, a strategy the automaker says will help ease driver concerns about battery life and resale value but has raised analysts’ eyebrows.

Gasoline-electric hybrid models remain far more popular in Toyota’s home market than electric vehicles (EVs), which accounted for just 1% of the passenger cars sold in Japan last year, according to industry data. Still, the market is growing fast and foreign automakers including Tesla Inc  are making visible inroads on the streets of cities such as Tokyo.

Bundling insurance, repair costs and a battery warranty into the deal, Toyota will lease the bZ4X sport utility vehicles (SUV) at the equivalent of $39,000 for the first four years. Cancelling in the first 48 months will mean an additional fee.

While EV acceptance has been slow in Japan, that will change, and Toyota could risk losing market share by focusing on a model of leasing rather than purchasing, said CLSA analyst Christopher Richter.

“Anything you are doing that’s making it harder to buy is maybe not a good thing,” he said.

“It’s a strategy I am not that fond of. It does signal that Toyota is taking the home market a little bit for granted.”

Toyota said in December it would commit 8 trillion yen ($62 billion) to electrify its cars by 2030.

Toyota aims to lease 5,000 of the SUVs in the current financial year – around the same amount of EVs that analysts estimate Tesla sold in Japan last year.

The automaker plans to start selling the bZ4X in other markets later this year, and pre-orders have already started in some European countries.

Toyota has not decided when it will start selling the cars in Japan, a spokesperson said. (Reuters)

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