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Toyota was once the proprietor of the clean car. Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio were buying up Priuses (Pri-i?) at a rapid rate. Now, the brand has allegedly been involved in slowing the pace of the transition to electric vehicles. Per the New York Times, that transition is something that’s critical to fighting climate change. So why is it that the brand seems to be on the wrong side of this?

Toyota has been accused of shady lobbying before

The Toyota plant in West Virginia, with the brand's flag next to the American flag
Toyota’s Buffalo, West Virginia plant | Stephen Zenner via Getty Images

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Toyota has been accused of less-than-ideal lobbying. This NY Times article, as well as other sources, state that Toyota had placed donations in states where Republicans had disputed the results of the 2020 election. Moreover, all this came in the wake of the events on January 6th. After that day, Toyota was the target of negative ad campaigns by a number of online groups, including the Lincoln Project.

Political opinions aside, the situation generated a good bit of negative publicity for Toyota, something the brand is sure to want to avoid. Additionally, it’s important to note that these states also held key Toyota manufacturing plants, like the one seen above in West Virginia. Toyota later issued a statement on the matter, stating “we have decided to stop contributing to those members of Congress who contested the certification of certain states in the 2020 election.”

The brand was a pioneer in green auto innovation

A line of Prius hybrids on the production line in Japan.
A Prius on the assembly line | Kazuhiro Nogi via Getty Images

So, why the shift in attitudes? It wasn’t so long ago that the Japanese brand was seen as a very green company in the public eye. Frankly, much of the company is, at least on the surface, green. Presently, eight of the brand’s models are either full-on hybrids or have the option to be. The brand’s own website states that they are pledged to becoming increasingly more green, after all.

However, there are sources that say the brand is not-so-green. A London-based climate organization called “Influence Map” rated Toyota at a shocking D- for their sustainability initiatives. The group, as well as the New York Times, attribute this to the brand’s recent lobbying. Toyota says that hybrids, like the ones the brand offers, should “play a bigger role” in humanity’s transition to cleaner energy. It’s no surprise, really. Electric vehicles, no, vehicles in general, can be expensive to develop. Clearly, Toyota isn’t ready to fork over that EV cash just yet.

What can the brand do to fix this?

A 4Runner in front of a Toyota dealership
A 4Runner on the lot in California | Yichuan Cao via Getty Images

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It has to be said that if anything, it appears that Toyota is lobbying for more time. The brand doesn’t yet have a full-fledged EV. Seeing as the arrival of an electric-only future is all but here, it’s easy to see why the manufacturer would want to buy some more time. Frankly, they can’t buy more time. The climate issue becomes a larger threat every day. In my home state, you can barely see through the wildfire smoke. In order for Toyota to make this go away, the brand needs to double down on sustainability or face more negative publicity for their unwillingness to do so.