Toyota establishes new role to accelerate EV production in North America

On Friday, Toyota Motor North America announced several leadership changes as it inches toward its commitment to electrification. As part of the changes, Toyota is establishing a new “senior vice president of electric vehicle supply” role to lead the automaker’s North American EV supply and production strategy.

Toyota promotes Susan Elkington for new EV role

The Japanese automaker is splitting its North American manufacturing and component operations based on the powertrain.

Susan Elkington will assume the new role of senior VP of electric vehicle supply at Toyota, where she will be responsible for “accelerating the company’s electrified transformation, with a focus on battery and electric vehicle production and supply strategy.”

From 2018 until now, Elkington served as president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK), the automaker’s largest manufacturing facility globally, with 500k annual unit production.

Toyota revealed last month it would produce its first US-assembled EV, a three-row electric SUV, at its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant.

Elkington commented on the company transitioning the plant to electric, saying, “Toyota Kentucky set the standard for Toyota vehicle manufacturing in the US, and now we’re leading the charge with BEVs.”

The new three-row electric SUV batteries will be supplied from Toyota’s new battery factory in North Carolina, another facility over which Elkington will have responsibility.

Toyota invested an additional $2.1 billion into the plant in May (for a total of $6 billion) with plans to produce lithium-ion batteries on six production lines (two for EVs and four for hybrids).

The new electric SUV will be one of ten new fully electric cars – apart from its first, the bZ4X – planned to launch globally as it looks to reach 1.5 million in EV sales by 2026.

At a recent tech briefing, Toyota revealed several innovations, including next-gen batteries and design enhancements that the company claims will double the range of its current EV.

Kerry Creech will take Elkington’s position as president of TMMK, promoted from vice president of manufacturing at the facility.

Meanwhile, Mike Sweers has been promoted to EVP at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development in addition to chief tech officer. Sweers will oversee the company’s North American vehicle research and development.

Electrek’s Take

Although Toyota is taking a step in the right direction by promoting Elkington to a new role in an effort to accelerate EV production, the company should have made a move like this years ago.

Toyota is already a laggard in the North American EV market. While many automakers are already achieving double-digit EV sales share or 100%, Toyota’s fully electric vehicles accounted for just 1% of total sales in the first quarter of 2023.

At this point, Toyota may be better off skipping the separation of powertrain manufacturing and focusing directly on EVs.

Toyota continues investing in technology like hybrid and fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) that will take much-needed resources and development away from where it matters – fully electric cars.

Hopefully, Elkington can help speed up Toyota’s transition to EVs in North America. We’ll keep you updated with more.

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