Toyota risks leaving itself out in the cold as an electric car pickup starts to expand, which could be a very costly mistake, said David Bailey, a car industry expert at Birmingham University.
He said: “Toyota misjudged the transition, aiming instead at hybrids short to medium term and hydrogen long term.
“They are now playing catchup on EVs, having been blindsided by firms like Tesla on one side and regulators keen to cut CO2 emissions on the other.”
While a large distribution network for electricity already exists, hydrogen has no such capacity to provide a ready fuel source to millions of cars, he added.
Mr Bailey said: “Hydrogen may well have a future in commercial vehicles and perhaps luxury cars, but car makers can’t afford to make bets on multiple fuel options and the mass industry is going for EVs.”
Rival Nissan, which bet on the all-electric Leaf a decade ago rather than follow Toyota into hybrids, is in the middle of an $18bn spending spree on electrifying its fleet.
Two weeks ago, Toyota said it would sell six new plug-ins in Europe by 2026 as part of a plan to comply with targets within the block to phase out petrol and diesel sales by 2035.
The company threw its weight behind hydrogen in 2014 when it launched the Mirai, a large family car with a range of more than 300 miles.
But the fuel has not enjoyed a wide take-up. Despite faster refuelling than for battery cars, hydrogen pumps are few and far between and the gas has been largely confined to buses since they share a common depot where fitting a hydrogen pump may be cost effective.
So-called green hydrogen is made by separating water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from renewable sources such as wind. This adds an extra step when the same electricity can simply be used to charge a battery, making hydrogen a potentially more expensive solution. It is also hard to store.
Mr Bailey said: “These comments risk clouding Toyota’s commitment to EVs at the time they need to convince consumers they’ve now got exactly it. Not exactly a clever marketing strategy.”