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Toyota Europe CEO on Burnaston's future, European EVs and more


Johan van Zyl is retiring soon as president and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe, a role he’s held since 2015, and heading back to chair Toyota’s operation in South Africa. But before he moves back to his homeland and his collection of “many Land Cruisers”, we managed to catch up with him for a health check on the Japanese giant in Europe.

Why is there no plan to electrify the new Aygo?

I cannot say that, we will have to wait to see when we reveal the full product and model line-up when we do that later on. This is just a reveal of a prototype.

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Can we expect to see any collaboration on the model with PSA Group?

We haven’t made any announcements on that yet, so in future we will make some announcements. Of course, our relationship with PSA will continue into the future. We source our Proace and Proace City from PSA. We also source EV Proace from PSA so we are very, very happy with our relationship with PSA.

What impact will the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars in the UK have on Toyota?

We are selling hybrids, so the full hybrid and the plug-in hybrid is still exempted until 2035. We have time to really study and see how we are going to overcome that challenge. But I think the road is quite clear in Europe and that is the move towards electrification and this is not something new for us. We started many years ago with this, but I think we’ll see some acceleration now. More hybrids will enter the market, more plug-in hybrids and of course battery-electric vehicles as well and Toyota will do the same, we will launch more plug-ins, we will launch more battery electric vehicles. 2030 seems to be a very long time away but it’s not, it’s two model lifecycles and then we’re there.

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The hybrid strategy has worked well but could Toyota have moved into battery-electric sooner?

What we’ve said is that we want to sell a million zero emission vehicles by 2025, so we’ve already pulled forward our plan. The original target was 2030 and now it’s 2025 so in Europe, for instance, at least ten electric models will be launched.

Is Europe the main focus for Toyota’s BEV strategy?

Europe is very advanced and also China and some other regions, but Europe in my opinion is the most advanced. Everything is in place for electrification, there is the Green Deal, there is renewable energy, there’s a budget system or support to make it happen. There’s investment support for things like battery capacity, and all of these things are coming through the European Union, so I think Europe will be the quickest region to move into volume electrification.

Post Brexit, how are things looking for the Toyota plant at Burnaston?

The Brexit agreement that was reached, I think for automotive was fair. The fact that Brexit happened in a very orderly way and that we have a Free Trade Agreement now gives us the opportunity to further focus in Burnaston on our cost competitiveness, so that we can create a solid base for that business for the future.

You’re retiring from your position with Toyota Europe this month, so what’s next?

I’m retiring from all my international assignments including from Toyota Motor Corporation but I’m returning to South Africa where I’ll still be chairman of Toyota South Africa. And I can get back to my cars because I’ve neglected them over the last years. I’ve got an Austin Healey, Jaguar E-Type, MGA, many Land Cruisers, an MGB, Citroen, Toyota GT 2000, I think I’ve got about 20 now.

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