These businesses sure do mean business. Honda says it’ll double sales within five years. Toyota plans to push the hybrid market—which it already dominates thanks to the Prius—into the next stratosphere. And Volkswagen has thrown down the gauntlet, announcing it’s going to just plain sell the most cars worldwide.
Here, a look at some of the ambitious plans announced by three major foreign automakers:
Goal: Roll out 21 new hybrids within three years
With the Prius achieving popular mainstream status, far outselling any other hybrid globally and in the U.S., Toyota clearly dominates the hybrid market. There’s no saying it’ll be dominant forever, though. Understanding that competition is growing tougher thanks to efforts from automakers like Ford, which is introducing impressively fuel-efficient cars like the Fusion hybrid and the new C-Max, Toyota is pushing forward with ambitious hybrid plans of its own.
As the Associated Press and others have reported, Toyota has announced that it’ll roll out 21 new gas-electric hybrid cars like the Prius into the marketplace by 2015, including 14 all-new models. The Japanese automaker is also introducing a new all-electric vehicle this year and a fuel-cell-powered soon. But considering how much money and effort it’s putting into hybrids, Toyota is betting that, at least looking a few years into the future, drivers around the globe will be far more interested in cars like the Prius than they will be in pure electric plug-ins like the Nissan Leaf.
Goal: Double sales in five years
Honda President Takanobu Ito recently told reporters that his company “has reached the stage of going on the offensive,” publicly announcing that plans on reaching at least 6 million sales annually by 2017. The automaker sold about 3.1 million vehicles for the 12-month period ending in March 2012.
Why go on record with such an aggressive sales target, which could make Honda look bad if it comes up short? “This is quite a big figure for us and there were debates over whether we should make it public, but unless we set a goal and work to figure out how we can achieve it, our business operations won’t be specific,” Ito said in a news conference, per Reuters.
Ito declared that the small (but fairly spacious inside) fuel-efficient Fit, called the Jazz in some parts of the world, will be “definitely a core product in any region in the world” for Honda. The automaker plans on upping sales of the Fit and other vehicles from 2 million to 3 million annually in developed markets like Japan, North America, and Europe, and also double sales within five years in emerging markets such as China and India. To reach these goals, it is focusing on proven cars like the Fit, rather than attempting to woo new customers by create new models.
Goal: Become world leader in sales by 2018
You can’t say the German automaker lacks ambition. It has stated plans to reach 10 million sales annually by 2018, and to take over the crown usually held by Toyota for most sales worldwide.
How might Volkswagen reach its ambitious goals? Mainly, interestingly enough, with strategies that aren’t remotely bold, but instead amount to “playing it safe,” in the words of a Bloomberg story. In previous years, rather than focusing on new features and pricey redesigns, VW has made great efforts to decrease the price of the Passat and the Jetta. To keep costs under control in the future, VW plans on using the same parts and platforms for several small and compact vehicles, including the Polo and its best-ever seller, the Golf hatchback.
All of these automakers’ goals are ambitious in different ways. But they share a few interesting things in common.
First, none of the three is putting all that much focus on pure electric plug-ins. Toyota is placing plenty of emphasis on hybrids, but it sure looks like the mainstream car of the future will probably still need to be filled up at the gas station from time to time. Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s vice chairman overseeing vehicle development, explained it best when telling reporters why his company decided against a major push for electric cars:
“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said Uchiyamada, who spearheaded Toyota’s development of the Prius hybrid in the 1990s.
Speaking of costs, they seem to matter more than ever to automakers. Instead of focusing on flashy, high-tech vehicles at the high-end of the market, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Honda are all banking on the mass success of small, unsexy vehicles whose main attributes consist of decent quality and a low price of ownership—thanks to good fuel economy and fairly cheap MSRPs.
These attributes are sure to resonate with drivers facing rising gas prices and a struggling economy in the U.S., and, more importantly for automakers hoping to boost sales globally, with drivers around the world.