The company has always said that electric vehicles are great for shorter journeys, but highway warriors will want more. Toyota's official line is that batteries are expensive, resource-intensive and have long recharge times that make it unsuitable for long commutes. By comparison, filling your car with hydrogen would mirror the experience of the gas pump, and it claims that fuel cells are greener, cheaper and go for longer.
But there are plenty of objections to Toyota's argument, including the fact that the cost of replacing all gas pumps with hydrogen stations would be astronomical. Not to mention that sourcing hydrogen isn't as efficient as charging a battery, since you need to expend power (via electrolysis) to produce it in the first place. Alternatively, generating hydrogen through steam reforming still produces greenhouse gases like methane and CO2. Which, given how the whole climate change thing is working out, isn't really the aim of the exercise.
The downside to Toyota's rumored change of heart is that the firm now lags in a sector where it previously led. After all, the Prius was the first "green" vehicle to win the hearts and minds of the mainstream, but rivals are now catching up. In addition, the Tesla Model 3, which the company claims will cost just $35,000 before incentives and have a range of 215 miles, is looming long on the horizon.
Update: Toyota has supplied the following statement saying that it won't ditch hydrogen, but will embrace EVs.
Toyota's stance to invest primarily in developing fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) has not been changed. We regard FCVs as the ultimate ideal environmentally friendly vehicle where drivers are able to expect the same level of convenience as that offered by gasoline engine vehicles, with a generous cruising range and a short hydrogen refuelling time.
In the midst of the rapid increase in regulations relating to zero emission vehicles around the world, there are two options to achieve zero emission vehicles: FCVs and EVs. Toyota has committed to making efforts in every direction on various powertrains when it comes to the development of environmentally friendly vehicles, and in relation to this, we have worked on the development of EVs as well.
Although there are issues relating to EVs which need to be resolved, such as the short range, long charging times and performance (durability) of batteries, we would like to be prepared to consider introducing EV products while examining the energy issues and infrastructure status quo of each region/country.
We have proceeded with the development of FCVs toward our goal of selling more than 30,000 units worldwide by around 2020, as announced at the "Toyota Environmental Forum" which was held in Autumn 2015. We would also like to take the opportunity presented by the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games to contribute to the realization of a hydrogen-based society in Japan