A tale of two carmakers: GM and Toyota take different electric roads in China

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Toyota pioneered the world’s most successful hybrid car but when it comes to pure electric vehicles it has some catching up to do, especially in China.

The Hong Guang Mini EV, a tiny, no-frills car made by a General Motors joint venture that costs under $5,000 is a smash hit in the world’s biggest car market while Toyota has yet to launch its own small, low-cost electric vehicle in China.

Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker, is set to unveil its solution at the Shanghai auto show on April 19: a new universal platform for electric vehicles (EVs) called e-TNGA that will underpin an array of models from small runarounds to large SUVs.

It will also display its concept electric mid-sized sport-utility vehicle (SUV), based on the e-TNGA platform, which is set to be sold worldwide within a couple of years, two people familiar with Toyota’s plans said.

Toyota’s executives have long called for a small electric runabout but the fact it is going first with a mid-sized SUV is a sign of the challenges it still faces to produce small, low-cost EVs that are also competitive, comfortable and safe.

With pressure growing on carmakers to slash emissions, Toyota is scrambling to produce EVs that can compete globally with the Mini EV, Tesla’s high-end sedans, mid-range models from Volkswagen and Renault and sleek EVs from Chinese startups like and Xpeng.

While Toyota’s Prius hybrid became a world bestseller, one of its early efforts to develop a small EV, the eQ, was a flop.

After selling about 100 eQs in 2012, Toyota ditched it due to concerns about the limits of EVs, such as their high price, short range and long charge time.

The eQ, an electric version of Toyota’s mini iQ, cost 3.6 million yen ($33,000), roughly the price of its mid-sized Camry.

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