Smug environmentalists’ effort to oust Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda
Times change. In March 2006, the “South Park” episode “Smug” aired on television’s Comedy Central. Those who saw and applauded it enjoyed a takedown of the environmentalists’ then-love affair with the Toyota Prius. The Prius was the first popular “hybrid” vehicle. Its owners saw themselves as saviors of the planet and, as such, felt and acted superior to the less enlightened.
The smug have prospered since that episode aired, exchanging hybrids for much more expensive fully electric vehicles such as the Tesla. As smug as ever, they believe that banning everything else will lead to a better world. Now they even feel guilty for having owned a hybrid, which still used a little gasoline.
In the “South Park” episode, the smug shamed their friends and neighbors into complying with their wishes. Today, they are prepared to go further — to use the power of government, economic boycotts and the like to force those who refuse to be shamed to go along with them whether they like it or not.
In that spirit, they are demanding the ouster of Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda as an enemy of the environment. When Mr. Toyoda, the grandson of the firm’s founder, stepped down as CEO, he expressed concern that the electric future charted by government regulators for the auto industry might not work out.
Since then, he has questioned whether the world or even the U.S. and Japan can provide the charging infrastructure needed to support an all-electric vehicle fleet in time to comply with the growing mandates. Europe, ahead of the United States in mandating green energy, has backed off after a scary winter and opened coal-fired plants again. Mr. Toyoda rightly wonders where the electricity needed to charge a world of electric vehicles is going to come from and worries about the environmental impact of acquiring the minerals needed to produce them.
Questioning the wisdom of the smugly confident is never wise for modern reputations. Since Mr. Toyoda isn’t completely on board, green geeks are demanding he surrender his chairmanship of Toyota to someone who is. Dinosaurs like Mr. Toyoda who fail to embrace the need to ban hybrids such as the Prius and its descendants, along with natural gas stoves and gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles, are enemies of the people. As one green newsletter, CleanTechnica, put it, people like Mr. Toyoda will either have to “adjust or die.”
Mr. Toyoda’s sin in the eyes of the smug is that he has raised questions about the practicality of increasingly strict mandates. Toyota plans to market as many as 30 different all-electric vehicles by 2030, so one might think the smug would be pleased, but because Mr. Toyoda believes there is a place for hybrids, he has to go. Those outside the auto industry who have raised some of these questions are dismissed as cranks, but an insider like Mr. Toyoda cannot be ignored and must therefore be silenced or banished.
These same people are working to silence those who disagree with any of their progressive plans for our future. In their Brave New World, those who dare question the prevailing wisdom on myriad issues are demonized, marginalized and, where possible, silenced — just for raising troubling and often obvious questions.
But Mr. Toyoda is right. He questions not the need for environmental goals but the wisdom of mandating how goals are to be met. That is unacceptable, he asserts. He argues that entrepreneurs should be free to figure out how to meet those goals (capitalism). The smug, however, say that must also be squashed.
The enemies of the internal combustion engine reject such thinking. They know the answer is to simply outlaw petroleum-fueled vehicles and get everyone to buy electric ones. They don’t concern themselves with the cost, the energy infrastructure, or the utility of such vehicles.
But Akio Toyoda has to concern himself with practical questions because he and his employees have to produce vehicles that work, appeal to their customers, and can be built economically with available materials. They can make all-electric vehicles and are doing so today, but ordering that we rely on them exclusively just won’t work.
An American auto executive recently mirrored these concerns to me.
Supported by California and New York public pension funds heavily invested in Toyota, the smug are gathering to oust Mr. Toyoda as chairman at the company’s June 12 stockholders meeting. If they succeed, the smug will have won — and the pensioners and motoring public will pay.
• David Keene is editor-at-large at The Washington Times.