Toyota is responding to critics who say it has been slow to adopt battery electric vehicles, arguing that customer choice dictates the pace of electrification.

At its annual general meeting on 15 June, the Japanese giant said that it needs to offer a variety of car choices for different markets and customers and that it will stick with technologies including fuel cell vehicles and hybrids.

"The goal is carbon neutrality," Toyota's Chief Technology Officer Masahiko Maeda said during the meeting according to Reuters, adding that "customers need to choose" in order to popularise electric cars that include plug-in hybrids. Consumers should have a variety of options available and the automaker should not narrow those down, he said.

The comments were made in reply to questions submitted by Danish pension fund AkademikerPension, which also asked Toyota to refrain from lobbying to undermine the transition to battery electric vehicles.

Gallery: 2023 Toyota bZ4X in US specification

Toyota argues that hybrids still make sense in markets where the infrastructure is not ready to support a faster move to battery electric vehicles. The carmaker is also exploring the viability of green fuels for internal combustion engine cars, including hydrogen.

Toyota's pragmatic approach to decarbonisation is at odds with environmental groups’ call for immediate action. Once a favourite with environmentalists for the hybrid Prius it launched more than two decades ago, Toyota has been criticised by some investors for refusing to phase out petrol-powered cars and its lobbying on climate policy.

Still, the Japanese automaker has been working to slash greenhouse gas emissions from the vehicle production stage and last year committed to spending $60 billion by 2030 to electrify its cars. 

While half of that amount is for the development of fully electric vehicles, Toyota expects annual sales of such cars to reach only 3.5 million vehicles by the end of the decade, or around a third of current sales.

Toyota recently launched its first mass-produced all-electric vehicle, the bZ4X compact SUV, co-developed with Subaru. In the UK, the 2023 Toyota bZ4X starts at £42,000. Toyota's Lexus arm will also introduce the all-electric 2023 RZ450e later this year.