By David Shepardson

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) -Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda said California’s new zero-emission requirements that seek to end sales of new gasoline-only vehicles by 2035 will be “difficult” to meet.

“Realistically speaking, it seems rather difficult to really achieve them,” Toyoda said on Thursday through a translator during a roundtable interview with reporters. Toyoda defended the company’s strategy and electric vehicle development plans, which have come under criticism from some environmental groups and investors who want the company to move faster to adopt battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

“But just like the fully autonomous cars that we were all

supposed to be driving by now, BEVs are just going to take longer to become mainstream than the media would like us to believe,” Toyoda told dealers at a meeting on Wednesday, according to a video of the event.

Automakers are facing increasing pressure from regulators to sell more zero-emission vehicles. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Thursday the state plans to adopt the California requirements.

In August, Toyota said it would boost its planned investment in a new U.S. battery plant from $1.29 billion to $3.8 billion, partly in response to rising consumer demand for electric vehicles. The automaker also last month recognized California’s authority to set vehicle emissions standards under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Toyoda said in Wednesday’s video, which was played at Thursday’s event, that “playing to win means playing with all the cards in the deck – not just a select few. So that’s our strategy and we’re sticking to it.”

Toyoda compared the automaker to a “department store” selling a variety of different vehicles to customers with different needs.

Toyoda outlined a series of challenges to EV adoption including impacts on the electrical grid and lack of easy access to electricity by about 1 billion people around the world.

Toyota’s corporate vision “is to provide freedom of mobility for all … and we don’t want to leave anyone behind,” he added.

Last year, the Japanese automaker committed about $30 billion to develop battery electric vehicles. It expects the company’s annual sales of such cars to reach only 3.5 million vehicles by the end of the decade, about one-third of current annual sales of its gasoline-powered cars.

Toyoda showed off his dance moves on Wednesday, telling dealers he celebrated after Toyota dethroned General Motors Co in 2021 as the best selling automaker in the United States, the first time GM did not hold the top spot since 1931.

“I actually did a little ‘happy dance’ in my office,” Toyoda said. “Thankfully nobody saw it!”

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Las VegasEditing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis)