We drive Toyota’s 2015 fuel cell car, and we talk to its father

Toyota FCV -02- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

When I worked for the Dark Side, doing propaganda for Volkswagen, I drove a few pre-production models for familiarization purposes. Never was I invited to drive the prototype of a car that would need another two years to go into production. Today, it happened. It wasn’t just any car. I drove a car that could change the way we drive into the future. My ride was the prototype of Toyota’s first mass production fuel cell sedan, which I was promised to arrive on the market in 2015.

Toyota FCV -06- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The car is covered in camouflage swirly foil, the instrument cluster is amputated and replaced by a few gauges that are taped to the cockpit. It definitely does not look like a million bucks, but that’s what my ride costs.  says Toyota’s advanced technologies chief Satoshi Ogiso, probably by way of a suggestion to be gentle with his baby. “Of course, this price will come down before we introduce the car,” Ogiso promises. How much he won’t say, word on the streets in Tokyo is around $50,000.

Toyota FCV -05- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

We are in a huge, and, surprisingly for Tokyo, empty parking lot in the city’s docklands, the air is heavy with burnt rubber, and it is pierced with the squeals of tortured tires. Toyota jetted the A-list of the world’s motor journalists to Japan. Give them a car, and some will make it beg for mercy.

Toyota FCV -03- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The car is powered by a reactor. The reactor sits under my seat, and it converts hydrogen into electricity. The hydrogen is stored in two tanks that look a little bit, if you imagine some fins fitted to it, like bombs to be tossed out of the Red Baron’s biplane. Ogiso hid one tank under the rear seat, the other tank is tucked into the rear seatback. The whole arrangement does not take more space than a hybrid drivetrain. Last generation fuel cell vehicles had to be buses or big SUVs to accommodate the heft of the apparatus, for the mass production car, Ogiso shrunk the package to a size that can be hidden in a mid-size car.

Toyota FCV -04- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

A fuel cell car, Ogiso explains, is an electric car without the regrets. The car is engineered for a cruising range of 300 miles between fill-ups. Those take less than three minutes, just like with a gasoline-powered car. In case we don’t believe it, we get it demonstrated. A big truck is rolled onto the dockland parking lot, a hose is stuck into where one usually would pour unleaded, and the car is good to go for another 300 miles. Or even 400. Last Monday, one of the cars was driven from Toyota’s head office in Toyota City to Tokyo, with a measured cruising range of 403 miles. “That driver may have been a bit of a hypermiler,” Ogiso concedes.

The prototype sits on the actual production vehicle underbody, the powertrain is the same as what will power the final vehicle. The car currently wears a hand-me-down hat from a midsize Lexus – at the Tokyo Motor Show in late November, we will see something that will come much closer to the final product.

Toyota FCV -08- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

Ogiso does not expect the car to be sold in huge quantities initially. Even for the 2020s, he expects only “a few ten thousands” to be sold annually. Unlike his boss, Ogiso thinks that battery operated and fuel cell vehicles will peacefully coexist. Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada famously said that

the current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge.”

Ogiso sees a use for batteries for small city cars. For cars that want to go 300+ miles without stopping, it’s advantage fuel cell. Where EVs need to lug around a heavy battery, FCVs can turn 11 lbs of hydrogen into 300-400 miles. “That’s very impressive,” says Ogiso with the pride of a newborn father. The two tanks weigh around 135 pounds, together. The fuel cell stack weighs in at another 220 pounds, and that’s “roughly the same as a conventional gasoline engine,” Ogiso says.

Toyota FCV -07- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

To deliver a similar range, an EV would have to drag around a battery weighing some 1100 lbs, says Ogiso, and he adds with a smirk that he knows that “quite well, because we also work together with Tesla.” In the next decade, Ogiso expects sales of FCVs “to grow much faster than those of EVs.”

Toyota FCV -01- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

Oh, and how does it drive? Don’t expect a lengthy critique from three laps around a large parking lost – even if that’s a distance that is deemed as plenty for many reviews elsewhere. The squealing tires were testament to plenty of torque. Those 300 miles won’t be boring, even if they lack the suspense that surrounds somewhat longer drives in an EV.

The lean-machine: We drive the Toyota i-ROAD

Toyota i-ROAD 4 - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

It’s not a big secret that I doubt the success of the electric car, or of any vehicle that will require me to find a motel every 100 miles, where I wait half a day until my car is fueled up – if I can park it in front of my window, and if they don’t mind the extension cord to the car. Despite my huge anti-EV bias, I fell in love with an EV. Never since the mid-sixties, when Baerbel K. lured a still underage BS on the cramped back seat of her Volkswagen Bug, did I have so much fun in a car. I want the thing, and I want it bad, more than I ever wanted Baerbel.Toyota i-ROAD 3- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The thing is the Toyota i-ROAD, a tiny two-seater on three wheels, and I drove it. The engineers at Toyota have a better name for it. Internally, they call it the “lean-machine.” Roofed scooters are quite popular in Japan (especially as a pizza delivery vehicle). Carmakers are trying to popularize them with wider target groups. Nissan has the New Mobility Concept. Toyota has the COMS, occasionally dressed-op as the INSECT. Despite their tandem seating arrangements, these vehicles have a relatively wide stance. Build them narrower, and they could  topple in turns.

Enter the lean-machine. Both front wheels of the i-ROAD can be moved up or down via an on-board computer, thereby inducing lean. The computer uses steering angle, vehicle speed, and an electronic gyroscope as inputs.

Toyota i-ROAD 2 - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The i-ROAD quite natural leans into very tight turns. Despite, or maybe because of the advanced gadgetry, the i-ROAD  demands little or no familiarization. After a few turns, driver and lean-machine become one. Maneuvering the I-ROAD through a slalom course feels like true slalom on skis, the machine crouches in the turn, and it stretches when going into the straightaway.

The i-ROAD takes as little parking space as a full size motorcycle. In a pinch, four can be fitted into a Japanese parking spot. With a range of 30 miles, the vehicle clearly is destined for the city. The lithium-ion battery recharges in three hours. Sure, the machine checks all the green and sustainable boxes. But it provides something that  has become rare on wheels: It is a huge fun to drive.

Toyota i-ROAD - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

“This could be a big success in Europe,” said Christian Wuest, scIence editor of Germany’s Spiegel magazine, who tried the i-ROAD before me, and who dismounted with a huge grin on his face. Yet, it is not sure whether the lean-machine will go commercial at all. The vehicle is still a concept, Wuest and I drove the vehicles that had been shown at this year’s Geneva Auto Salon. A few more will be built, to be used in a field test in Japan and France.  After that, the decision will be made whether the i-ROAD will go into series.

I hope it will be built. The “driveway” of our new old Japanese house in Toyo is barely five feet wide, too tight a squeeze even for a kei car.  The “street” outside is not a lot wider. Lean-machine, I am waiting for you.

 

 

 

New Toyota Hot Hatch: Yaris Hybrid R Concept

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Taking an econobox 3 or 5 door hatchback, popping in a high output motor mated to a manual transmission and a taut tuned suspension was a recipe for fun. It’s been many years since the Toyota built great hot hatches like the Corolla FX-16 and the Corolla RunX. With Toyota’s rich motorsports heritage, it is possible for Toyota to have fun-to-drive, desirable cars again.

tmg-logo_color_completeTMG (Toyota Motorsport GmbH), Toyota’s European tuning house was responsible for Toyota GT-One, sports car racer and the Toyota Formula 1 team. Last year, TMG re-entered sports car racing with the Toyota TS030 the first race car entered into the FIA WEC with Hybrid technology. Being a pioneer in Hybrid tech, TMG has taken Toyota Hybrid to a new level incorporating their motorsports expertise into hot hatch form. The Toyota Yaris Hybrid R Concept is the Toyota hot hatch we’ve been waiting for and it debuts at the 2013 Frankfurt Motorshow today.

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GRE_2__midThe Yaris Hybrid R Concept features trickle down tech from the TS030 Hybrid race car. A 300hp 1.6L Turbocharged (Turbo Garett GTR2560R ) 4 cylinder GRE (Global Racing Engine) powers the front wheels and two 60 hp electric motors powering each of the rear wheels which equates to a max output of 420hp. That’s more than the Lexus IS F! Like the TS030 racer, KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) will power up a super capacitor which resides in the rear seat. A third electric motor will help modulate traction to rear wheels during acceleration and harness power into the super capacitor during deceleration.A six speed sequential transmission is mated to the petrol motor.

_SEB7157DEF4__midOn the inside, two-tone Recaro seats are clad with black leather and blue Alcantara surfaces. The dash and door panels will also have complimenting blue Alcantara trim. The sport steering wheel also clad in Alcantara and will feature a two mode drive selector button for “Road” and “Track” modes. A set of brushed aluminum sport pedals are borrowed from the GT 86 sports car.

 2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_EXT_05__midOn the outside, this concept may look like an ordinary 3-door Yaris. But if you look closely, this hatchback is a lot more prominent than the norm. An aggressive front fascia with a larger grille and blacked out headlamps and two large air intakes with blue LED running lamps accented by blue striping to match the Toyota Hybrid theme. The flared wheel housings are filled with special 18″ TRD wheels wrapped in sticky 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires. Six piston fronts and four piston rear brakes help stop this hot hatch. A rear roof spoiler and rear bumper diffuser help streamline airflow. 

Although just a concept for now, we hope Toyota will bring this Yaris Hybrid R Concept to production in the near future. Even if the Yaris Hybrid R doesn’t make it to production, at least bring the motorsports driven GRE tech to future Toyota and Lexus sports vehicles. How does Supra Hybrid R sound?

Check out the Toyota Yaris Hybrid Concept video:

Key TMG Global Race Engine Specifications
Engine Size: 1595 cm3
Fuel System Type: Direct Injection (up to 200 bar)
Air System Type: Turbo Garett GTR2560R (max boost pressure : 2.5 bar)
Air restrictor: 33 mm
Max. Power: + de 300 ch at 6000 rpm
Max. Torque : 420 Nm
Max. RPM : 7500 rpm

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2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_EXT_04__mid Torque_Vectoring__mid 2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_03__mid _SEB7270DEF__mid2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_12__mid
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 Source: [Toyota Europe]

Toyota’s hacked website has been down for month, will be down a few more

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Unknown hackers have robbed Toyota of its history. Go on Toyota’s main news website, and you will only find news from April 2013 to now. More than ten years of news before April are gone. Various other parts of the server are dark, and provide an error message. One of the world’s largest global companies received a direct hit into its main communication nexus. So far, the company has not been able to recover, and it may never be able to repair all of the damage. Continue reading

Watching The First Hybrid Corolla Come Off Line In Japan

The first hybrid Corollas - in grey and white, of course

The first hybrid Corollas – in grey and white, of course

When Toyota launched the Corolla Hybrid onto the Japanese market a few weeks ago, they discreetly pointed out to me that “unlike what we usually do,” this is simply marketed as an engine package, not as a separate model. Some may think this is because there is no shortage of separate Toyota models on the Japanese market. I see it as a step towards Toyota’s mainstreamification of the hybrid powertrain. On Friday, I went to Toyota’s plant in Ohira, Miyagi, to see the first Corolla Hybrid come off line.

hishonor

Ohira’s right-sized Mayor receives Prius plug-in from Akio Toyoda

Until Toyota came to town, Ohira’s only claim to fame was that it is the only independent village in all of Miyagi prefecture, everything else is either towns or cities. Everything in Ohira is small, including its Mayor. Also in the town hall is a photograph where Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda hands over the keys of a Prius plug-in hybrid to His Honor. Akio is no giant, but he clearly towers over Mayor Atobe Masahiro.

Ohira lies some 16 miles and $130 for the taxi driver (do NOT believe that the yen is undervalued) from Sendai. The plant had an ominous start. Four weeks after it was opened in February 2011, Sendai and much of the Tohoku coast was hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The plant itself is built well and was relatively unscathed. Nonetheless, it had to stop production. First, because no gas was flowing. The gas was needed to dry the paint. Then, the plant shut down with all the other Toyota facilities while waiting for a resumption of parts deliveries.

Also near Sendai is the Naka plant of Renesas. It did not fare as well as the Ohira factory. Renesas is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of flashable microcontrollers, the little brains that are inside of more products than we imagine. Renesas supplied some 20 percent of the world’s automotive microcontroller market. About 70 percent of the production was sold to Japanese automakers, the remaining 30 percent went to US and European car companies. The plant looked like it was hit by several bombs. It looked like it would not ship chips before the end of the year. Four weeks later, and with the help of thousands of people brought in from all over Japan, the plant was working again.

The batteries

The battery/ Small enough to fit under the rear seat.

This is not forgotten, but not on top of the mind anymore this Friday in Ohira. Today is the day hybrid technology comes to town. Hybrids are a big hit in Japan. Toyota’s Prius has been on top of Japan’s sales charts since 2009. It recently has been toppled by its Aqua sibling, which is sold in the U,.S. as the Prius c. When the plant opened two years ago, reporters wanted to know when hybrids come to Ohira. Finally, it has arrived.

In the plant itself, very little had to change to accommodate the new technology. The plant is a flexibility marvel.

A regular car factory usually has below ground pits for the motors, chains and gears that keep the line moving. In Ohira, the cars move on maybe a foot high conveyor system that is simply bolted into the concrete flooring. Cheaper to build, cheaper to tear down and rebuild somewhere else. The line can be lengthened or shortened at will. The assembly line doesn’t “grow roots” as they say in Toyota-speak.

The cars no longer dangle from the ceiling

The cars no longer dangle from the ceiling

The cars no longer dangle from the ceiling while parts are attached from below. They roll on a simple raised platform. This reduces the ceiling height of the factory. Advantage: 50 percent of the investment saved, says Toyota. A side effect of the non-dangling is that people can work on a stationary object, instead on one that dangles.

Usually, cars move along an assembly line in a vertical line, as if they already are sitting in a slow-moving traffic jam. Not in Ohira. Here, the cars move sideways. Think of a parking lot down at the mall. Now move the parking lot to the right. Advantage: With the cars moving sideways instead of straight ahead, the line can be 35 percent shorter. The factory can be smaller. The expenses are lower.

The paint spray line of a car factory usually is a highly complex system that is built in place. Very expensive parts and experts have to be flown in. Not in Ohira. For Ohira, Toyota developed a modular paint spray line. The modules can be built somewhere else and are assembled at the plant in a much shorter time. Advantage: Cost savings.

Ohira is a secretive plant

Ohira is a secretive plant

The Ohira plant is a secretive plant. “No photo! No sketch!” warns a slide. The ubiquitous camera-equipped smartphones get a little sticker to cover the camera. Photo-ops are limited to three stations, and reprimands are handed out if the camera points in the wrong direction.

While never officially confirmed, it is widely understood that Ohira is a pilot plant where production technology is developed and confirmed before it is rolled out all over the world.

Toyota’s global bestseller, the Corolla, is not very important in Japan. On the January through July Japanese sales chart, the Corolla sits in rank 8. However, it is THE strategic model for Toyota’s continued growth and its further expansion into the world’s emerging markets. The Corollas that are made in Ohira are not for export. The export article is the production technology developed for and in Ohira.

Hybrid technology may top the charts in Japan, in the rest of the world, it definitely does not. The market share of all hybrid cars sits in the 3 percent range in the U.S. In diesel-enamored Europe, the market share of hybrid vehicles remains below the detection threshold in most countries. In China and the world’s emerging markets, hybrids play even less of a role. This is beginning to change. Experts agree that Europe’s ambitious emission goals need hybrid technology to be met. China is dropping its fruitless fixation on EVs and is moving towards hybrid. Toyota’s internal goal is that hybrid powertrains are mainstream by the end of the decade: Small enough in price to be affordable. Small in package size to fit in most cars. Big in savings.

Final inspection

Final inspection

The hybrid-engined Corolla is very close to all that. It may only be meant for the Japanese market. But like so often in Ohira, it is also proof of the concept that a hybrid powertrain can be fitted to just about any car the world over.

Text and all pictures by Bertel Schmitt, Tokyo

Toyota Builds New R&D Center In China While Enthusiasm Fades

方案一(外立面)
Once again, we proudly bring you a report – this time from China – by Bertel Schmitt.

Toyota today broke ground for a new R&D Center in China. The center is in the TEDA free trade zone in the port city of Tianjin, where Toyota has a factory with its Chinese joint venture partner FAW. The center alone isn’t big news, even if it triggers “giving away know-how to the Chinese” knee jerks. Most OEMs engaged in China have R&D facilities in the Middle Kingdom, GM has a few.

No3The story is interesting for another aspect. Ever since last year’s anti-Japanese riots in China and the subsequent drastic drop of market share of Japanese auto brands in China, enthusiasm of Japanese automakers for the alleged growth market China has markedly cooled off. Last year’s riots caused bigger volume losses at Japanese carmakers than the tsunami and the Thai flood. Sales are slowly clawing back to former levels, but it is a rough and costly exercise.

方案一南侧(预留为草地)With a share of around 21 percent, Japanese-branded cars dominated the foreign-branded sector in China. This has changed. Buoyed by a new wave of nationalism, and by gain in quality and comfort, Chinese brands accounted for slightly over 4 million units in the first seven months of 2013, translating into 40.41% of the market. German-branded cars now hold 19.60% of the market, Americans 15.14%, Japanese 12.33%, Koreans 9.12% and French 3.17%.

方案一北侧(预留为活动场)With Japanese-branded cars having given up nearly half of their market share in China, Japanese carmakers are quietly deemphasizing China. Toyota delayed planned investments in China and is not planning any new ones for the time being. When talking to executives of Japanese OEMs, it is hard not to notice how they suddenly talk all about South-East Asia and India, and about China only if they absolutely have to.

While Chinese exuberance definitely isn’t what it used to be, those R&D centers will be and have to be built. The world’s largest car market has its peculiarities that want to be addressed. Joint venture brands demand their share of research and development: Toyota works, not with much enthusiasm, on the “Ranz” brand for electric vehicles in China. And lastly, the Chinese government wants it that way. Every year or so, a draft regulation is floated that limits government car sales to Made-in-China cars, and to companies that spend at least 3 percent of their Chinese sales volume on R&D in China. These regulations usually fade away, or are ignored. After all, Chinese makers usually spend less than 3 percent on R&D, and taken seriously, those regs would leave Chinese functionaries without wheels.

No1

Article and Photos 2 & 5 – Bertel Schmitt
Photo renderings 1, 3 & 4 – Toyota

Lexus to offer 9 hybrid lines by 2014

williamsen-2The Center for Automotive Research (CAR), defined by Wikipedia as “a nonprofit research organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that conducts research, forecasts trends, develops new methodologies, and advises on public policy” is probably best known among industry geeks like yours truly for its annual Management Briefing Seminars, “an annual gathering of more than 900 auto industry, academic and government leaders addressing critical issues and emerging trends in an inviting atmosphere designed to build relationships” (again, per Wikipedia). Although dismissed by Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo in his Tuesday 6 August 2013 Rants as “a self-important event that provides a forum for people from the auto industry who talk too much without really having anything substantive to say (that is full of) searing hot air generated by all of the pontificating going on”, it will, on occasion, produce interesting revelations of substance. Case in point: an address during this year’s Designing for Technology session at the Management Briefing Seminars by national manager of strategic education support for Lexus International Paul Williamsen (pictured above).

If Mr. Williamsen’s name sounds familiar, it’s because it was he who provided us with definitive information (not to mention a very handy rendering) on the Aisin AZ6-derived TL70 manual transmission that graces the Subaru BRZ and its Toyota-badged stablemates back in April 2012. As reported by Christie Schweinsberg of WardsAuto, Paul Williamsen noted that

Lexus…now is planning to offer nine hybrid nameplates worldwide in 2014, rather than the eight models it said were planned during last year’s New York auto show…

Lexus already offers the hybrid ES, as well as hybrid versions of its IS, GS and LS sedans and RX cross/utility vehicle. The brand also sells the CT 200h dedicated hybrid.

Lexus offers a total of nine nameplates across its range, but it’s unlikely the GX and LX SUVs in their current form would receive hybrid variants, as such versions of competing models have not sold well.

General Motors is blaming poor sales for the phaseout of its Cadillac Escalade SUV hybrid after the ’13 model year. WardsAuto engine-installation data shows just 3% of all Escalades built for the ’12 model year were hybrids

Agreed on the 6 hybrid lines noted above and the high unlikelihood of GX and LX hybrids appearing next year (especially after the collapse of the Ford/Toyota truck hybrid collaboration), but what are the other 3 hybrid lines available by the end of calendar year 2014? Surprisingly enough, Ms. Schweinsberg, a well-regarded journalist whose review of the 2nd-gen Lexus IS won a Detroit Press Club Foundation International Wheels Award in the General Interest Magazine/Special Interest Publication Product Review category in 2006, dropped the ball here, vaguely suggesting that

Lexus’ still-to-be-named hybrids could be all-new models, such as a production version of the LF-LC concept from the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A Lexus official confirmed to WardsAuto in March the vehicle was bound for showrooms to satisfy consumer demand.

Other media reports have said the Lexus LF-CC concept is marked to become a production model, with a variation of the GS 300h hybrid’s powertrain.

Nay on the first one (we don’t see a production version of LF-LC debuting next year), yay on the second (but we know it will bear the RC moniker in production). In fact, press reports have suggested that the RC 350 and a companion RC 300h (or, possibly, RC 450h) will debut at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show in late November of this year, followed by a V8 RC F in January 2014 at the Detroit Auto Show. The eighth Lexus hybrid? The trademarked NX 300h, the RAV4-derived sub-RX Lexus crossover that is rumored to appear as an LF-NX concept predictor at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, followed by the production version debut at the March 2014 Geneva Motor Show. And the ninth and final Lexus hybrid? The not-so-new HS 250h which, although discontinued in North America, carries on in Japan, complete with spindle grill mid-life facelift.

An expanded motorsports role for Lexus?
Beyond the “guess the 9 hybrids” riddle and a recap of recent new artistic and media initiatives, what this author sees as, by far, the most significant and far-reaching comments by Mr. Williamsen are that

He also hints Lexus will be expanding its role within motorsports, citing the 2012 and 2013 entries of the IS-F in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb challenge as a good sign that racing will become a bigger part of Lexus’ future.

“In the premium luxury segment, there is a strong motivation among buyers to pay attention to performance,” Williamsen says, noting greater motorsports participation could be an important selling tool for distributors and dealers.

Amen and hallelujah to that, but what form would this initiative take? And what series to compete in? Discussing where Lexus has been in the past in motorsports and where it could go in the future sounds like an article that could easily eclipse our last major treatise on the subject, the 3743-word Toyota returns to Le Mans and World Endurance Racing! as the longest article ever to appear on Kaizen Factor. Thus, we’ll leave that discussion for another day…