If we rack our brains for a car that typifies Toyota, the brain will probably answer “Corolla.” Yet again, the brain is wrong. The eponymous Toyota, the car that embodies toughness, simplicity, and reliability, is the Toyota Land Cruiser. Launched in 1951 in support of the Korean War, the original Land Cruiser fathered a vast family, which is spread all over the world. From the United Nations to al-Queda, from SOCOM to soccer moms, there is a Land Cruiser that fits the job. The toughest in the Land Cruiser family is the Land Cruiser 70. Launched in 1984, it is sold throughout the world. Well, not quite. At home in Japan, sales of the Land Cruiser 70 ended in 2004. Today, the lost son came back home. Continue reading
The Korean War started in 1950, and so did the history of the Land Cruiser. The American Army needed utility vehicles, and Toyota delivered. In 1951, Toyota had a first prototype, more powerful than the U.S. Jeep, with a 84 hp 6-cylinder gasoline engine. In 1953, mass production started, and the “Toyota Jeep BJ” was shipped across the water to eager customers fighting the Communists in Korea. In 1954, the BJ was named “Land Cruiser,” an unabashed reference to the British competition, the Land Rover.
On Thursday and Friday, I went to Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. I did not go for the scenery, but to watch Lexus’ new crossover, the NX, come off the line. I did that. And I did something else. I experienced the birth of a duck. In the business, the French word “canard” (duck) stands for “false or misleading report or story,” and this is the story of how a canard was hatched.
Since yesterday, you undoubtedly have heard the reports that a new Lexus LFA “has been confirmed.” Don’t sell that house, or cash in that 501K just yet. I have to disappoint you, the reports are bogus. Continue reading
Japanese carmakers will reveal their latest cars-to-come at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show which will open to the media on November 20, and which will stay open to the public through December 1.
Here is what you will see at Toyota’s booth in Tokyo – unless you prefer to go to the LA Autoshow, that is. Continue reading
Renault hasn’t sold cars in the U.S. since the post-disco-era and the sale of AMC to Chrysler. Renault cars are about to return to the Promised Land, albeit in Mitsubishi mufti.
|World’s largest automakers|
|Jan-Sept 2013, full year forecast|
|Production: Company data. Forecast: Kaizenfactor estimate|
Today, Toyota supplied its global sales and production numbers for September and year to date. GM and Volkswagen already published their numbers earlier in the month. For this tally, we use production, not sales, simply because OICA uses production numbers when declaring the world’s largest automaker. The scoreboard has Toyota with a slight decrease. GM and VW booked a moderate increase. As forecasted elsewhere earlier in the year, the field narrowed considerably, however, my crude, but time-tested projection sees the three contestants separated by more than 200,000 units when the year ends. Which gives me the confidence to call a winner three months ahead. (I predicted this outcome elsewhere in May 2013.)
Toyota could end the calendar year a hair below 10 million, or a hair above. The 10 million barrier has been broken by Toyota in 2012 already, and with no fanfare at all. According to OICA, Toyota made 10.1 million units in 2012 worldwide. In May 2013, Toyota forecasted sales of 10.1 million for the current fiscal year which ends on March 2014. TMC’s pace increased a bit the month, and I am confident that the target will be met.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.