Smarter, cleaner, more compassionate Toyotas

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Tokyo Motor Show 2017

Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

TOKYO, JAPAN — The 45th staging of the Tokyo Motor Show (TMS) was once more a chance for auto, motorcycle, and industry-related brands to flex their muscles and whet the appetite of increasingly discerning observers in hopes of turning them into believers (i.e., customers). Even as it is a showcase of new road-ready models, the TMS is, significantly, a favorite venue to trot out concept vehicles pushing the envelope of technology while serving as wind vanes on trends and what the industry is considering important.

Forbes reports that this year, homegrown giant Toyota is neck and neck with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance for the honor of being the world’s biggest automaker. Through eight months, “the Alliance and Toyota are separated by less than a rounding error [in percentage of total sales], and anything can happen in the remaining months.”

However, judging from its TMS entries, whatever the eventual outcome, Toyota is obviously playing the long game. The eye is on the prize — and it’s not the ephemeral (though important) satisfaction of market leadership, either. “Starting today, Toyota is more than a car company. We’re a human movement company,” declared the automaker in the short video that presaged the main talk and presentation of EVP and board member Didier Leroy. This is no clever marketing ploy or hollow pitch; the company envisions “better mobility for all,” underpinned by its Olympic and Paralympic partnership for Tokyo’s forthcoming hosting. Three words encapsulate the vision: “Start Your Impossible,” a tag line that the executive referenced right off the bat as he took the stage at the brand’s sprawling display in the Tokyo Big Sight venue. “Before I start, some of you may be thinking looking at me, ‘Wow a French guy representing Toyota in Tokyo?’ This is impossible. Let me assure you, you came to the right place. This is the right place. This is Toyota.”

The company faces its “responsibility to make mobility for all a reality,” and Mr. Leroy asserted that, “when people are free to move, anything is possible. I believe that is why cars are fun and people see cars as things they love, rather than just a machine.”

CENTURY
So named as it was first launched on the 100th birth year of Toyota Industries founder Sakichi Toyoda in 1967, the Century receives “only the second [major] update after 50 years,” with the last one back in 1997. The large, four-door limousine is mainly produced for the domestic market, and is renowned as a vehicle of choice by the Imperial House of Japan, its prime minister, senior government leaders, and high-level businessmen.

The third all-new iteration boasts a 5.0-liter V8 hybrid system, a longer wheelbase — to go with a slew of improvements. “The intricately glamorous and chic exterior is highlighted by traditional Japanese design elements used throughout the car, including the grille and black trim on the rear combination lamps,” said Toyota in a news release.

CROWN CONCEPT
The honor of having the longest history in Toyota’s pantheon of badges belongs to the Crown — first released in 1955 as a mid/full-size luxury sedan primarily made for Japan and selected Asian markets. Bearing the Toyota New Global Architecture, the Crown concept was forged with a full-fledged road test in the renowned proving ground that is the Nürburgring in Germany. Toyota asserted that the storied nameplate now boasts “innovative driving performance as part of [the company’s] pursuit of ‘Fun to Drive’ [characteristics] to offer customers the enjoyment of driving cars while pursuing a future mobility society. “

The Crown will be a truly connected vehicle amid greater penetration and adoption of the Internet of Things, packed with Data Communication Modules as standard to leverage big data analytics in the name of safety for occupants and even people outside the vehicle. “As early as 2018, the Toyota Crown… will be the new norm for connected vehicles in Japan. After [this], we will equip almost all our passenger cars in Japan and the US by 2020 with data connection modules and connection to our mobility service platform in the cloud,” revealed Mr. Leroy.

TJ CRUISER
Just to be clear, the Tj Cruiser is not a case of succession planning for the widely popular FJ Cruiser SUV [whose production ceased in 2016]. Rather, it is a totally different concept borne of a survey among young Japanese. Notwithstanding its aggressive stance and robust, herculean fascia, the concept vehicle is actually van-SUV hybrid that is expected to undercut the FJ’s price point.

“T” stands for “toolbox,” and the “j” stands for joy — professing this Toyota’s USPs of space and being fun to drive. The roomy interiors are modular, highly configurable to swallow cargo (such as a bike or a surfboard) up to three meters in length. Numerous tie-down points add to the convenience in this vehicle expected that is to be powered by a hybrid drivetrain.

GR HV SPORTS CONCEPT
Can a sports car be environmentally friendly? That dichotomous concept seems to have found expression in the GR HV Sports Concept. The design, reported Toyota, is “reminiscent of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s TS050 Hybrid racing car that competes in the World Endurance Championship (WEC),” and “features a targa top that was also used for Toyota’s legendary convertible sports cars, the Toyota Sports 800 (aka Yotahachi) and the Supra, powered by THS-R (Toyota Hybrid System-Racing) that is infused with hybrid technology refined by the TS050 Hybrid.”

Mr. Leroy averred that; “The GR HV Sports and Tj Cruiser are here to remind us that unless cars are fun, they are not really cars.”

JPN TAXI
The JPN Taxi is one of the fullest expressions of Toyota’s vision of mobility for more, as it is ready for immediate conscription into duty, and will be available as a mode of public transportation. Seen as a “people-friendly, next-generation taxi that embodies the spirit of Japanese hospitality,” the spacious, uniquely designed vehicle features a low and flat floor, a wide-opening rear sliding door, and high headroom to “provide usability and comfort to a wide range of people, including children, seniors, wheelchair users, and visitors to Japan from abroad.”

Stressed Mr. Leroy: “Leading up to the Games, you will see the streets of Tokyo change with our new JPN Taxi that will extend the welcoming feeling you get in Japan, thanks to its easy access for people in wheelchairs.”

An LPG hybrid vehicle, the JPN Taxi is expected to become an iconic part of Tokyo’s streets just as the classic cabs of New York and London. Colored the traditional Japanese hue koiai or deep indigo, Toyota plans to sell 1,000 units of the taxi monthly in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics.

SORA
Speaking of public transportation, the Sora (an acronym for “sky, ocean, river, air”) is a fuel cell bus (FC bus) concept that makes use of hydrogen. Toyota’s Fuel Cell System (TFCS) was first developed for and seen in the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, and boasts a host of benefits, including CO2-free operation.

The Sora is equipped with a high-capacity external power supply system delivering high output and a large capacity of electricity supply (9 kW maximum output, and electricity supply of 235 kWh) and “can even be used as an emergency power source following disasters.”

A central area for wheelchairs or strollers, plus horizontal seats with an automatic storage mechanism to improve comfort are definitely highlights. Meanwhile, “eight high-definition cameras inside and outside the vehicle detect pedestrians and bicycles around the bus, providing a peripheral monitoring function that warns the driver with sound and images to improve safety.”

An acceleration control function “suppresses sudden [spurts]… in consideration of the safety of standing passengers. Also, there is no lurching due to the lack of a need for gear shifting.”

Sale of the Sora is expected to commence in 2018, and Toyota hopes to move over 100 “mainly within the Tokyo metropolitan area, ahead of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.” It seats 79, including the driver.

FINE-COMFORT RIDE
The Fine-Comfort Ride (F-CR) is another fuel cell vehicle (FCV) that “envisions mobility in a low-carbon society with advanced utilization of hydrogen and renewable energy.” The oddly shaped F-CR is purveyed as a new form of premium saloon, featuring a unique, flexible layout and a large amount of available electric power using hydrogen as an energy source. Toyota touts an incredible range of 1,000 kilometers, realized in part because of a tank that is 20% larger than a Mirai’s.

Perhaps equal amounts vehicle and meeting room, the car accommodates six passengers — each on extremely flexible seats that also swivel. “A diamond-shaped cabin… narrows towards the rear, while being wider in all dimensions from the front to the center of the vehicle, maximizing the space of the second row seats and aerodynamic performance,” reported Toyota.

CONCEPT i SERIES
Undoubtedly the most cutting-edge among Toyota’s slew of TMS starters are prefixed with the “Concept i” moniker. The Concept i “can capture your state of mind and keep you engaged to reduce risk factors of accidents. It understands what you like, what you want to do, to establish a new relationship with you,” revealed Mr. Leroy. Imbued with artificial intelligence (AI) via the virtual companion the company calls “Yui,” the car can now be considered a true partner on the road. The original four-wheel Concept i debuted at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The new Concept i Walk goes where cars cannot, such as elevators and even wide escalators. Its wheelbase can be shortened or lengthened in aid of stability, and an automated driving function increases the range of movement with safety and peace of mind.

The Concept i Ride, for its part, represents easy access to wheelchair-bound riders via large-opening and gull-wing doors, who can now take charge of this personal, high-technology car. An electric seat slides to the entrance for easy ingress and egress. The wheelchair can then be stored in the rear section of the vehicle. Toyota has dispensed with the steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal — installing a joystick in their place.

While still in various stages of development, common threads obviously run through the 10 new vehicles that took the stage at TMS. They all feature powertrains motivated by cleaner, more sustainable fuels and, as the car maker insisted, offer greater ease of access for more people. Concluded Mr. Leroy; “Toyota loves cars, and we will bring ever better mobility to ever more customers as technology frees us to push our boundary. And I can promise you that our mobility will always be fun. Our impossible has just started.”

 

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