Tag Archive | "Toyota"

Air-Con Quandary

The pollutants produced in the manufacture and running of cars has been under scrutiny for fifty years or more and as time has gone on there have been many clean green advances in the science. We have now reached the stage where cars pollute the atmosphere far less than was ever dreamed about a few scant decades ago.

Now though, an argument, or debate, has arisen over the type of refrigerant used in car air-conditioning systems. Toyota said it has switched back to using the air conditioner refrigerant known as R134a for some Toyota and Lexus models in Europe in response to public pressure in Germany.

Up until now R134a has been banned from new vehicles built in the EU since the start of the year to meet climate protection targets. The problem seems to be that  the replacement labelled R1234yf is, according to German car makers Daimler/Mercedes-Benz, a potential fire hazard. The suggestion is that one risk is replaced by another.

The result is that Toyota are now saying that they have equipped three models with the old refrigerant in order to respect customers’ safety concerns because of this controversy in Germany. The Japanese company doesn’t actually have a problem with the new refrigerant but did not want to be sucked into the increasingly acrimonious debate.

That debate is with the French Government. Daimler is challenging a French ban on its Mercedes cars that use the old refrigerant. Authorities in France have refused to register Mercedes A-class, B-class and CLA-class models built since mid-June because they use R-134a and do not comply with the EU directive. Daimler, on the other hand, says the vehicles are type-approved in Germany and should be allowed to be registered anywhere in the EU.

France fights back by saying that the ban is legally permissible under an EU law that protects the environment and public health and a French court is going to decide this political issue. France is the only European country to stop the registrations of cars with this refrigerant. This could rumble on as it is yet another case where national and European issues overlap and clash. It has to be said that there does not seem to have been any issues with the old refrigerant so drivers shouldn’t be concerned either way until and if there is some substance to the suggestion. In the meantime the motor industry becomes another political football.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

ME.WE: Toyota’s Eco-Car.

If, as an animal lover, you keep a Panda as a pet then you should steer clear of this new Toyota – should it ever make it in into production. In line with current thinking, this new concept car from the Japanese giant has been christened with a silly name. It is made, at least in part, with bamboo.

This is the latest in an increasingly long line of cars that care for the environment. Now, we don’t want to bamboozle (heh) you with a load of eco-babble about rain forests and future human challenges; suffice it to say that this is Toyota’s idea of how we can all own cars in a world without petrol.

The name ME.WE is supposed to express the company’s concern for your personal well-being (ME) and that of others (WE). It might be well meaning but it’s all a tad sickly isn’t it? Still their heart’s in the right place: – this car is, as you would expect, electric and uses the same in-wheel motors as the I-ROAD, Toyota’s city-trike concept. The batteries are under the floor as they are in the iQ. Building in this way means that all the available space can be used for passengers and luggage. See image.

Toyota see this concept as being adaptable to most lifestyle choices. It responds, so they say, to people’s behaviour and expectations. Truly a people’s car then, because it allegedly surmounts social status. The company state that “the concept should propose an alternative synthesis based on personal choices”. Terrific, but will somebody please explain what ‘alternative synthesis’ is.

Still, enough levity. This is the shape of things to come. Get over it. The purpose is clearly to demonstrate that a perfectly serviceable car can be made using the lightest of materials – in this case polypropylene panels built around a tubular aluminium frame – knocking off twenty percent of the weight of the average supermini. The body panels are 100% recyclable.

The floor is made from bamboo, as are all the horizontal surfaces in the cabin. The ME.WE is said to be easy to keep clean with just a simple wash – no expensive waxes required. So, easy to use, cheap to run, a choice of two or four wheel drive, simple to clean and kind to the environment; what’s not to like? Nothing, apart from the daft name. If it does come to market then, as a second car at least, it could do well. And if you don’t like it, feed it to the Panda. Now that’s recycling.

Posted in Auto News, Car ReviewsComments (0)

Toyota Working For Greater Safety

Toyota haven’t had a lot of luck lately, what with all the recalls they’ve suffered but that hasn’t stopped them working hard on new ways to keep us safe on the roads. They are investing time, money and energy into an integrated Intelligent Transport System.

For a start there’s the Pre-Crash Safety System that already appears on some Toyota and Lexus models. This has been augmented with a collision avoidance function to help lessen the impact or even prevent rear end shunts. Toyota reckon that most such accidents occur when the difference in speed between the two vehicles is within 37mph. The device triggers an alarm telling the driver to brake. In addition to this the device will greatly and automatically increase the brake pressure to achieve a speed reduction of 37mph. If the driver still hasn’t woken up to the event the car will do the job itself. Road conditions will obviously be a factor to the overall performance of this technology, though.

The company further believe that the majority of crashes are caused by drivers selecting the wrong gear or stamping on the wrong pedal. The ‘Intelligent Clearance Sonar and Drive-Start Control’ detects obstacles outside the vision of the driver and, in turn, sounds an alarm, reduces engine power and applies the brakes in the possible chance of a collision. This is especially useful if parking. Similarly, Drive-Start Control can tell when the wrong gear is selected. The engine power is reduced thus preventing any sudden bursts of acceleration.

To further their aims to keep us safe on the roads, Toyota is opening a brand new proving facility to further develop this ‘intelligent’ technology. This will simulate city centre road conditions. Their aim is to further reduce fuel consumption whilst making the cars we drive – and including the pedestrians and other road users around us – increasingly safe.

It’s just unfortunate that the company has had so many recall problems recently because this must impact on their ability to fund this sort of advanced research. Presumably, other manufacturers, to a greater or lesser extent, will be working on their own systems too. A functioning driverless car can’t be too far away now.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

Small, Clean, Green And Capable

In a time, long ago, 4×4’s were a breed apart. They were usually massive with thirsty growling engines that breathed out noxious fumes like enormous dragons with halitosis and an attitude problem. They were loathed by people of the green persuasion and were only acceptable if the driver was a farmer, a vet or a Chelsea mummy. Well, not any more.

With the technical improvements in diesel (especially the common rail direct fuel injection systems) and petrol engines, the motors in these all-purpose vehicles are much cleaner than before and considerably more economical too. What’s more, some models are much more compact and targeted very much at the family market rather than for, say, agricultural use. The manufacturers haven’t been slow in bringing to market some compact 4×4’s which, they claim, significantly reduce emissions and achieve in excess of 40mpg. Not bad for cars that should be able to handle general off-road conditions well. They’re not really full blown mud-pluggers but how many of us really needs that?

Take the Fiat Panda 4×4. The previous model was capable but a bit of an ugly duckling; the new one introduced in 2012 is not only very capable on and off road but is also good looking and a decent drive. It’s the only 4×4 city car, effectively, so if you’re an urban dweller who feels the call of the wild from time to time then this is the car for you, especially with emissions of just 125g/km.

No consideration of any type of car, large or small, can be complete without a BMW in the list and it should therefore come as no surprise that this German company has something that fit’s the small off-roader bill in the guise of the X3. The latest model is a great improvement on the old one (even BMW can get it wrong sometimes); it drives well on the tarmac and is quite capable of tackling more difficult terrain. It only comes with diesel options but a claimed 50mpg is a pleasant surprise and, coupled with CO² emissions of just 149g/km, makes this all-rounder a quality and stylish choice.

For something a little different how about a Hyundai? They used to make a leviathan called the Tucson but that has now be superseded by the much more acceptable ix35 (pictured). This car is a massive stride forward for Hyundai – its build quality and design make it a truly premium product. Buy it in the gutsy 2.0L diesel 4×4 version and you’ll be delighted with the low CO² and decent fuel economy.

There’s plenty of choice in this small 4×4 sector with cars like the popular Ford Kuga and Nissan’s excellent Qashqai competing with models from VW, Toyota and Honda. Although the gas-guzzling behemoths of old are frowned upon these days you can still have useful off-road ability that won’t shame you on the streets.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (2)

Electric Cars Not Ready?

No doubt all drivers have an opinion but it really doesn’t matter what we think. The industry decides what they want to give us and produce vehicles accordingly. The idea of electric cars, for example, has been around for almost as long as conventional cars have; the problem is that the technology hasn’t been available. Until now. Or so we thought.

Over the last couple of decades or so, the ecology minded amongst us have issued dire warnings about the plight of the earth and the fact that we are sucking all the goodness out of it, like an irresistibly juicy orange.

Never one’s to miss jumping on a bandwagon when they see it, politicians decided that the world would run out of oil in pretty short order and that something needed to be done about the greenhouse gases for which we were all responsible. It’s not for this blog to express an opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of this. We want the facts, M’am. Just the facts.

The onus was upon car makers to produce ultra-clean cars with some form of alternative propulsion. Electricity seemed the way forward. Much R&D went into producing a viable product. Meanwhile, manufacturers presumably decided to hedge their bets and continued to work on improving conventional internal combustion motors.

Now it may well appear to have been a sensible approach. Toyota have announced that they do not now intend to build their electric version of the iQ in any significant quantity. They had planned to produce thousands to meet the perceived need. In fact, they are only going to make about one hundred for specific markets, mostly their home country.

This is thought to be because they do not now believe that both the world and the technology is ready for EV’s. This is logical because of all the negative, but not unreasonable, publicity surrounding battery technology and range anxiety. They are listening to their customers.

There’s nothing wrong with the concept of electric cars. Hybrids, whilst not perfect and not quite as green as they appear to be, are still a viable alternative and this looks like the direction that the Japanese company will take for the foreseeable future. The snag is that desire has outstripped the ability to realise the dream.

It’s not all bad news for EV fans. Nissan has sold some thirty eight thousand Leaf’s (should that be Leaves?) and remain confident in their product. Nevertheless, you can bet your last litre of petrol that other manufacturers will watch this one closely. Which way will they turn?

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

Toyota Increase Model Range

There once was a time when buyers of new cars felt they could trust Toyota, but in the last three years or so they have experienced a mighty fall from grace. Problems with accelerator and brake pedals, amongst other things, seriously damaged the company’s reputation.

In July 2012, the Japanese company sold 5700 new cars in the UK. That’s an impressive twenty five per cent up on the same period last year, which appears to indicate that motorists have, by and large, forgiven them their transgressions and headed back to the showrooms. These improved figures are better than for the industry as a whole, suggesting that Toyota has re-established its reputation.

The bad news for Toyota is that, just in time for the summer release of no less than four new models, they now have a problem with nearly 800,000 RAV4 and Lexus models. It seems that lock nuts on the rear tie-rods were not tightened properly at assembly and this has allowed rust to develop, causing corrosion and possible failure of the part. It is suggested that this could cause handling problems. Toyota are sorting it out.

This is a shame as the company has started delivering the new Prius+ and Prius Plug-in models (of which more elsewhere on Motor Blogger) and the new Yaris Hybrid. This is a first for Toyota as the new Yaris is Europe’s first full hybrid supermini. The beauty of this car is that the dimensions and space of the original car have not been compromised by the new power train and batteries.

The jewel in the crown of these latest introductions has got be to be the GT86 (previously introduced on these pages) a brilliant back-to-basics sports car that subsequent reviews have deemed to be a triumph. It’s powered by a 2.0L Boxer engine, has good old fashioned rear-wheel drive and sensible wheels which all adds up to a package that’s about good old fashioned driving pleasure rather than brute power.

Customers are returning to Toyota and strong demand for a mix of the 17 model range is being seen in the showrooms. Toyota should have learned their lesson about build quality from the issues of the last few years.

The latest tie-rod problem only apparently affects RAV4 models built between 2006 and 2010 (accounting for the bulk of the recall) and some 18000 Lexus 250h vehicles from 2010 at a time when the other difficulties occurred, so hopefully things are back to where they should be and motorists can buy a Toyota with confidence.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

BMW Reaches Out To Toyota

Next month BMW will introduce new models to its refreshed 3 Series range of cars to help the company keep pace with competitors. There’ll be an xDrive version – that’s 4×4 to you and me – available on only one engine option. Perhaps more significantly the company will offer a hybrid version.

It is called the ActiveHybrid 3 and it will be powered by a three litre six cylinder turbo-charged engine coupled with a 40kW electric motor. The combination will generate a satisfying 340bhp and a chunky 450Nm of torque, so no slouch then. Apparently the car will travel less than three miles on electric power alone but it is not meant to be an extended range electric car. With a stated consumption figure of 47.9mpg (so probably 40 in the real world) and a decent emission figure of 139g/km the car is sure to attract business users for its 18% company car tax rate.

In line with the trend for manufacturers to co-operate with each other to save money on research and development, BMW have reached their hands across the sea to Toyota in a bid to work together on hybrid and electric technology. In recent years the Germans have preferred to collaborate with their neighbours at Peugeot Citroen. Lately though, the cash-strapped French have been batting their eyes at General Motors who they see as a better partner. An alliance between the Germans and the Japanese now looks more mutually beneficial.

As a matter of some urgency, BMW really need to reduce the overall emissions target for the company to 101g/km by 2020, which means adding some health-giving hybrids and EV’s to the range in the next few years. Toyota will offer lithium-ion battery research in exchange for some of BMW’s brilliant diesel engines to bolster their slightly weak image in Europe. In the next few years we can expect to see Beemers running with Toyota hybrid power trains. The Japanese manufacturer would also expect to get in on the ground floor with the cutting edge lightweight materials to be used in future on a large scale on BMW’s forthcoming Megacity electric car, presently code-named the i3.

The xDrive 3 Series is BMW’s answer to Audi’s four wheel drive A4 and their over-arching plan seems to be to ensure that their range of cars, big and small, are a match for the best from other factories and especially top-end brands like Lexus and Infiniti. BMW are already extremely well regarded by drivers and are clearly keen to ensure their place at the top of the league tables.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)

New Plug-in Updates The Prius Philosophy

The new Toyota Prius Plug-in is the latest evolution of the company’s popular hybrid range and sets a new benchmark for low-emission technology. Toyota claim that this new car – available to order now and in the showrooms from July – is capable of 108.6mpg whilst breathing out a health enhancing 59g/km of CO² . In full EV mode, the tailpipe emissions are zero.

The difference between this car and its older sibling is that it relies on lithium-ion batteries rather than the usual Toyota nickel-metal hydride units currently fitted to the Auris and standard Prius. Lithium-ion batteries can carry more energy and recharge to full in just 90 minutes. The downside, inevitably, is that the new units are heavier and more expensive to produce so it’s likely that this new iteration of the popular hybrid will be more expensive.

Although the Lithium-ion batteries add an extra 130kg to this already hefty car, the electric only range is extended from 2 miles to a much more useable 12.5 and the top speed in EV mode is now a creditable 62mph. Around the town the car should mostly be all electric, only choosing to rouse the sleeping engine if the throttle is floored. Otherwise the car has the same mechanicals as the standard Prius. There will be, for now, a single specification which will include high-tech features like a heads-up display, the Touch-and-Go multimedia centre, voice recognition and the more usual Bluetooth and satellite navigation options, amongst a welcome list of others. The car has economical 15” alloys and a selection of four exterior colours is offered. The main expense for additional options is the choice of black leather upholstery at £1500. How many people will go for that, given the car’s ethos?

The range anxiety problem suffered by fully electric cars can be safely ignored here because the Plug-in will switch seamlessly to hybrid mode automatically if the electric charge is drained. Recharging is both simple and fast using a power point linked to a standard domestic supply or an on-street charging point. The car comes with the charging kit in the price, including five metres of cabling that can be stored beneath the boot floor. The price is expected to be an eye-watering £32,895 but the government will refund £5000 once you’ve purchased. No doubt over time the price of these cars will come down as economies of scale come into action and the technology becomes ever more efficient. In the meantime, if you’re serious about doing your bit to save the planet you could do worse than invest in a Prius Plug-in.

Posted in Car ReviewsComments (0)

Electric Evolution

The general feeling seems to be that motorists want a revolution, but not yet. As you’ve heard often enough before, the principal gripe is the issue of range. Electric cars simply can’t go far enough and even if they did there’s not, as yet, anywhere to charge them away from home. Yet things have to change. Even the most hardened petrol head is beginning to understand that there is an unstoppable driving force behind the evolution of electric vehicles.

In a recent American report it is reckoned that the cost of lithium-ion batteries will fall by about a third in the next four to five years as battery production technology improves, lithium supplies increase and battery packs are sold in greater volume. The report states that “ the market for Li-ion batteries will be driven primarily by plug-in hybrids. Battery electric vehicles require much larger packs than hybrids.”

It is the cost of the fuel cells that governs the industry’s current anomaly. Lithium-ion batteries present a classic ‘what comes first’ scenario. Battery costs need to decrease in order to yield a lower price on the forecourt to encourage the punters. Conversely, the power packs need to be produced in high volumes in order to get costs to fall.

Regardless, the demand for electric drive cars, especially amongst city dwellers, is expected to rise over the coming years; especially as the cost of conventional fuels continues to rise and car makers offer a greater range. The report estimates that the global sales of  plug-ins will rise to a figure in excess of 5 million by 2017.

Lithium is a mineral, the 31st most abundant element on Earth and is the lightest metal. Most of it is found in South America which has more than half of the world’s deposits. It can also be obtained from sea water in same quantities. Herein lies the problem. No car can be considered green. Powering a vehicle on a daily basis is always going to use some sort of resource. We stop extracting oil and start extracting lithium instead. When we’ve got all the lithium, then what? The answer is perhaps not to rush at any one power source but take time to investigate everything that is available to us. Right now the best thing to do is compromise. That is what ‘greener’ should be about. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive and other systems seem the best way forward right now. One million Toyota Prius owners can’t be wrong.

Posted in Auto BlogComments (0)

New Car Bonanza

The next eighteen months or so will see the release of a bumper crop of new cars from around the world. Space is far too limited to list them all here but there are some standout choices. This spring Pagani will begin sales of it’s Zonda replacement, the Huayra, which is a lot easier to type than say. It’ll cost you a cool million, give or take, and sports a 700bhp V12, so if the petrol price crisis is getting you down then it’s probably best not to order one just now. Back on Planet Earth, Vauxhall are rather belatedly introducing a small SUV called the Mokka that is meant to take on the likes of Nissan’s popular Juke. It’s an attractive car with the usual suspects on offer for the engine bay.

Hot hatch fans will be delighted to learn, if they haven’t already placed their orders, that Ford’s 248bhp Focus ST will soon start rolling off the production line. This is a consistently popular model – rightly so – and now it is more efficient too. Renaultsport are craftily releasing their Megane 265 in April to try and steal some of the ST’s thunder. Peugeot are a bit behind in the hot hatch game as the new and highly regarded 208GTi won’t be available until much later this year.

In July, Toyota will add to their hybrid fleet with what looks like the cheapest petrol / electric car on the market – the £15000 Yaris, featuring the technology that’s been tried and tested in the Prius. These cars are beginning to demonstrate some appeal and for true city dwellers who don’t want to be doing with garage forecourts, the Mia Electric microbus is on sale now. It’s only got 24bhp on offer but makes up for it with a five hour charging time, 96 mile range and practical sliding doors. Pricy though.

Later this year Fiat will replace their weird but rather good Multipla with the 500L. The L stands for Large, so it’s the size of its predecessor but takes its styling cues from the dinky 500 and is built on an enlarged Panda platform. The usual options, including 4WD, are offered on this interesting motor. The lower roofline of the Range Rover Evoque has set a bit of a trend with, amongst others, Hyundai Velostar Turbo with which they hope to compete with the Golf.

Looking even further ahead, watch out for an Evoque Convertible (2013) look-alike from Ssangyong – the cunningly named XIV-2 – which features a fabric roof that folds back like the Fiat 500C. 2013 will also see a new old vehicle, as it were, the Plus E! That’s right; if you have a fondness for handlebar moustaches and string-backed driving gloves then prepare to be horrified by an electric sports car from that last bastion of Englishness – Morgan! Whatever next in the rush for new technology?

This is just a taster. Whatever happens to fuel prices or battery technology in the future then rest assured the motor manufacturers are working hard to keep motoring interesting. Keep an eye on Motor Blogger for more.

Posted in Auto NewsComments (0)