When Toyota decides to release a new car, everyone takes note. Toyota Motor Corp. said it’s chosen the name “Mirai,” which means “future” in Japanese, for a fuel-cell powered sedan that travels 483 kilometers with a hydrogen tank that can be refilled in less than five minutes.
The announcement, on the eve of the Los Angeles auto show, increases the company’s commitment to fuel cells, as opposed to battery-only cars, as long-term alternatives to internal combustion engines, said Jeff Liker, a University of Michigan engineering professor. Toyota also promised to develop and supply fueling stations in northeastern U.S. states.
Liker predicted Toyota’s fuel-cell commitment will be as significant as those that came in 1989, when the company introduced its Lexus luxury brand in the U.S., and in 1997, when it started selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrids. Lexus led the U.S. market in luxury sales for 11 years, and Prius is by far the top-selling hybrid line, now with four models.
“In most cases, Toyota has been a fast-follower, not a leader,” Liker said. “But when it comes to the environment, they’re seeking to play an aggressive leadership role.”
Many battery-only cars in the U.S. can travel fewer than 100 miles on a full charge, and charging them can take hours. Toyota argues that fuel-cell cars can provide the same clean transportation with far greater convenience. And with a low center of gravity, it’s particularly fun to drive, Akio Toyoda, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a videotaped statement.
“Today, we are at a turning point in automotive history,” he said. “A turning point where people will embrace an environmentally friendly car that is a pleasure to drive.”
In its statement, Toyota didn’t provide details on how much the Mirai will cost in the U.S., or how many the company hopes to sell. Toyota has said previously the car will go on sale in Japan in April for about 7 million yen ($60,300), with U.S. and European introductions a few months later.
Automakers are under pressure in California, as well as across the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea, to offer vehicles that emit little or no carbon pollution and reduce petroleum use.
Battery-powered cars championed by Tesla Motors Inc. and Nissan Motor Co. store electricity in large lithium-ion packs. Fuel cells generate it in an electro-chemical reaction of hydrogen and air, producing only water vapor as a byproduct.
Honda Motor Co. has said it will offer a revamped hydrogen sedan in California in 2015. In May, Hyundai Motor Co. began leasing a fuel-cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle.
To help promote fuel-cell sales, California plans to install more than 50 hydrogen fuel stations within two years, partly with financial support from Toyota and other automakers. Toyota will also start working with Paris-based Air Liquide SA to build 12 fueling stations in five northeastern U.S. states, the company said in its statement.
Most commercial hydrogen is made from natural gas in a process that consumes energy and emits carbon. Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is also the lightest, making it difficult and sometimes dangerous to store and transport.
Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said hydrogen’s shortcomings make it a dead-end for vehicles. “Fuel cells should be renamed ‘fool cells,’ they are so stupid,” he said in an interview last year.
By 2025, California plans to require about one of seven vehicles sold by each of the biggest automakers to eliminate or reduce emissions by using fuel cells, batteries, or gas-electric hybrid engines. Ten other states are taking similar steps. These steps are the right steps but are they coming too late?
Toyota unveils new sports car. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Toyota Motor Corp. are moving closer to putting jointly developed sports cars on the road.
Co-operation on the underpinnings of the vehicles “has moved on to the concept phase and is running according to plan,” Munich-based BMW said in a statement to Bloomberg News. A technical feasibility study that began in January 2013 has been “successfully completed.”
The mid-size model is the most visible project within a broader partnership the manufacturers have said will last until at least 2020. The two companies have been tight-lipped about details, including the targeted introduction date, after announcing the plan early last year. Toyota confirmed Thursday that the project has moved beyond the feasibility stage, which was initially due to be completed by the end of 2013.
Toyota, the world’s largest auto maker, needs sports cars “to put that energy back into the brand,” Europe executive vice-president Karl Schlicht said last month at the Paris Motor Show when asked about the co-operation with BMW, which this year started selling the racy i8 plug-in hybrid.
In January, Toyota showed the FT-1 coupe concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The company said the rear-wheel-drive sports car’s design drew from past models including the Supra, 2000GT and Celica.
In addition to the sports car, Toyota and the world’s biggest maker of luxury vehicles are co-operating on research into fuel cells, lightweight technology and lithium-air batteries. The two companies agreed to work together on lithium-ion batteries in 2012. Both companies declined to comment further on the new sports cars. The new sports car should be released in the new few years.
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Subaru wants to expand their market with their new WRX with is greener then any of their other vehicles. Subaru hopes the redesigned WRX line will capture a wider customer base with better fuel economy and safety features after spinning off the nameplate from its Impreza stablemate.
The longer, roomier and sportier looking WRX went on sale in the U.S. in the spring and was released in Japan on Monday.
The performance car, long a staple of the rally circuits, already has a dedicated motor-fan following. But Subaru wants to cast a wider net with better fuel consumption and safety features, Takeshi Tachimori, executive vice president in charge of global marketing, said at the car’s home market debut.
“So far, the WRX was a very narrow, polarizing category, but we want to make it appeal to a wider customer base,” he said.
That’s one reason Subaru brand parent Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd., decided to make the WRX and tuner STI variant a standalone entry after long offering it as a sub-brand of the Impreza.
That, and the goal of strengthening Subaru’s sporty lineup.
The Japan and U.S. versions of the base WRX chug less gasoline thanks to a new 2.0-liter direct-injection engine mated to a continuously variable transmission or 6-speed manual.
And both variants get a more rigid bodies and chassis set-ups, replete with more use of high-tensile steel plating, to enhance control and crash-worthiness. It gets the same reinforced frame structure used in other models that passed the new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s small overlap crash test.
The Japan spec car also offers the latest version of Subaru’s trademark Eyesight camera-actuated pre-crash safety system, which delivers automatic braking and active lane keep assist.
Subaru hopes adding Eyesight will attract older customers. Will this be enough to change the way the market views their brand?
Everyone wants luxury, but those who can afford it should consider the new Mercedes C-class. Mercedes-Benz is vying for the luxury compact crown with the redesigned 2015 C-class sedan, equipped with new technology and features trickled down from the S-class flagship.
BMW is the market leader in the segment, with the 3- and 4-series compacts. But Mercedes-Benz executives say the C class may finally give them the edge.
The C class looks like a smaller version of the S-class sedan, and it has the optional $2,800 Intelligent Drive package of integrated safety features. They include adaptive cruise control, rear-end collision protection, Pre-Safe braking and steering, and cross-traffic and lane-keeping assist.
“Mercedes-Benz is demonstrating that we are not just going to set the standard with the S class, our goal is to set the standard in every segment — even one that might be traditionally associated with the 3 series and BMW,” said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. “We have spent the last few generations closing that gap.”
With the new-generation C class that goes on sale Aug. 25, “we are going to set a standard for style, for interior fit and finish and standard features,” Cannon said. “We have been more of an S- and E-class company.”
To further separate the C class from the CLA sedan — the entry to the brand that went on sale last year — Mercedes made the C-class sedan about 4 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider than the previous model.
With the frame and body structure made of aluminum, it will be more agile and handle better than today’s model, said Bart Herring, general manager of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA. The redesigned C class is up to 200 pounds lighter than today’s model.
The C class will have Collision Prevention Assist Plus as a standard feature. The system senses if a collision is imminent, and if the driver doesn’t respond, it autonomously brakes the car at speeds up to 124 mph. It also can brake to avoid a stationary vehicle ahead and to prevent rear collisions.
Competing brands don’t offer this feature in this segment — or on many of their high-end vehicles, Cannon said.
Collision Prevention Assist Plus “is us throwing down the gauntlet — no one has it in the segment,” he said. “Our competitors do not have it on their highest cars. It demonstrates where we are going.”
The Intelligent Drive package is another edge, said Herring. “We have networked it to almost give the car senses to set you up to make better decisions or assist to keep you out of danger. That is cool on a $100,000 S class. Will this new technology take off? Who will be the next to adapt this technology to their line of vehicles?