Toyota Rolls Out Plenty of Products

By Gary S. Vasilash

Let’s face it: As much as people would like to think that the pandemic is something that is talked about in the past tense, the direction of those arrows showing cases and hospitalizations and deaths related to Covid are going in the wrong direction.

This means that OEMs have to consider the ways and means that they announce product to the press, and in turn, the public, because this ain’t 2019 anymore.

Toyota has announced a tranche of products and developments that would usually be metered out drip by drip.

Instead, it has essentially said, “Get ready, here we come!”

GR Corolla MORIZO Edition. Yes, you could go to Costco in it. But you’d probably have a whole lot more fun at a track. (Image: Toyota)

As in:

  • 2023 Corolla Hybrid with optional AWD–What makes this different is that there is a separate electric motor mounted on the rear axle to switch from what is ordinarily a FWD vehicle to AWD.
  • Corolla Cross Hybrid—The SUV-ish vehicle now (1) is available as an AWD vehicle and (2) uses Toyotas Fifth Generation Hybrid system. Oddly, Toyota touts that the vehicle has a 0 to 60 time of 8 seconds. No one—probably not even a rogue valet—is going to pin the accelerator on a Corolla Cross, hybrid or otherwise.
  • GR Corolla MORIZO Edition—“GR” stands for “Gazoo Racing.” It was established as something of a skunkworks for running at the 2007 Nürburgring—but as it was established by Akio Toyoda. . .  . Anyway, GR is both a racing team as well as an operation that provides performance to production vehicles. This vehicle, limited to 200 cars, is designed for the track (but is street-legal), as the engineers worked at taking out weight (they removed some 100 pounds from the GR Corolla Circuit Edition), added a close-ratio manual transmission, and increased overall rigidity. Here’s something you don’t necessarily associate with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine: 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
  • 2023 GR86 Special Edition—Last year Toyota introduced the GR86 sports car, and the vehicle has been doing well. In Q1 ’22 there were 3,257 GR86s sold, which may not seem like a big number, but is an increase over Q1 2021 of 326.3%. The Special Edition will be limited to 860 vehicles. The vehicle features a cat-back performance exhaust to make the 228-hp 2.4-liter engine sound, well, more bad-ass. There are forged matte black 18-inch alloys. And there are various trim mods inside and out.

Meanwhile, over at Lexus:

  • 2023 RX—The fifth generation of the vehicle that, arguably, made Lexus. Were it not for the luxury crossover, a segment that the RX pioneered, odds are that Lexus might have been like those other two brands that launched around the same time that are now pretty much footnotes. The new RX is on a new platform (GA-K), which is important because it allows a weight reduction (always good for performance) and increased rigidity (ditto). The RX has been available as a hybrid since 2005 (!). That continues with the new model. But there is a second hybrid, the RX 450h+ that will be coming, which is a plug-in hybrid.

And there’s this:

  • Cabin Awareness concept—This is a development from Toyota Connected North America, an operation that focuses on things of a digital nature. This concept is based on a 4D imaging radar sensor—and it has absolutely nothing to do with autonomous driving. Rather, the sensor, mounted in the headliner of a vehicle, determines whether there are life forms in the vehicle (adults, kids, infants, pets). This is useful to make sure that no one is left inside a vehicle. And because this will be important in the autonomous world (e.g., say someone books a ride for himself and pet and upon arrival at the destination, gets out but leaves the pet behind), Toyota is working with autonomous vehicle company May Mobility on testing it out in autonomous Toyota Siennas (back to that parenthetical scenario: the Cabin Awareness sensor finds the pet is still there and a signal is sent to the vehicle system such that it won’t move on until the situation is resolved).

Yes, lots of things from Toyota in a compact amount of time.

How the 2023 Nissan Z Came to Be

By Gary S. Vasilash

The new 2023 Nissan Z—just “Z,” no more numerics—is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 400 hp. Just the sort of thing to make the two-seater perform quickly. Compared with the last-generation model—the 370Z (obviously with the numerics)—there are increases in both torsional stiffness and body rigidity. That means that the vehicle has the sort of substance required to make it capable of being tossed through turns without a sensation that it is as sound as a plate of overcooked pasta.

2023 Nissan Z: A 400-hp sports car starting at <$40 K (Image: Nissan)

On the inside the car has an interior that is fresh and not at all fussy. As is the case of the exterior, there is a slight sense of throw-back, although it is difficult to put your finger on what makes it so. There is a six-speed manual transmission, which is something that was more common in cars of days gone by, but that’s not it. And given that there is a standard 8-inch infotainment display (there is a 9.0-inch unit with navigation available), that’s certainly not what gives this slight sense of days of retro. There is also a nine-speed automatic, which is certainly au courant.

Before the $1,025 destination charge, the Sport trim (there is the Performance trim above that) has a base MSRP of $39,990, which is a nice thing for Nissan to be able to boast about: A bona-fide sports car for under $40,000.

To get insights on how this vehicle was developed, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk with Melissa Lacko, an engineer with Nissan Research & Development in Stanfield, Arizona, who worked on the development of the vehicle.

She talks about various aspects of how the Z came to be, ranging from the interactions with the team in Japan to the time she and her colleagues drove to Bemidji, Minnesota for cold-weather testing—and the temp was below -20º, which is really something for an Arizona native to experience.

Lacko talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer and NACTOY president Gary Witzenburg, and me.

If you want to get a sense of what enthusiasm is for one’s profession, watch this show because Lacko is clearly engaged in what is a car that can be enjoyed by automotive enthusiasts.

And you can see it here.

Kemal Curic Talks Lincoln Star Concept

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lincoln, like other brands, is working to redefine itself by developing electrified vehicles. One of the advantages that Lincoln has in this regard is that (1) it is the luxury brand of the Ford Motor Company, which is devoting serious resources to creating vehicles of this type so it gets a big lift from its parent company and (2) as it is a luxury brand, there is more headroom vis-à-vis pricing because let’s face it: electric vehicle technology is still expensive, so putting it in vehicles that appeal to customers (or “clients” as Lincoln people may refer to them) that can afford more is the right move.

Lincoln plans to have three electric vehicles in its showrooms by 2025. Odds are all or some will be variants on what exist there right now (which makes sense: the Nautilus actually had a 7.5% sales increase in 2021, a year that otherwise was rife with minus signs).

But Lincoln has unveiled what Kemal Curic, global design director, Lincoln, refers to as a “moonshot,” the Lincoln Star Concept.

The Lincoln Star Concept: the essence of electric luxury. (Image: Lincoln)

The “star” refers to the graphic logo that Lincoln uses. Picture the basically rectangular badge with the cross in its center more square-like and extend the arms of the cross out beyond the square with pointed ends: It then becomes something that is like a North Star image. The North Star (a.k.a., Polaris) is the brightest star in the night sky and as such has long been used as a point of navigation: the Lincoln Star Concept is the direction that Lincoln is heading toward.

What’s more, a star is about light, and if there is something striking about the Lincoln Star Concept is that whether it is on the front fascia or in the cosseting cabin, animated light is an absolute key feature.

In this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Curic talks to John McElroy and me about the Lincoln Star Concept: the whys, the hows and the wherefores, about how they are using advanced technology (e.g., using 3D metal printing to create the A- and D-pillars that have an organic form that allows the driver to have less-obstructed views), to imagine what could be in Lincoln’s future.

An interesting point that Curic makes about developing the vehicle, which is certainly applicable to other things, not just vehicles, is that they worked to subtract things, to create something more essential in the context of revealing the essence of luxury rather than obscuring it with what are superfluous features.

You can learn about this and other aspects of the Lincoln Star Concept from Kemal Curic by going here.

What Vehicles Are People Considering and Why?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Kelley Blue Book puts together an interesting study on what people are interested in by examining what they are searching for automotive-wise both on desktops and mobile.

For Q1 22 in the non-luxury space the number-one brand is Toyota, with 34% brand consideration. In Q4 21 it was Ford on top. They’ve switched places. Ford is at 32%. Chevy is on the rise because in Q4 it was at 25% but has risen by five percentage points.

What is somewhat sad is Fiat, which was at 0% in Q4 and is at 0% in Q1.

And just above it are Mitsubishi and MINI, both at 1%, which is where they were last quarter, too.

Perhaps people just know all they need to about those brands.

Ram Laramie 1500: Imposing and comfortable. (Image: Ram)

KBB slices, dices and rices data in various ways. Like looking at four categories: SUVs, Cars, Pickups, and Minivans.

The top SUV is the Honda CR-V (besting the Tahoe, Durango, RAV4 and Highlander).

The #1 car is the Honda Accord, edging out the Civic (sibling rivalry). The Camry, Charger and Challenger follow.

In Pickups it is the Silverado 1500, followed by the F-150, F-250/F-350/F-450, the Silverado 2500/3500 HD, and the Tacoma.

In Minivans it is the Sienna followed by the Odyssey, Pacifica, Pacifica Hybrid and Voyager.

Of those categories, 66% looked at SUVs, 37% Cars, 35% Pickups, and 5% Minivans.

Perhaps there is some life in Cars, although the considerations were down 31% in the last quarter and 33% in the last year, so clearly things aren’t moving in the right direction.

Another potentially encouraging sign for Cars is that in the top 10 models considered, there are three Cars on the list (Accord, Civic and Camry), which is the number of SUVs on the list (CR-V, Tahoe, Durango).

What are the top three factors driving consideration?

Durability/reliability is in the top spot, which is not a surprise, nor is the fact that Toyota is the one that takes it.

Second is safety, and while you might imagine that would be Volvo, Subaru is actually in that position.

And third is driving comfort. This is taken by Ram. Who would have thought that a pickup truck would win the comfort honors?

Cadillac Supercharges the Escalade: Seems Strange for the Company Going EV

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although Cadillac is purportedly going to be an all-EV brand by 2030, between now and then it will continue to offer things like this: the Cadillac Escalade-V.

Rory Harvey, global Cadillac vice president, says, “Customers and enthusiasts have asked for an Escalade-V, and we’re thrilled to bring this high-performance SUV to market in the year of Cadillac’s 120th anniversary.”

Supercharged, 682-hp V* is hardly the stuff of environmental awareness, is it? (Image: Cadillac)

The vehicle is powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 682 hp and 653 lb-ft of torque.

The Escalade-V, which has a starting MSRP of $149,990 (including destination), will go on sale later this summer.

As of now there are no EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers. However, the numbers for a more-typical 6.2-liter in a non-V Escalade are 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway.

Somehow this makes any green cred that Cadillac may be interested in gaining for itself all that more difficult.

Still, they have to somehow pay for the development costs of the EVs. . . .

It is worth noting (although those paying +$150K may not care) that premium is required for the V engine. According to AAA, the current national average for a gallon of premium is $5.03.

So if you’re filling the tank of the Escalade-V it would set you back $120.72.

Electric Vehicle Market in the U.S.: EVs Gaining Traction

By Gary S. Vasilash

Last week Stellantis announced a $2.8-billion investment in Canada. Investment will be made in the Windsor Assembly Plant to set it up to produce a new multi-energy vehicle architecture. . .with one of the energies being electricity.

There will be spending at the Brampton Assembly Plant—currently the home of the Dodge Charger and Challenger (and Chrysler 300)—where a vehicles based on a new architecture will be produced starting in 2025. An electrified architecture.

And there will be some spent on expanding a battery lab.

In ordinary times, $2.8 billion would be the stuff of amazement.

But now it is basically table stakes as automakers build new factories or transform old ones for electric vehicle production. As well as making investments related to battery development and production.

GM has announced it is investing $35-billion by 2025 for electric vehicles.

Ford has announced that it will be spending $50-bilion through 2026 for the same.

S&P Global Mobility, according to principal automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley, anticipates that sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. will be on the order of 35.7% of the market by 2030.

In 2021 that number was about 4%. So within the next eight years there will need to be a rise of about nine times where they are now.

But according to Brinley and Mike Jackson, executive director of strategy and research for the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA), it seems highly likely that this will be the case.

The how and why this will occur are discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hour,” where Brinley and Jackson talk to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me.

And you can see it all here.

Goodyear Uses Soy for Bus Tires to Cut Down Petroleum Use

Goodyear plans to replace the petroleum-derived oils used in its tires by 2040.

And while this might not seem like a lot, the company has announced that it is replacing about 11 ounces of petroleum that would otherwise be in tires that the company has on offer for city transit buses with soybean oil.

This is the formulation being used for the majority of its Metro Miler G152 and G652 tires.

11 ounces of soybean oil per tire. (Image: Goodyear)

Dustin Lancy, Goodyear North America commercial product manager, notes that if you take the 11 ounces and “Multiply that by a bus fleet of 1,600 buses, about the size used by some major metropolitan cities in the U.S., and that could mean the use of around 20 fewer barrels of oil.

A typical city bus has six tires. That translates into the replacement of 66 ounces per vehicle. One barrel of oil is 5,376 ounces or 82 buses.

Small amounts, but something.

Know that the U.S. uses about 18 million barrels of oil. Per day.

Racing & Electricity

By Gary S. Vasilash

In 1901, a year after the Detroit Automobile Company failed, Henry Ford looked for a way to attract investors for his next corporate endeavor for car manufacture.

Ford said, “I never thought anything of racing, but the public refused to consider the automobile in any light other than a fast toy.”

So he went racing.

On October 10, 1901 Henry won the race held at the Grosse Pointe Race Track.

Ford won the race.

And retired from racing.

In 1903 he obtained the financial backing he needed to establish the Ford Motor Company.

And you know the rest.

Motor sports has been part and parcel of the development of automotive technologies. Things are tested on the track that then—assuming that (1) they work and (2) are applicable—make their way to consumer products.

Vehicle manufacturers sometimes embed engineers on race teams not only for the technology part of the undertaking but in order to get them to understand the mindset of doing things quickly.

Nowadays it seems that there isn’t any weekend during the year where there isn’t a car race going on somewhere in the world.

The noise. The smell of petroleum products and burnt rubber. The crowds.

It is really quite a phenomenon, and while The Indianapolis 500 calls itself “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” that is clearly nothing more than a matter of degree because even races at a dirt track in the middle of nowhere is in itself something of a spectacle.

But now the industry is undergoing a change to electric vehicles. And while there is a sanctioned series—Formula E—there is nothing like the expanse of gasoline-powered racing.

A question is will there ever be? And if there is, will those who are enthusiastic fans of motorsports that have come to be known over the past 120 years be at all interested.

So on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk about it with car racer and automotive critic for the Detroit News, Henry Payne, and muscle car enthusiast Mike Musto of Hemmings.

And it seems as though the answer is. . .probably not.

You can judge for yourself by watching it here.

Ford & Tesla: Go Figure

By Gary S. Vasilash

Jim Farley, Ford CEO, said to the assembled audience on hand for the production launch of the all-electric F-150 Lightning on April 26, “We plan to challenge Tesla and all comers to become the top EV maker in the world.

“That’s something that no one would have believed just two years ago from us. They’re going to look at this truck and believe it.”

That’s something I have a hard time believing right now.

Not that Ford doesn’t have a shot at becoming the lead EV builder at some unspecified time in the future. It probably will. Electric pickups and full-size crossovers will undoubtedly roll out of its dealerships in huge numbers one Ford has them.

But that a company that has pretty much been synonymous with “auto industry”–as it was established in 1903 and has had factories churning out cars, trucks and crossovers the world over for more than a century–uses Tesla as the point of comparison.

This is not to diminish the accomplishments of Tesla in any way. In 2021 it delivered more than 936,000 the world over.

While Tesla doesn’t break out its numbers by country, Cox Automotive estimates that the U.S. sales of its vehicles were 352,471 in 2021.

Ford had one EV in 2021, the Mustang Mach-E. It sold 27,140.

It’s not like Tesla just started selling cars last year. It has been on the market for more than 10.

Yes, it started out small.

And so was ignored by the traditional OEMs like Ford.

But Team Tesla kept at it and the traditional OEMs kept doing what they were doing by and large their efforts toward producing EVs were simply to meet regulations, not customers.

Now these companies (and know that it isn’t just Ford and GM, but even other stalwarts like Mercedes and BMW) have recognized that not only is Tesla selling a lot of vehicles, but that customers really want them, which is a good characteristic for products to have in a market.

It is sad that Farley (yes, he gets something of a pass as he didn’t become Ford CEO until October 2020) has to compare what the Ford Motor Company will do with Tesla.

One would like to think that the company founded by a guy who was certainly more advanced than many of his contemporaries would be the one other companies would be comparing themselves to, not Tesla.

Buying Electric Pickups

People buy a lot of trucks. According to NADA, in 2021 U.S. light truck sales (admittedly not all vehicles with cargo boxes on the back, as SUVs make it into this space) accounted for 77.6% of all light-duty vehicles moved off of dealer lots.

With the transition toward electrification, OEMs have undoubtedly taken this into account. So whether it is a traditional OEM like Ford and the now-in-volume-production F-150 Lightning or a startup like Rivian and its R1T, electric pickups are rolling out and there are more to come.

Cox Automotive has done some interesting research on potential purchasers of electric pickups.

Looking at those who currently own gas-powered trucks, they found that when it comes to what they are likely to buy next, 50% said they’d stick with gas-powered trucks. 37% said electrified (hybrids or full battery electric). And 14% will consider both.

What’s good news for the OEMs is that only 36% of buyers under age 35 would consider just gas-power, so the future looks better because the OEMs are putting a big bet on the future. 53% of those older than 35 say they’ll be sticking with gasoline. The first group will be buying more vehicles than the latter.

One finding puts the why-buy into perspective for pickups.

While some might imagine that the trucks are mainly for vocational use, turns out that only 12% of those who are considering an electrified for truck say they are doing so because they need it for work.

And 45% say they need it for their hobbies/interests.