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?

Toyota’s Big Spend in West Virginia

Last November Toyota announced a $240-million investment in its plant in Buffalo, West Virginia, its only combined engine and transmission plant in North America. The monies will be invested in a production line for hybrid transaxles.

And today the company announced that it was adding an additional $73-million to its spend for not only more hybrid transaxle production but to assembly rear motor stators.

All of which is to say that Toyota is amping up its spend on hybrid vehicle production capacity.

In addition, it is spending $17 million at its Toyota Motor Manufacturing Tennessee plant for casting hybrid transaxle cases and housings.

Last December Toyota announced that it would be launching 30 battery electric vehicles globally by 2030, which would represent sales of 3.5-million EVs per year.

Then it would, by 2035, have 100% of its global vehicle sales be EVs by 2035.

However, between now and then there will evidently be more hybrids available at Toyota and Lexus dealers in the U.S.

Toyota’s Top SUV Gets High Marks for a Trim

By Gary S. Vasilash

Vehicle naming protocols can be a tricky thing.

There is a tendency for OEMs to opt for metals when naming vehicles at the top end of their lineups. Platinum is exceedingly popular. The metal is 78 on the Periodic Table. Gold does it one better, however, at 79.

But somehow gold doesn’t seem quite as exclusive as platinum does. In fact it seems rather common (perhaps it has something to do with those late-night commercials from outfits offering to buy your jewelry).

But if platinum keeps being rolled out as a moniker, then it will become far too common. Soon it will become like, well, gold.

That said, the new Mercedes C-Class has a group of interesting trims:

  • Premium
  • Exclusive
  • Pinnacle

The “Exclusive” name is the most amusing in that if something is truly exclusive do you have to tell someone? And if you have to tell someone, is it exclusive or obscure? (And unless you want to sell a whole lot of something, isn’t obscure, in some ways, better, more, well, exclusive without claiming to be?)

“Premium” sounds like an adjective used at outlet malls.

“Pinnacle” is good. Still, it seems a bit out of place for a sedan. Sounds like an SUV (e.g., Jeep Summit.)

But Toyota has just done Mercedes one better.

The 2023 Sequoia, a full-size, three-row SUV that is about the size of a small but stylish building (it can town 9,000 pounds, so think, perhaps, tiny house), comes in five grades, with the pedestrian Limited and Platinum (see?) and the Toyota-specific SR5 and TRD Pro.

But the ultimate, and really an outstanding choice for a vehicle of the Sequoia’s magnitude (remember, that comes from the name of that massive redwood), is:

Capstone

When you consider that the Sequoia is at the top of the Toyota lineup, the top trim for the model truly has to be called out as a crowning achievement.

2023 Toyota Sequoia Capstone (Image: Toyota)

(Were one to be snarky, it might be pointed out that “stone” isn’t exactly the sort of thing that one would like to ascribe to a vehicle that is meant to move, as that term can bring to mind mass, and while Toyota hasn’t released the specs for the 2023 model yet, the lightest 4WD 2022 Sequoia weighs 5,985 pounds, and the Platinum trim (go figure) comes in at an even three tons. But (a) we aren’t going to be snarky and (b) we really like the Capstone name.)

Developing the ’22 Toyota Tundra

The inside story from the vehicle’s chief engineer

By Gary S. Vasilash

Let’s face it: Trucks have a pull on people in a way that is almost unimaginable. Who—outside of someone who either has a vocational reason (contractor, landscaper, etc.) or who has an avocation that makes a truck a necessity (putting a snowmobile in the box; having the torque and capability for pulling a trailer)—really needs a truck?

If you take a look at the numbers of trucks sold the answer to that question seems to be “Damn near everyone.”

Toyota, while not the leader in the truck sales segment by any means, has long been building things that have remarkable capabilities, like the Land Cruiser that has been going to places in the world that are simply extreme.

Hybrids are generally associated with fuel efficiency. An objective of the hybrid in the Tundra is not to pay tribute to the Prius, but to provide the kind of torque that truck drivers like. (Image: Toyota)

It does build the midsize Tacoma which is a leader in that segment despite the best efforts of GM and Ford. Yet GM and Ford best Toyota in the full-size truck segment (with the Silverado, Sierra and the F-150).

But Toyota continues on with the Tundra. And has just launched an all-new truck which, coincidentally enough, now shares its underpinnings with the Land Cruiser.

One could argue that neither Ford nor GM has anything that is in the Land Cruiser category, so that is something serious to be said about the 2022 Tundra.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Mike Sweers, executive chief engineer in charge, among other things, of the Tundra, talks about how this new truck was developed with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe DeMatio of Hagerty, and me.

Sweers is not only an engineer, but he happens to live on a small farm. Consequently, for him a truck isn’t just something he works on from the development point of view, but something that he uses in his off-hours. (Does someone who develops pickups and then uses a pickup at home ever really have off-hours?)

From how the suspension is setup so that it doesn’t “ride like a truck” to why they decided to use a composite box (e.g., it doesn’t break or corrode like aluminum and steel do) are among the topics that Sweers discusses.

And what is interesting to know is how a guy who really, really wanted a diesel (and Toyota has a new 3.3-liter diesel) discovered that a hybrid powertrain setup met his requirements for torque.

You can see it all here.

Toyota Advancing Safety Research

Something that ought to be top of mind, tends not to be. But it still is for Toyota

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the areas in automotive development that doesn’t get the attention it deserves—probably as it is not particularly sexy—is safety.

But find yourself in the process of an accident and you hope that the OEM that built the vehicle you’re traveling in is on the leading edge of safety research.

Toyota, which established the Collaborative Safety Research Center 10 years ago with the objective of performing open research with universities and hospitals (the former have lots of smart people and the latter have lots of smart people who are on the receiving end of things gone wrong) is sticking with it, as it has announced a five-year, $30-million commitment to the CSRC.

The CSRC has three research tracks that it is pursuing:

  • Human-centric, or helping people understand what advanced mobility can do. Also, customer health and wellness are part of it.
  • Safety assurance, or looking into the intersection of human drivers and automated driving systems.  Let’s face it: there is going to be a mixed of the manual and the automated for some time to come.
  • Assessment, or helping individuals and industry participants understand appropriate decision making predicated on quantitative mobility safety measures.

Explained Dr. Danil Prokhorov, director of Toyota’s Future Research Department and CSRC:

“Humans are at the center of Toyota’s technology development strategy, so we are designing our new safety research in pursuit of ‘Safety for All.’ As part of this, our projects will explore the diversity of safety needs and analyze safe mobility options that accommodate different applications, physical characteristics and levels of accessibility for people and society.”

Safety may not be sexy. But neither is a visit to an ER.

Toyota: Continuously Improving Georgetown

The legendary assembly plant (and there is a powertrain plant there, too) is getting a serious refresh

By Gary S. Vasilash

Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant—the company’s original manufacturing operation in the U.S.—is undergoing a transformation. One that is based on a $461-million investment.

Susan Elkington, president of the facility known as TMMK: “As Toyota’s most experienced assembly plant in the U.S.”—it has been in operation for 35 years—“with a workforce of about 9,000, TMMK must transform physically and strategically to meet the changing needs of customers.”

Toyota Georgetown plant (Image: Toyota)

They are going to improve the plant layout to improve operational capability and to allow it to produce new products (it builds the Camry, Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid, Lexus ES and Lexus ES Hybrid right now; the Lexus models will be moving to Japan).

In 2023 they will start producing fuel cell modules in Georgetown.

They will be adding a 2.4-liter turbo line in the plant.

And while it has some 1,400 variable team members—meaning they work for Kelly Services, not Toyota directly—they will be offered jobs by Toyota, too.

The Georgetown plant, for years, was a place that other OEMs wanted to tour in order to see how Toyota does it.

Presumably how they do it will be even better.

Why Hydrogen Is Better

Who wants to spend time cooling their heels at a charging station?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although there is something to be said for electric vehicles (as in the previous post below), one thing that is a bit of a nuisance with EVs is not the driving but the charging.

Not even the fastest fast-charger is going to stuff electrons into a battery as quickly as gasoline goes through the nozzle at your local gas station.

What’s more, there is a bit of a problem with the whole notion of fast charging in that the faster you stuff those electrons in, the more the battery is affected, and not in a good way.

One of the alternatives to a battery electric vehicle is a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle.

Yes, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle, too, with the battery being replaced by a fuel cell stack and a cylinder (or two or more) of compressed hydrogen. The hydrogen goes into the stack, is turned into electricity, and that powers the motors that drive the wheels.

And refueling a hydrogen vehicle is quite analogous to pumping gasoline.

As for time:

A 2021 Toyota Mirai went to a hydrogen pump at the Toyota Technical Center in Gardena, California, on August 23, 2021.

The tank was filled. It took five minutes. The tank was sealed with a sticker by the observer from the Guinness World Records.

Toyota evp Bob Carter, a Guinness certificate and the Mirai that earned it. (Image: Toyota)

Over two days of driving the two drivers drove around SoCal under a variety of conditions (yes, including the legendary traffic jams). When they returned to the start point, they had traveled 845 miles on that single tank of hydrogen.

A tank that was filled in 5 minutes.

Admittedly, the drivers are hypermilers (Wayne Gerdes and Bob Winger). Their driving techniques are not those that most of us—not even the most diligent of us—are likely to use with any consistency.

But it underscores the fact that hydrogen can get you much further with less time spent at a station than electricity can. Even for those with a lead foot.

2022 Toyota Tundra, Briefly

There hasn’t been an all-new Tundra since 2007. So given that they’ve been working on it for a while. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

The specs speak for themselves. Especially for the 2022 Toyota Tundra with the i-FORCE MAX powertrain, which takes the standard 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 (389 hp; 479 lb-ft of torque) and hybridizes it so that it produces 437 hp and 583 lb-ft of torque.

Yes, another full-size pickup truck with a hybrid.

But what is different about this approach being taken by Toyota is, explains Mike Sweers, senior vice president, Product Development Office and F1 Platform (i.e., what the new Tundra is based on) engineer, is that rather than trying to boost the fuel efficiency of the truck, the objective is to provide what he says most serious truck users are looking for, which is more power. (There is a 10-speed automatic for both engines.)

While the Tundra can certainly tow–as in up to 12,000 pounds–the vehicle is meant more for those who do recreational towing than commercial–which is more about the nature of the Toyota brand than anything having to do with the capability of the truck, because it is engineered to be fully capable–and then some. (Image: Toyota)

Framed

The thing about the ’22 Tundra is that there is a focus on overall robustness. They went from C-channel frame cross members to boxed, for example. While that improved stiffness, there was consideration taken for those who ride on a regular basis—loaded or unloaded—so there is a multilink rear suspension with the shocks mounted outside the frame rails to help improve the handling and ride comfort. (Even more comfort is provided by the available air suspension system that provides both manual and automatic leveling.)

The new Tundra can tow up to 12,000 pounds—which is an increase of 17.6% compared with the previous generation—and the load in the bed, which is based on sheet molding compound, which has been used on the Toyota Tacoma with excellent results, is 1,940 pounds, or an 11% increase.

Tugged

While on the subject of towing, it is worth knowing that there are two Tow/Haul modes. Activate the standard mode and the throttle response in increased. Activate the Tow/Haul+ mode and that response is amped up even more—and speaking of amps, the trucks with the hybrid powertrains have the electric motor constantly in operation during Tow/Haul+ and the engine Stop-Start function is deactivated.

And there is another towing-related aspect to the ’22 Tundra: Its design.

According to Adam Rabinowitz, chief designer at Calty who led the exterior design team for the truck, “We wanted to make it look like a premium towing machine.”

Toughened

Rabinowitz explained that the truck design is meant to deliver on it being more recreational than commercial—as in people with boats and trailers rather than people with tool trailers or earth movers.

And while they worked to show that it is tough enough to take it (e.g., there is a beam shape on the body side that is meant to convey the image of the truck’s frame), they also worked to assure that it looked sufficiently high-tech, such as through the use of the slim, high-mounted headlights.

Locked In

Benjamin Jimenez, studio chief designer at Calty, who led the interior design, echoed that “this is more of a recreational truck, so our approach was different than that of our competitors,” said that unlike the competitors, who generally use a vertical layout to the elements of the interior, they opted to go horizontal with all elements of the interior interlocking (e.g., doors with IP and trim) to provide a strong look: “We didn’t want this to feel weak in any way,” Jimenez sad.

Another way of indicating that the ’22 Tundra is more for adventure than work: upon startup, there is an image of one of five national parks indicated on the gauge cluster.

A Green Car in “Nightshade”

When a car known for environmentally friendliness wants to have a bad-ass look, too

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the things that the people at Dodge are absolute masters of is taking their existing vehicles and then rolling out “special editions” of them. Chargers and Challengers keep gaining variants while fundamentally staying what they’ve long been.

But that isn’t the only brand in the game.

2022 Toyota Prius Nightshade edition. (Image: Toyota)

Toyota is offering “Nightshade” special editions. And the latest to get the treatment is the 2022 Prius.

Although one might imagine that a “Nightshade” vehicle would be black, and while there is Midnight Black Metallic paint available, there are two other colors: Super White and Silver Metallic. So two out of three aren’t black.

But there are black headlight accents, mirror caps, door handles, and the shark-fin antenna is also black.

For the FWD model there are black 17-inch alloys, 15-inch alloys for the AWD model. There are black lug nuts.

This is the fourth generation Prius since the hybrid was launched back in 1997.

While it has the reputation of being the synonym of “green,” evidently Toyota hopes that other colors resonate in the market.

Toyota Corolla Cross Introduced

Yes, another CUV in the lineup for Toyota

By Gary S. Vasilash

Who doesn’t like a crossover? Almost no one it seems.

Toyota has taken its Corolla and turned it into a crossover. It isn’t even trying to disguise that fact in any way. It is calling the vehicle the “Corolla Cross.”

Front wheel drive. All wheel drive (up to 50% of the power can go to the rear wheels when needed; otherwise there is a disconnection to save fuel).  A 169-hp engine and a continuously variable transmission (the “Direct Shift CVT” from the Corolla S—the sportier version of the sedan).

Toyota brings another crossover, the Corolla Cross, based on the TNGA-C architecture (Image: Toyota)

As gas is getting more expensive, know that the combined MPG for the AWD is estimated to be 30 and 32 for the FWD.

Yes, it can tow. Up to 1,500 pounds.

More importantly, perhaps, is that it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While it has yet to be revealed what the cargo capacity is with the second row folded, behind the second row the FWD can handle 25.5 cubic feet and the AWD 24.3 cubic feet. Good for gear.

The Corolla has been on offer for some 50 years. Its sales numbers, year after year, as a sedan (and hatch), has been impressive.

Seems like it will be racking up some additional numbers, given the popularity of the vehicle in and of itself and the crossover architecture.