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.

Not As Big 3 for SUVs

Toyota leads in SUV sales in the U.S.–by a non-trivial amount

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it might seem that when it comes to trucks and SUVs, “trucky” things, that Ford, General Motors and the company formerly known as FCA which was formerly known as Chrysler, would be dominant.

When it comes to pickups, yes. The numbers of F-150s, Silverados and Rams is truly extraordinary. Who knew that so many people were in need of boxes on the back of their vehicles? (Yes, people who actually do work with their trucks, do, but somehow that guy down the street who uses the bed to carry mulch once a year. . . .)

According to analysis firm Inovev, SUVs represented 53.5% of the U.S. market during the first quarter.

Toyota RAV4: best selling SUV in the U.S. (Image: Toyota)

And of them, most carried the Toyota “T.”

Inovev notes that Toyota has outsold both Chevy and Ford by about 50,000 units, with Toyota sales being just shy of 250,000 units and the other two slightly below 200,000 for Q1.

Inovev points out that Toyota also leads the Big Three in the sedan category (Camry, Corolla).

So if there are three big categories–trucks, SUVs and cars–the Big Three is now only dominant in one.

Toyota Supporting MaaS in Dallas

Mobility as a Service from AARP to help seniors—although younger people can ride

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although Boomers don’t like to admit it, many of them are, well, old.

And a high percentage of them probably ought not drive.

And given that there are still ads that play on terrestrial TV in off hours for phones with GIANT NUMBERS, presumably some of those people are not particularly technically sophisticated.

Which is to say that credit should go to Toyota for its support of the AARP Ride@50+ program that is available in the Dallas area, a ride-hailing service that can be accessed on line or by phone (“Talk to a rear person to schedule your ride.”)

Think of it as Lyft or Uber for the AARP set (although, according to the FAQs, you don’t have to be an AARP member to use, and riders don’t have to be AARP aged, although it is meant for them, not for those who are looking for a ride after too many craft cocktails).

One of the purposes is to help get people to COVID-19 vaccination sites. Those people who book a ride to get a jab will get it for free, with Toyota picking up the tab.

Although it is easy to be smug about this (“Seriously, they can’t use Uber?”), as Sean Suggs, group vice president, Toyota Social Innovation, put it, “This program makes it easier to access critical services and help people get to where they want to go, and that is what mobility is all about.”

Toyota, Subaru and “Ever-better Cars”

A new 86/BRZ is being launched. But this is about a different approach

By Gary S. Vasilash

Toyota and Subaru developed a car that is tailored for each brand’s character, the 86 for Toyota and the BRZ for Subaru. The collaborative vehicle, which was launched in 2012, is built by neither, but by Magna in a plant in Austria.

The companies have introduced the new version of the vehicle, the GR 86 for Toyota and still BRZ for Subaru.

Toyota GR 86 (Image: Toyota)

What is interesting to note about this is that the companies have developed the rear-drive vehicle with a bigger engine—no surprise there—but they’ve gone from a 2.0-liter to a 2.4-liter that produces 232 hp.

Yes, bigger, but not in the least bit like the mill that would be likely installed in an American performance vehicle.

(Performance? According to Toyota, 0 to 100 km/h (this is a global intro, so km) in 6.3 seconds. This is an improvement from the previous car, which was 7.4 seconds.)

This is a lithe vehicle: it weighs just 2,800 lb.

If it is like the previous generation—and it probably is—then when you’re behind the wheel you feel like you’re wearing it, not just driving it.

This is a sentence from the press release that is worth pondering: “Going forward, Toyota and Subaru intend to further ally their respective strengths, deepen their relationship, and so pursue the possibilities of making ever-better cars.”

It isn’t often you hear car companies about creating “ever-better cars.”

Strange that they don’t.

Laudable that Toyota and Subaru do.

Q1 Sales Surprises

Yes, customers are back. But some of what they’re buying is surprising.

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it was April Fool’s Day when the first quarter 2021 numbers for U.S. sales were announced by OEMs, the smiles were real in offices across the land as the SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) rose to approximately 16.5-million units, or about a 12% sales increase compared to Q1 2020, which, of course, contained the first month of the pandemic in America.

2021 Toyota Prius Prime. There was a 70.6% sales increase for the model in Q1 2021. Who saw that coming? (Image: Toyota)

This wasn’t supposed to happen

Plenty of people who seem to have a particular affection for liking the use of fossil fuel and has therefore been gloating over the fact that Toyota Prius sales have been dropping must have gotten a surprise. Despite that fact gasoline prices have been low for the past several months and still under $3.00 per gallon ($2.85 in the U.S. as of now, according to the Energy Information Agency), Prius sales rose 22.4% in Q1, to 14,050 units. (For a not apples-to-apples comparison: Chevy sold 7,089 Camaros during Q1.)

What is more striking is that all Toyota hybrids had a combined 152% increase, to 125,318 units. (“Thank you, RAV4,” they must be saying down in Plano.)

***

The Big Three?

Remember when that was General Motors, Ford and Chrysler?

GM is still big. Overall sales of 642,250 vehicles.

The other Two, however:

Ford, including Lincoln, had sales of 521,334.

FCA, including Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, had sales of 469,651.

Toyota, including Lexus, 603,066. That’s a lot more than either Ford or FCA.

***

This wasn’t supposed to happen, 2

Everyone knows that (1) sedans are nearly dead in the market and (2) economical vehicles are so 2010.

Nissan, including Infiniti, had a good first quarter, with overall sales of 285,553 vehicles, which is a 10.8% increase over Q1 2020.

But there are two absolute standout vehicles in the Nissan lineup:

  • Versa: 22,394 vehicles, or an 83.9% increase
  • Sentra: 37,238 vehicles, or a 55.9% increase

Admittedly, crossovers like the Kicks (24,421 units) and the Rogue (86,720) were big contributors, the fact that the Versa and the Sentra did so well ought to make some analysts reconsider that whole “Cars are on life support” position.

***

This puts March 21 vs. March 20 in perspective

In March 2020 Hyundai delivered 35,118 vehicles.

In March 2021 Hyundai delivered 75,403 vehicles.

That is a 115% increase.

Still: Wear a mask.

Mike O’Brien and the Importance of Being There

Observations about how vehicle are developed and more. . .

Genchi gembutsu is one of the principles of the Toyota Production System. It essentially means, “go and see for yourself.” Don’t depend on a report about something. Get to the source of the matter and discover what’s going on for yourself.

Mike O’Brien, who spent some 14 years at Toyota North America, with his final position there as corporate manager, Product Planning, before moving on to Hyundai Motor America, where he spent over a decade, with his last position there being vice president, Corporate Planning, Product Planning and Digital Business, uses the term genchi gembutsu in the context of how vehicles should be developed.

Mike O’Brien believes there will be a shift in the market to more cars that people want just because rather than need, a shift driven in part by how the pandemic has changed working patterns that are likely to be the norm for some time to come. (Image: Hyundai)

That is, those who are involved in the development program need to go out to where the potential customers live and work and play so as to get an up-close look at what their behaviors are vis-à-vis the vehicle that they are working on. By doing that they can obtain a grounded sense of what is missing or what could positively add to the overall experience.

But genchi gembutsu is also a good term in relation to O’Brien, as he has been there, at the places where it happens, so on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” you can get truly informed insights on the current state of the auto industry.

While you often hear people talking about creating “white space” vehicles, O’Brien says that that is the exception, not the rule, because appropriate addressing customer pain points may be solved by doing a simple thing: He notes, for example, that an issue that some older people have is loading things into the trunk of their cars, so perhaps that can be addressed by modifying the lift-over height.

He says that companies talk about benchmarking, but he suggests that it is a method that will help with the creation of something that is about five years behind the curve by the time it is launched.

One of the points that O’Brien makes in his conversation with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Jason Fogelson, freelance journalist, and me, is that coming out of the pandemic there is likely to be a decided market shift from “need” to “want.”

That is, he explains, take a typical two-car household. One of the spouses may now be working from home. Which means that the second vehicle may not be as necessary as it once was. Consequently, there may be a decision that the one vehicle that is in the household is something that does what needs to be done, but is something “special.” It could be a Bronco, Wrangler or something that doesn’t necessarily have off-road capabilities but aspects that the customers really don’t need, but want.

O’Brien discusses a number of other topics, ranging from traditional OEMs and EVs and why he thinks that hydrogen is a great solution for vehicle applications.

And you can see it all right here. —gsv

Why the Big 6 (But One) Abandoned Small Cars: It’s Not Just the Margins

Americans are big. Really big. Which might explain the absence of small cars (or almost any cars) being offered by the major OEMs

The accepted wisdom seems to have it that one of the primary reasons why vehicle manufacturers are getting out of cars and pouring more resources into crossovers is because they can make better margins on the latter. Which may be true, but is likely only part of the story.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American adults are, well, large. The average male over 20 is 5-foot 9-inches, weighs 199.8 pounds and has a 40.5-inch waist. The average female is 5-foot 3.5-inches, tips the scales at 170.8 pounds, and has a 38.7-inch waist. According to the CDC, 73.6% of adult Americans are overweight.

Seems like a fairly compelling rationale for large vehicles.

So what’s someone who wants to buy a small car to do? Well, the answer to that is “Look for something that is not all that small.”

That is, of the U.S. Big 6 automakers—GM, Ford, Stellantis NA, Nissan, Toyota and Honda—only GM has a car that can be considered “small.”

Chevrolet still offers the Spark. This car has a 93.9-inch wheelbase, is 143.1-inches long, 62.8 inches wide, and 58.4 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 83 cubic feet, and a cargo volume behind the rear seat of 11.1 cubic feet.

2021 Chevy Spark. Small. But big. (Image: Chevrolet)

The next smallest is the Fiat 500X, although the company positions it as being a crossover rather than a car, but for the sake of argument, let’s include it since it has a design that is very much like the now-departed (and tiny) 500. The 500X is gargantuan compared to the Spark, with a 101.2-inch wheelbase and length, width and height dimensions of 167.2, 73.2 and 63.7 inches, respectively. It has a passenger volume of 91.7 cubic feet and cargo area behind the rear seat of 14.1 cubic feet.

Then there’s the Nissan Versa. It has a wheelbase of 103.1 inches—9.2 inches more than the Spark—and an overall length of 177 inches, or almost three feet longer than a Spark. Its other dimensions are 68.5 inches width, 57.3 inches height, a passenger volume of 88.9 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 14.7 cubic feet.

Whereas people might associate “Honda” with “small cars,” with the Fits remaining on dealer lots the only ones left, the smallest car in the lineup is the Civic Hatch. Which isn’t all that small. It has a 106.3-inch wheelbase, is 177.9 inches long, 70.8 inches wide and 56.5 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 97.2 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 25.7 cubic feet.

The smallest Toyota car is now the Prius, which has a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and an overall length of 180 inches—or more than three feet longer than a Spark. It is 69.3 inches wide, 57.9 inches high, and offers 93.1 cubic feet of passenger volume and 27.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

Finally, there’s Ford, the company that was the first mass producer of passenger cars, the company that is now shifting its offerings away from, well, passenger cars. It currently has two cars on offer, and production has stopped for the Fusion, so that leaves the Mustang. Which is a completely bizarre thing to have in the context of a Spark. But here it is. The Mustang has a 107.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 188.5 inches. It is 81.9 inches wide, 54.3 inches high, and has a passenger and cargo volume of 82.8 and 13.5 cubic feet, respectively.

But consider this: the Spark actually offers more passenger volume than the Mustang. Not much more (0.2 cubic feet, or about the size of a football). But more.

So it might be a reasonable choice for a big American looking for a small car.–gsv