Toyota, GM, Ford; EVs, AVs and ADAS

By Gary S. Vasilash

Last week Norihiko Shirouzu of Reuters reported “Toyota is considering a reboot of its electric-car strategy to better compete in a booming market it has been slow to enter.”

Toyota’s Prius is synonymous with “hybrid.” The company has pretty much hybridized everything. It argues—or maybe that would be “argued”—that it is better to build a whole bunch of affordable hybrids than a comparatively few electric vehicles that are comparatively more expensive: according to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of an electric vehicle in the U.S. in September was $65,291. The average transaction price for vehicles overall, KBB calculated, was $48,094. Which is roughly a 27% delta, which is certainly non-trivial.

Yes, this is a Prius. (Image: Toyota)

Be that as it may, Shirouzu’s sources indicated that “Toyota’s planning had assumed demand for EVs would not take off for several decades.” Which is decidedly not the case.

So is Toyota making a pivot? That is one of the subjects discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” Joining “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me are automotive consultant/analyst Jack Keebler and long-time auto journalist, currently freelancing at Autoweek, Todd Lassa.

Other topics discussed are the Q3 earnings of both General Motors and Ford, as well as those companies positions on autonomous driving: GM continues to be bullish on the prospects for Cruise, still anticipating revenue of $1-billion from the operation by 2025; Ford is far more conservative, as it announced that Argo AI, the AV company that was owned primarily by it and Volkswagen (each had 39%), was closing. Ford going forward would focus more on Level 2+ and Level 3 ADAS. (Ford CEO Jim Farley: “It’s mission-critical for Ford to develop great and differentiated L2+ and L3 applications that at the same time make transportation even safer.”)

The conversation is wide ranging and lively. And you can see it here.

How Innovative Is Auto?

In the Boston Consulting Group list of the top 50 most innovative companies in the world there are few surprises.

The top three are Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. Alphabet comes in at 4.

Not much of a surprise there. You could mix up the names and it would probably be about right.

The first automotive company, at number 5, is Tesla.

Again, not much of a surprise there, either.

But there isn’t another automotive company on the list until position 21. Toyota.

Bosch is down a few spots at 26, although one might argue that its innovation profile undoubtedly has something to do with its Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology, too—not just Mobility Solutions.

Next is Hyundai, at position 33. It wasn’t that many years ago when Hyundai was considered to be not much more than a car company for people who wished they could buy a better car but couldn’t; now it is a highly innovative provider of some of the most remarkable vehicles on the road.

General Motors makes the list at 42, and crosstown rival Ford is just behind it at 43.

Mitsubishi is at 48, but odds are it is not for its motor vehicles (the company has a multiplicity of companies under its umbrella).

So if we subtract Mitsubishi but keep Bosch, there are 6 automotive companies on the list. Or 12%.

Still, it seems that there could be, should be, more.

To be sure, it is a whole lot more difficult to make significant developments in vehicles than in consumer electronics.

But one might imagine that with all of the ways that auto OEM execs are describing their companies the positioning on the list would have more than one company in the top 10 and more than two in the top 25.

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.

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.