Toyota will unveil five new vehicles at the Tokyo motor show – which opens next week – four of them environmentally conscious vehicles, and the fifth the prototype version of the automaker’s long-awaited FT-86/Scion FR-S rear-wheel-drive coupe, done in collaboration with Subaru.
The most newsworthy of the group seems to be the FCV-R, a fuel-cell sedan powered by hydrogen, which Toyota says is planned for launch in 2015. The fuel-cell stack, consisting of a high-pressure hydrogen tank, runs underneath the specially designed body, and has been rated to a cruising distance of 700 kilometres, says Toyota.
The firm will also show the all-electric FT-EV III, an electrified version of the Scion iQ city car. Toyota confirmed that it is looking to launch an EV “suitable for short-distance travel” in 2012, although no one’s saying whether that is a reference to the RAV4 EV that will be sold in limited quantities next year in the U.S., or to an EV version of the 3+1 iQ, which will travel an estimated 105 kilometres per full charge.
The Toyota Aqua will arrive in North America next year as the Prius C, a smaller and cheaper compact hybrid hatchback than the Prius, which the firm hopes will become its new global hybrid sales powerhouse. It offers a lower and swoopier body than the Prius, and its 1.5-litre engine helps it average a notably lower 2.8 litres/100 km, according to Toyota, in Japanese fuel efficiency measurements.
Also on display will be the Fun-Vii concept vehicle that promises to link “people, cars, and society” in new ways, as well as a final production version (hopefully) of the FT-86/FR-S.
The only plug-in Toyota vehicle confirmed to be coming to Canada next year is the plug-in Prius, scheduled to arrive mid-year.
GM, Magna working on electric Equinox
GM Canada and global parts powerhouse Magna announced last week that they have created a test fleet of nine Chevrolet Equinox EVs, days before GM announced it was reviving its old Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., to boost production of the hot-selling SUV.
The Equinox EV project has developed nine all-electric Equinox demonstration vehicles with the help of a grant from the Ontario government. The aim is to study how a larger family hauler like the five-seat Equinox would work as a pure EV. Magna’s E-Car division developed the upcoming Focus EV for Ford.
“Collaboration between auto makers, suppliers, utility companies and the government is essential in order to develop solutions for future mobility,” said Ted Robertson, vice-chairman of Magna E-Car Systems. The $48.4-million Ontario grant to Magna was announced in late August by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, as part of a larger $1.15-billion Next Generation of Jobs fund, which offers grants that go along with local investments to help spur battery, EV and hybrid vehicle development in the province.
Robertson’s statement suggests that a larger collaboration with other partners could be in the works, perhaps including Ontario Power Generation.
Could this result in the production of another all-electric SUV in the province, after the RAV4 EV that’s set to start rolling off Toyota Canada assembly lines in 2012? The Magna project certainly seems to be heading in that direction. The production Equinox is currently built at two Ontario plants, in Ingersoll mainly, with some overflow production in Oshawa.
The revived plant in Tennessee will be the third plant cranking out Equinoxes, starting in mid-2012. The Canadian Auto Workers union has already voiced concerns that most of the new jobs in Spring Hill will be filled by new hires making roughly $15 an hour, compared to about $30 an hour for current CAW members; unlike the United Auto Workers union in the United States, CAW has not negotiated two-tier wages.
Further complicating matters is that the timing for the plant opening will be smack dab in the middle of contract negotiations between GM Canada and the CAW over the next contract, throwing a potential lit fuse under the talks, especially if Equinox sales and the resultant overtime work at the Ingersoll plant slackens significantly.
Fuel rules to add $2,800 to vehicle prices
The proposed U.S. fuel economy regulations for 2017-2025 will add up to $2,800 (U.S.) to the cost of a vehicle, the U.S. administration admitted recently, but it argued that the fuel savings over the life of the vehicle will more than put that cost back into consumers’ pockets.
By the end of 2025, auto makers will be obliged to reach a Corporate Average Fuel Economy number of 54.5 miles per U.S. gallon (4.3 litres/100 km). This is about what the Toyota Prius officially averages today, and it was rated as the most fuel-efficient vehicle in Canada for 2011 by Natural Resources Canada.
The $2,800 figure was the upper end of the Obama administration’s estimates, which foresees the price of the average car increasing by closer to $2,023 and light trucks by $1,578, by 2025. And with Canadian emissions and fuel economy rules generally aligned with those in the U.S., we can look forward to similarly higher prices in Canada.
But when Barack Obama and 13 major auto makers originally endorsed the proposal as part of a historic agreement with California and the UAW earlier this year, the administration said they’d lead to an average fuel savings of $8,000 per vehicle by 2025.
The standards are set to cost auto makers $157-billion, but save American consumers $1.7-trillion, by making vehicles considerably lighter, more electrified and likely smaller than the current North American fleet. After an upcoming six-month public consultation period, the CAFE numbers are expected to be finalized by July, 2012.
It was only last year when updated CAFE rules were finalized for 2012 to 2016, so auto makers were happy about having more lead time to deal with this crop of changes.
BMW confirms i3 optional engine
The upcoming BMW i3 city electric car will offer an optional gasoline range extender engine, though even BMW doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about the option.
“It increases weight and complexity,” said Jeremy Chiu, BMW Canada product planning manager, before the Volt-like option was revealed at a preview event in New York City. “We don’t really think that range anxiety should be as much of an issue as it is,” said Rich Steinberg, BMW’s head of EV operations and strategy.
It will be a small gas tank, one that’s expected to about double the four-seat hatchback’s 160 km or so electric range. The i3 will be on sale in 2013, and Chiu says plans are in the works to address alternatives for the couple times a year Canadian owners may wish to drive longer distances than the range will take them, without elaborating further.