Toyota’s Jim Lentz Gives LA Auto Show Keynote Speech

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Today marks the beginning of one of the biggest automotive events of the year – the 2012 LA Auto Show. Undoubtedly, Japanese car enthusiasts around the world are keeping their ears to the ground to catch first wind of the most impressive unveilings, as well as the biggest flops.

While there are certainly plenty of debuts – Japanese or otherwise – to get you salivating, what I wanted to talk about today is the keynote speech presented by president and CEO of Toyota’s USA division, Jim Lentz. While it might not be quite as exciting as posting excessive amounts of automotive eye-candy, hearing what one of the most influential people in the industry has to say about its future seems worth the diversion.

So, according to Jim Lentz, what is the future of the automotive industry? Unsurprisingly, his answer is fuel efficiency.

The Future of Fuel Efficiency

A fuel-efficient vehicle is defined by its ability to achieve a fuel economy rating in excess of 30 miles per gallon. According to Lentz, the number of fuel-efficient vehicles being sold in the US has more than tripled since 2008. And with gas prices determined to stay above $3 per gallon throughout most of the US, it’s no stretch at all to imagine that this trend will continue. And if that is true in the US where fuel is relatively cheap, just think how much more it’s going to be true in the rest of the world.

Again unsurprisingly, Lentz made it clear that Toyota in particular will capitalize on this trend towards fuel efficiency, citing that by 2015 the Japanese manufacturer intends to have 21 new or redesigned hybrid cars available around the world. Lentz informed us that a relatively large 14% of Toyota’s sales come from the hybrid market, which more than quadruples the industry average. On the other hand, that number seems rather low when we consider the runaway success of the Prius and it’s spinoff cars.

Mr. Lentz made it clear that future hybrids will become cleaner, more reliable, more efficient and generally more advanced, but Toyota’s focus will remain on hybrids as opposed to pure electric vehicles. Lentz says that they’re still struggling to make EV’s appealing due to the complexity of the technology. Currently, the limitations on cost and range are insurmountable, although, they have dedicated an in-house team to researching and developing a way to introduce wireless charging.

Okay, Hybrids Are Still Efficient… Anything Else?

As a matter of fact, yes. Two other noteworthy topics that Jim Lentz touched on in his keynote speech were hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCV’s) and car sharing.

According to Lentz, Toyota remains one of two Japanese car manufacturers on track towards their goal of commercially producing their first FCV by 2015. Details are being kept on the down-low, but it’s good to know that Toyota is still forging ahead where the likes of Ford Motor Company and Renault-Nissan long ago gave up. As of the 2012 World Hydrogen Energy Conference, Honda is the only other Japanese manufacturer with plans for a commercial FCV by 2015 (Daimler AG and Hyundai are in contention as well).

Lastly, Lentz lauded the surge of car-sharing programs that have taken hold in the US over the past 20 years. In case you don’t know, these programs (like ZipCar) are exactly what they sound like – cars are made available to rent by the hour as you need them. They are generally more affordable than normal rental programs, and a great alternative to public transportation for those who rarely require an automobile. Toyota has plans to establish their own car sharing program in Japan, although the specifics are still a little bit fuzzy.

Hopefully this brief summary of Jim Lentz’s speech will suffice for those of you who (like me) are unable to attend the 2012 LA Auto Show. Now, enough babbling about hybrids and hydrogen… Get out there and enjoy some sweet pictures of this year’s newest Japanese cars!

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