Category: ‘Car News’

Japanese Auto Art: Toyota’s Wooden Roadster

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Of the world’s top 10 largest automobile manufacturing names, Japan currently has six on the list, but only one of those companies has built a fully functional wooden car. Yes, you read that correctly. In an age when chopping down innocent woodland has fallen somewhat out of favor, some bright spark has decided it would be a great time to make a car out of dead trees. Not exactly what springs to mind when you think of “green motoring”.

Toyota Setsuna wooden concept car

Anyway, this particular wooden roadster showcases the beauty of okuri ari — a Japanese housed dovetail technique that requires no nails or screws. Toyota is unveiling this stunning car at Milan Design Week in Italy (April 12 – April 17, 2016). Filled with events, presentations, and exhibitions, the prestigious extravaganza is renowned for revealing forthcoming trends in the world of design. Except, perhaps, the likelihood of wood being the next carbon fiber still seems rather low to this writer.

A modest two-seat roadster, the Setsuna is a concept car that Toyota is tagging as a ‘Time Machine,’ though not for its ability to leap backward or forwards across the space-time continuum. In fact, the underlying focus of the entire campaign Toyota is touting centers around moving away from technology and being more cognizant of how significant and fleeting time is in the real world. Toyota engineer Kenji Tsuji, together with Kota Nezu of znug design, wanted the primary structural element of their design to illustrate aging and the passing of time. Wood, while unconventional, was precisely the material needed to embody their message.

Presumably, the point being that wood ages and decays. Of course, the same sense of the passage of time can also be seen on Japanese family cars from the eighties, as they rust and corrode. But that was a design flaw. This, however, is art.

Setsuna: Time and Timeless

The name Setsuna means “moment” or “instance” in Japanese. With this design, Toyota is appealing to the kind of old-school attachment car owners had with their vehicles over half a century ago.

They are seeking the kind of bond fanatical auto enthusiasts, and club members have for their hot rods. The minds inside Toyota want to tap into that feeling of owning an heirloom, and passing it down through multiple generations. The following are a few examples of just how passionate everyone involved in the project is about how and why the Setsuna is destined to be timeless.

The 100-Year Meter and the Setsuna Emblem

Setting a tone that denotes the “accumulation of moments” in a gradual and consistent manner, these two elements are beautiful examples of form over function. Their purpose is served by the sense they strive to evoke — the feeling of family roots.

The vintage-style meter of brushed aluminum is set in the stunning wood grain dashboard just to the right of the wipe-lacquered wood steering wheel. Two red hands tick off the time of day and the passing of days while a counter at the bottom logs the years as they go by. Perfect for anyone stuck in a Tokyo traffic jam, then.

The car’s emblem, which at first glance looks like a rotary saw blade, is actually a combination of much milder metaphors. The circular pattern is modeled after the rings inside a tree, which represent strength; they also signify a moment unfolding like a flower.

Although, if your eyes are not, in fact, deceiving you and it really is supposed to look like a saw blade, well how appropriate for a car made of wood. The fleeting nature of life as embodied in a wooden car meets its inescapable rendezvous with the circular saw of time, perhaps?

Which wood to choose?

To ensure that the Setsuna lasts as long as its lavish meter, the type of wood used was carefully selected based on where it would be in the car.

Exterior panels: Japanese cedar, known for its flexibility and vivid color along with a wood grain of refined character was a natural choice. Straight-grain panels achieve a sharp and even pattern because the cut is made toward the log’s center. Cross-grain panels have a softer appearance with a more irregular pattern which Toyota lauds as fostering a “quaint and friendly impression.”

Car frame: Supporting the weight of the vehicle and its occupants required an extremely rigid and sturdy variety of wood. The perfect selection was Japanese birch, which is similar to paper birch trees with the signature chalky white bark.

Floorboard: A species of flowering plant commonly used in the art of bonsai or as an ornamental tree, the Japanese Zelkova was chosen for its strength and durability.

Seats: Part of the ginseng family, the Castor Aralia is valued for its timber quality. Growing to nearly 100 feet tall with a 40-inch trunk diameter, this particular species was picked for the smooth texture of the wood. Designers sought to offer a feeling akin to sitting on a wooden park bench — in this case, a leather-covered bench.

Of course, as any environmentalist knows, if you want a material that lasts for centuries without decaying, you need look no further than the almost immortal plastic used to make grocery bags.

Put Together Like a Puzzle

The body of the Setsuna is built using 86 wood panels that have been fitted together in a way that enables single panels to be removed and replaced as necessary. Traditional Japanese techniques that use the interlocking methods of housed dovetail joints add to the overall strength and durability of their auto’s wooden body.

With this being a one-off, I assume that crash safety was not uppermost in the designers’ minds. While Japanese wood-framed houses rarely have to endure impacts, it’s not clear what protection the Setsuna would afford its occupants. Having dropped a few jigsaw puzzles on the floor in my time, I suspect it would be very little. And at speeds above walking pace, getting a splinter would be the least of your problems.

Toyota is sure to receive myriad accolades in Milan because their concept car — conceived by clever minds daring to push the boundaries of design — makes a beautiful statement both visually and conceptually. With a single electric motor as its only power source, the prototype can achieve a top speed of 28 mph and travel approximately 16 miles before needing to recharge.

To state the obvious, Toyota has no production plans for the wooden Setsuna. But this is not a bad thing. It’s a hugely flawed design boondoggle that sneers in the face of environmentalism – cutting down trees instead of hugging them.

Why Those Takata Airbags Didn’t Work Right

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Automakers afflicted by the recent Takata airbag recalls have discovered three detailed causes for some of the inflator ruptures, according to initial findings from a study that will be available in the next couple of weeks.

One of the factors is phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate lacking a moisture-absorbing desiccant, as stated by the Independent Testing Coalition (ITC), a group of automakers formed in December of 2014 once they were named in the Japanese supplier’s recalls (BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Honda, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota).

That’s right. Always remember that this is a Japanese supplier, but this problem affects more than Japanese car makers. It’s certainly no reason to avoid buying a Japanese car brand.

According to the ITC, when moisture is present, “long-term exposure to repeated high-temperature cycling” and airbag inflator assemblies that do “not adequately prevent moisture intrusion” were also recognized, the group stated that “all of which contribute to the rupture of Takata airbag inflators.”

The testing, which ran over 20,000 hours and was conducted by Virginia-based defense contractor Orbital ATK, who is known to build rocket engines and ammunition, concentrated on the roughly 23 million inflators recalled in 19 million cars in the United States. Orbital will be running further tests to take in an additional five million recalled Takata inflators within this upcoming month. The will also test inflators manufactured with desiccant and new inflators that were made with the intention to replace parts for the recall. Though, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has acknowledged that this plan may not work in the long run. In an attempt to avoid that issue, Orbital will run an aging test.

In an earlier and separate report, NHTSA vehicle integrity chief Scott Yon stated that “long-term” testing can take five years or more. “The propellant wafers enlarge over time, at which point they become too large and begin to cause ruptures,” Yon wrote.

“This is not short term exposure to high absolute humidity like during a 2-week vacation or even for 5 months each winter,” he wrote. “It is continued exposure to high absolute humidity year round for multiple years in a row.”

As a result of the testing, NHTSA’s November consent order with Takata, in which it was fined $70 million over several years, might need to be amended. That’s how minority staff in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation put it in a new report after reviewing official internal Takata paperwork.

“To protect the public from an unreasonable risk to safety, Committee minority staff believe that NHTSA should immediately exercise its authority under the Consent Order and Coordinated Remedy to accelerate the phase-out schedule for non-desiccated ammonium nitrate-based inflators and to create a phase-out schedule for desiccated ammonium nitrate-based inflators.”

As per the consent order terms, Takata will have until 2018 to stop production of all non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators and then until 2019 to demonstrate that ammonium nitrate is harmless within its most recent products. While Takata did agree to stop any incoming contracts for desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators, there is no existing production cap on the inflators.

Top Secret Rocked the Tokyo Auto Salon 2016

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Just when you thought “Top Secret’” was a term only used by super agents and comic book heroes, let’s look back to the 2016 Tokyo Auto Salon had a booth that had a Top Secret Nissan Skyline GT-R on display in all its glory. This Bayside Blue and brilliant car was resting in the showroom of the International Convention Complex Makuhari Messe where everything comes alive! At first glance, the body of the car is what grabs a car lover’s attention, but when looking deeper into the details, you realize there is more to this beast than meets the eye.

The owner, Kenneth Blanck, has had this work of art since March of 2011 when he purchased it from Global Auto who is a renowned dealer in these custom vehicles. Back then, the GT-R was only a dream to Blanck, who had coveted it he was a drag racing teenager. It was fast on its wheels, and Kenneth saw it as the perfect car to take on as a project. He was determined to make this his baby and as soon as he was financially able to, he invested in this Top Secret Nissan Skyline GT-R. “I loved the R34 shape as it was featured in the Fast and Furious movie series.”

Top Secret R34 Tokyo Auto Salon 2016

Kenneth did this model justice by transforming it into one of the freshest and most refined R34 Skylines ever seen before, while avoiding flashy car bling and drag racing stripes. Besides the aesthetics on this Top Secret GT-R, the most notable component is the impressive uprated turbo engine. Blanck’s R34 Skyline is the very first to run a Borg Warner EFR-9180 turbo engine in Japan. His model also had customized dual wastegate dump pipes added to the side skirt on the passenger side in addition to titanium 80mm exhaust on the same side. Just the sound is enough for a car fanatic!

The car in its entirety is quite the showstopper, as was evident to all who passed by its booth at the Tokyo Auto Salon. But it’s not just a looker. Kenneth also mentioned that he has pushed the car on the Fuji Speedway and has seen 217mph on the race track.

I wonder what will be enticing visitors to the 2017 Tokyo Auto Salon? More power. More bling. More incredible machines.

The End of Scion

Posted by Stephen On Friday, February 5th, 2016

The Scion brand was designed from the ground up to appeal to Millennials. It was a 12-year effort aiming small cars at young buyers.

Many models, such as the Scion xB (Toyota bB in Japan), have been discontinued already anyway. This was their flagship model. It was one of the original models launched back in 2003.
Toyota intends on keeping three of the models and merging them into the Toyota lineup. The change will happen in August of this year as they begin production of 2017 vehicles. The Scion tC is scheduled to be discontinued at that time.

Sales for the Scion brand peaked in 2006 at 173,034 vehicles. They haven’t seen a sales year like that since. In 2015, they sold a mere fraction of that, sitting at 56,167 vehicles sold. The U.S. market is not as acclimated toward smaller cars as they are toward larger SUVs and trucks. But perhaps it is also true to say that the Scion brand has failed to create the same excitement in the younger buying public that the Lexus brand has managed among the older strata of the population.

The trend of discontinuing smaller cars continues. Fiat Chrysler intends on phasing out the Dodge Dart and the Chrysler 200 sedan simply because smaller cars aren’t being sold.

Originally designed for the Japanese market, the Toyota Scion was a separate brand. Although the xB won’t be rebadged under Toyota’s iconic label, the FR-S will. Its lineage goes as far back as the original Celica of the 1970s.

Toyota claims that the Scion brand was more of a test brand to see how they can appeal to Millennials. The entire idea was to entice a new generation of younger buyers as the primary demographic for new buyers of Toyota cars were aging. The majority demographic for Scion was under 35 years old.

Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz said in a statement that “Scion has allowed us to fast-track ideas that would’ve been challenging to test for the Toyota network.” Jim Lentz was one of the original founding vice presidents for Scion of the brand.

Due to the way Toyota is set up and the fact that Scions are being sold through Toyota dealerships, Toyota does not anticipate any stores being affected to close the brand.
Scion makes good cars. It’s a brand that has left many Millennials with good memories.

The thing is that there are other dynamics at play here. Many Millenials came of age in the Great Recession, burdened with college debt, saddled with internships instead of well-paying jobs and finding it difficult to get the kind of credit Generation X has used to fund their car purchases. So did Scion really stand a chance? Or is it just the case that with new car buying becoming increasingly difficult for younger people, a hip trendy brand was doomed to fail anyway?

Toyota, AI, Robots And A New Challenge

Posted by Stephen On Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

You might recall that back in November, Toyota announced that they would assemble a lab near MIT in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States to put some serious research into artificial intelligence.

They have put a lot into the Toyota Research Institute – a five-year, $1 billion investment entirely devoted to the development of autonomous cars and the artificial intelligence that may run them (and, as a side note, the development of personal assistant robots is also on the list.)

Toyota says that they have aspirations to be a leader in the field. Of course they do. They’re Toyota.

But that’s not really news. Toyota’s been doing that for years. What is news is that Toyota has assembled a team of about 12 members who have experience in computer science, artificial intelligence, cars, and robotics and design for the project.

Toyota decided to strategically open the lab close to MIT – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They say it is the center of innovation – they call MIT, “a hotbed of where the kind of work artificial intelligence, particularly applied to transportation is going on,” according to Gill Pratt, director of Toyota Research Institute, Cambridge.

Pratt is a trained roboticist who used to be a program manager for DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the United States military. Perhaps uncoincidentally, MIT has been behind a number of those non-civilian technologies.

We all know that Toyota is not the first car company investing in robots.

You know what they are the first ones to do, though? They’re the first ones to invest heavily in home-assistant robots. Robots in factories are nothing new. Honda has robots in factories.
Toyota is doing this because this is what they anticipate that customers will need over the long term.

Toyota recognizes it that the demographics are quickly moving to a large percentage of the population being elderly. They anticipate that by creating these assistant robots, they can help them live a dignified life.

Whether this is true, or whether this is more to do with the Japanese mindset of stifling immigration (which would be the typical first world solution to solving a home-help worker shortage) has yet to be seen.

While other companies are focusing on the mobility of goods, Toyota is focusing on mobility for people and goods – both indoors and out.

Toyota is doing three things. One, they are letting the whole world know that robots are the future. Two, they are completely redefining their mission by focusing on artificial intelligence. If you look in the history of Toyota, they used to make looms before they made cars. So, it’s not a huge leap for Toyota to start developing AI. Third, they recognize that safety remains a challenge.

And The Winning Japanese Car Maker Of 2015 Is …

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

The results are in. And it’s clear that a lot of things happened in 2015. Toyota kept its crown as the largest automaker in the world. Recalls from the faulty Takata air bags reached an all-time high – especially in the United States. Honda, a Japanese a carmaker that’s not nearly as big as Toyota, reached a record year. Here’s your 2015 auto recap.

Toyota logo

Toyota Reaches the Top Again

Despite the fact that Toyota’s global production declined 2 percent last year, they still managed to sell 10,083,783 cars last year, beating both of Volkswagen and General Motors for the fourth year in a row. Volkswagen came in second place with their global sales number reaching 9.93 million. It wasn’t any surprise that their sales fell 2 percent in 2015 because of the emissions scandal in the first half of the year. General Motors was in third place with 9.8 million vehicles sold.

Toyota’s decline was due to 4.2 percent reduction in production in Japan, ending up with 4,035,434 units within the country borders, and a 0.4 percent production cut outside Japan, which brings their numbers to 6,048,349 foreign units sold.

The Takata Air Bags

Before every automaker cut ties with Takata, they were the largest air bag manufacturer in the world, serving both Japanese, German and U.S. automakers. A lawsuit those filed in Florida initiated a series of massive recalls. In the United States, 51.26 million cars were recalled due to the defective airbags.

The automakers, altogether announced almost 900 recalls, recalling over 50.99 million vehicles. Due to the strict safety regulations in the United States, this country had it the worst. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration raised the recall of vehicles installed with the defective Takata airbags by an additional 5 million units. Initially, it was 28 million units in 24 million cars.

Japanese cars were not the only ones affected by Takata. A new fatality, this time involving a Ford vehicle, raised this number by another 1 million recalls. Additional testing increased it by another 4 million. The thing is that since “Takata” sounds Japanese and is a Japanese company, the stain of its misdeeds has tended to disproportionately affect Japanese car makers.

Affected automakers included BMW, Honda, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Daimler Trucks North America and Daimler Vans USA LLC.

Honda Had a Record Year

Let’s not forget the great year Honda has had.

Honda’s auto production in Japan was down by 23.8 percent, selling a total of 730,493 units. However, they did raise production by a record 3,813,345 units elsewhere, outside of Japan. This equates to a 7.2 percent increase beyond Japan’s borders. Globally, the Japanese automaker produced 4,543,838 vehicles, giving them a record sales year for 2015. Comparing the numbers, Honda grew by 0.7 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Toyota’s $3.1 Billion Daihatsu Takeover

Posted by Stephen On Monday, February 1st, 2016

Toyota Motor Corp. recently claimed that they are seriously considering purchasing the remainder of Daihatsu for $3.1 billion. At the moment, they own 52 percent of Daihatsu.
There are also claims that Toyota is in partnership talks with Suzuki – one of Daihatsu’s arrivals. Interesting to note, Toyota denies this.

Old Daihatsu Logo

If Toyota were able to completely take over Daihatsu, it would reduce procurement costs for the smaller company. This would also give Toyota the opportunity to leverage the low-cost brand to their advantage.

If Toyota was in partnership talks with Suzuki, then Toyota might be of the make some headway into India – a car market where Suzuki commands the majority share.
At the moment, Toyota claims that no decisions have been made but they are always considering various ways that they can partner with Daihatsu.

The Daihatsu Brand

Daihatsu is a special brand to Japan. They specialize in 660cc engines, easily competing with Suzuki. Unfortunately, Daihatsu is the weakest player in the Toyota group. Its global sales fell 13.3 percent in 2015. Unfortunately, that also puts Toyota sales down by 0.8 percent for a total sales figure of 10.15 million vehicles sold last year.

Not to put too much of a damper on it, Toyota still retains the title of the world’s largest automaker. Volkswagen, the vehicle maker who came in second, sold 9.93 million vehicles in 2015.
There’s an enormous demand for compact cars in India. Partnership cost between Suzuki and Toyota could offer the opportunity necessary to capitalize on the opportunity. However, if Toyota were to take over Daihatsu, Suzuki would be put at odds. You see, the Daihatsu and Suzuki fiercely compete for the same customers. The takeover would put Toyota on the opposite side of the table from Suzuki.

One analyst noted that it is certainly possible that Toyota could be planning on using Daihatsu as a low-cost, sub- premium brand. The merger of the two would certainly put Toyota on the map in India and can be used as an effective weapon to diminish the Suzuki name in the country.

Of course, such a merger could also benefit both companies. Suzuki has claim to a network in India, through its Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. brand that Toyota would gain access to and greatly benefit from. Another analyst from J.P. Morgan did note that Toyota would be an excellent and stable shareholder in the Suzuki profile. Furthermore, Suzuki might gain access to proprietary Toyota technologies in the race to make electric vehicles.

2015 Nissan’s Bumper Year In Europe

Posted by Stephen On Friday, January 29th, 2016

Nissan enjoyed its best-selling year in Europe for the brand in 2015. They had three big reveals while they continue to pump out vehicles from the Barcelona and Sunderland plants. All the marketing they’ve done in 2015 paid off. Nissan sold 715,623 vehicles last year. This number was bolstered in December with sales for that month reaching 61,823.

Nissan Leaf

If we were to look at the market share for Nissan in Europe, they only command 4 percent. Combined with their low cost, sub-premium brand Datsun, they might hold a little over 4.2 percent. Even with the numbers as low as that, they are the best-selling Japanese brand on the continent – beating out Toyota, Suzuki and every other major Japanese automaking brand.

Significant sales spikes happened in 2015. The Nissan Pulsar sold 50 percent more vehicles in 2015 that they did in 2014. The Nissan X-Trail, a vehicle similar to the Nissan Rogue, the Nissan Juke and the Nissan Qashqai also had significant increases in 2015 over reported numbers from the previous year.

The Nissan LEAF

Even the Nissan LEAF sold more than anything else. The vehicle continues to be the leading vehicle in the EV segment. They sold more than 15,000 vehicles. Nissan expects these numbers to continue to rise in 2016. The 2016 LEAF has a 30kWh capability, giving it an extended range that makes it a much more viable proposition for commuters.

For all the vehicles that Nissan sold in 2015, over 400,000 vehicles came from their Sunderland UK plant alone. That makes this particular manufacturing plant the most productive plant in the whole of the United Kingdom.

As Nissan is enjoying these numbers, they know that their work is far from complete.

Every year, their market share increases. Nissan announced that they had their best year ever when they were reporting the 2014 numbers close to a year ago. Of course, in 2014, they had 12 launches in 12 months. Put in perspective, their market share is no surprise.

What’s interesting to note is that Nissan sold 15,000 LEAFs in 2014 and that number didn’t actually rise in 2015. Either way, the Nissan LEAF is the most popular electric vehicle in the whole of Europe.

Nissan has big plans for 2016. At this point, only time will tell if this year will be better than the last. At the very least, Nissan has high hopes.

Honda Fit versus Hyundai Accent

Posted by Stephen On Monday, January 25th, 2016

This time, we’re pairing up the Honda Fit versus the Hyundai Accent. They’re both economy cars. They’re both competitors – which one ends up on top?

Each one of them comes in its own hatchback model, but the Fit does not come in a sedan model – something the Accent clearly does. Honda completely redesigned their Fit from the ground up, while the Accent hasn’t had a significant change since 2012.

That means we’ll be comparing the hatchback models. When you set them side-by-side, they’re both tall, five-door cars that look almost identical.

The Honda looks a little more fun while the Accent looks to be a bit more generic. Each vehicle may not be a luxury vehicle, but they do have enough features inside to make the experience pleasant.

As far as the seating arrangement goes, Honda is a clear winner. The seats are a little more comfortable, Honda does better on long trips and has what it calls a “Magic” seat arrangement. The rear seats do this flip and fold type motion, which really opens up the cargo area. On top of that, you take the front seats and fold them all the way back. For such a small car, the Honda Fit really provides a tremendous amount of cargo space. At this rate, the Hyundai Accent doesn’t even stand a chance. In fact, the Honda has more flexibility in the front seat than most cars.

Hyundai provides a 1.6 L, four-cylinder, 138 hp engine, which is the best in its class for a manual transmission, clearly beating out Honda. The Hyundai Accent makes 0 to 60 in 10 seconds flat. For an economy car, this is decent. For any other type of car, this is slow. Hyundai does offer a Sport Mode, but if you really want to take advantage of it, the engine has to be revved up to 3500 RPM. When you put just two people in the car, the engine feels taxed. The manual transmission model of the Accent provides 31 miles per gallon – the automatic version provides 30 miles per gallon.

The Honda is a bit weaker with a 1.5 L, four-cylinder 130 hp engine. Most people who own this car will be using the CVT transmission (continuously variable transmission), which will do far better gas mileage than Accent can ever hope for. The US EPA rating for the Honda Fit is 36 mpg. Despite its awkward shape, the Honda Fit does a fantastic job of making sure that the exterior noises didn’t find their way inside the vehicle at speeds well above typical speed limits.

The US Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) scored the Honda Fit very well, earning it a Top Safety Pick. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave it five stars. Furthermore, the Fit achieves Good ratings in all the categories with the IIHS except one – the new small-overlap front crash test. In this test, it was rated as Acceptable.

The Accent, on the other hand, did not rate well with either the IIHS or the NHTSA. The federal government scored it at four stars, with some concerns about the Accent’s performance on side crashes. The IIHS rated the Accent as Poor on the new small-overlap front crash test.

In the end, you can clearly see why Honda – the famed Japanese automaker, wins out. On the outside, they look very similar. On the inside, they are very different. Fit wins on safety, convenience, and a premium on the top-of-the-line model that’s finally worth the money! You know – the automatic transmission on the Fit doesn’t hurt either.

“Lexus” = “Boring”? Never Again Says Akio Toyoda

Posted by Stephen On Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Akio Toyoda, CEO of both Toyota and Lexus, tells a story of how he has received letters that complain that the Lexus car brand is boring. This guy is the grandson of the company’s founder, which says something. Toyota runs in his family. More than that, it runs in his blood.

Akio says he “took them to heart,” and he’s “ensuring that the word ‘boring’ and Lexus’ will never occupy the same sentence very again.”

Lexus bling grill

Truth be told, we’ve heard this rhetoric before – five years ago, to be exact, on the Pebble-Beach Concourse d’Elegance at the launch of another ‘boring’ Lexus, this time, the fourth-generation GS sedan. Back then, the occasion marked the new look of the spindle grille, fresh air intake design, and the very curves that make ‘Lexus’ synonymous with ‘luxury.’

The motor vehicle giant has enjoyed 11 years of market leadership in the United States, but then, just like now, there is evidence that points to Toyota fighting a losing battle against the Germans.

Germany is home to the Mercedez-Benz, Audi and BMW. Not only have they made better-looking cars, but their cars were more interesting and exciting to drive.
Don’t get me wrong here. Lexus is still the market leader in quality, gas efficiency, trunk space and all-around engineering qualities. But that didn’t matter anymore. Other, much cheaper vehicles were figuring out how to to it too, and all of a sudden, Lexus didn’t stand out anymore.

For Akio that wasn’t good enough.

Akio Toyoda is a race car driver. It’s not just in his family – it’s in his blood, remember? He knew that Lexus needed a jolt. He knew what Lexus needed. He wasn’t about to let his brand take second place to anybody without a fight.

In short, Lexus needed a car that wasn’t just synonymous with luxury but was fun to drive. Lexus engineers needed to give drivers a reason to smile. They’ve done it before; there’s no reason they can’t do it again.

Aiko charged Koji Sato, deputy chief engineer at Toyota, with the job. According to him, his speech five years ago on Pebble Beach merely marked a starting point for the company.
They both were thinking the same thing.

He wasn’t being charged with upgrading a car. He was being charged with making a whole new generation of Lexus.

Sato took this tall order to heart and realized that he needed something more than his current team could offer. He thought outside the box and looked beyond the borders of his corporate office for help. What he did was nothing short of revolutionary.

He hand-picked a team that would later become to be called his ‘irregular army.’ It consisted of a small group of race car drivers, journalists and car dealers.
For Lexus, the strategy was more than risky. It was more than bold. It was genius.

And, it was exactly what Sato was looking for.

Sato placed the entire company in jeopardy of exposing the entire project by doing this. The team persevered through every logistical difficulty an undertaking like this could have presented. The test team coordinated three unique driving events in the United States.

This was the beginning of the 2018 Lexus LC 500. This was the beginning of a whole new generation of Lexus.

The prototype has been created. It’s been driven. It was completely covered in disguise tape, with its interior panels draped in such a way as to keep the entire project under wraps. The vehicle was only a concept car, but it was driven in Rose Bowl Stadium of Pasadena, California.

It sports a 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Its 5.0-liter, V-8 engine produces 467 horsepower at 7100 RPM and 389 pound-feet of torque at 4800 RPM. It makes 0-60 in 4.5 seconds flat.

In short, it is awesome. It is fun to drive. It put a smile the drivers’ faces.

Sato is pleased, but his work is far from over. “We have got the basics right,” says Sato, “but it’s the last 10 percent that is so difficult.”

The LC 500 is nearing the end of the engineering phase, and, as such, Sato’s ‘irregular army’ has disbanded by now. The engineering team has a lot on their hands this year. Aiko is scheduled to drive the vehicle in late February this year.

Let’s hope the boss likes it. We’re rooting for Sato.