Category: ‘Japanese Cars’

Toyota Prius: The Car That Started A Revolution

Posted by Stephen On Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

With the Toyota Prius now being reborn in its 4th incarnation, it’s a great time to look back at the original Prius – the car that started the hybrid revolution. Now hybrids are so common that we have forgotten just how revolutionary this powertrain was when it was launched back in 1997. I remember my first ride in an early model on some hilly roads in Japan, and how it was such a different experience to what I had been used to up to that point.

Throughout history, cars have traditionally been damaging to the environment through the release of greenhouse gases that come about through the burning of fossil fuels (such as gasoline). The rise of “gas guzzlers” and their huge engines that came with the primarily US car culture of the 1960s and 1970s saw carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and other nasties spewed into the air, causing the global climate damage leading to adverse health effects in large cities where pollution was rampant.

As time went on, however, more and more people began to realize that this was a serious problem – and thus, as global awareness of climate change and the dangers of pollution rose, car companies began to consider alternatives to the traditional gas-fueled vehicle.

Enter the hybrid car: a solid compromise between the gasoline-hungry polluter and the (as yet impossible to produce) all-electric car. Although the concept of hybrid cars has been around for a while – almost since the start of motoring itself, in fact – one car really set the trend for others to follow in the automobile industry, and became a favorite with consumers and critics alike: the Toyota Prius.

The first generation model was launched in Japan in 1997 and went on sale worldwide in 2000. Manufactured by the Japanese auto maker Toyota, this mid-size hatchback is currently sold in over 90 markets, of which Japan and the United States are the largest. In 2008, the Prius reached the global cumulative sales milestone of 1 million vehicles; from there, it grew exponentially, selling 2 million cars by September 2010 and 3 million mark by June 2013.

There is a reason that the car is so popular: its environmentally-friendly nature is appealing to many people who feel that they have an obligation to pollute as little as possible, but don’t have the means to purchase an all-electric car (or to not drive at all). Currently the United States Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board rank the Prius among the cleanest vehicles sold in the United States based on the quantity of emissions it releases. In 2016, the new Prius Eco has become the all-time most fuel efficient gasoline-powered car available in the US without plug-in capability – making it not only environmentally conscious, but accessible for many everyday working-class citizens.

The first-generation Toyta Prius, however, had not yet achieved such lofty heights. When it debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1995, no one was quite sure how well the Prius would sell or whether it was even ready for the market; several more years of research and development went into the car before it could be sold in Japan. However, the car’s designers did have some inkling of what this vehicle could mean for the world; that’s why they named it the Prius, after the Latin word for “before.” According to the Boston Globe, a Toyota spokesperson stated that “Toyota chose this name because the Prius vehicle is the predecessor of cars to come.” Now, that name Prius is almost synonymous with tree-hugging – an eco-brand in its own right – loved by Greenpeace, hated by Jeremy Clarkson.

When it launched, the first generation Prius became the world’s first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid car. Its acclaim among critics was almost instantaneous: it won the Car of the Year Japan Award in 1997, and the Automotive Researchers’ and Journalists’ Conference Car of the Year award in Japan in 1998. Since then, the sales figures have spoken for themselves, as have each subsequent model’s new hybrid features and increasing move towards alternative, rather than gasoline-powered, energy.

The Prius, more than anything, prides itself on fuel efficiency – and it has achieved many of its goals in this regard. While the current fourth generation Prius is expected to achieve ratings of up to 116 MPG, the first generation vehicle already stood at an impressive 52 MPG, and thus was revolutionary for both the fuel economy and environmental benefits that it offered. Although it was not the first mass-produced hybrid in the U.S. – the Honda Insight came first – it was by far the most popular.

While there are still questions asked about just how environmentally friendly it actually is, considering all the exotic metals and materials that go into it, there is no doubt that the Toyota Prius is an iconic Japanese car.

Early Prius are very hard to find. I was not able to find any 1997s at auction or at dealers, and only 2 1998 models for sale by dealers. So instead I decided to go to the other end of the spectrum and check out the very latest model, of which you can already find many examples for sale in the Japanese car auctions. Here is the auction sheet translation:

“Grade S, interior A, exterior A, first registered April 2016, first time in auction, S Navigation Ready Package model, 3KM, in-dash AT, AAC, moo roof, maker option LED fog lamp, LED headlights, smart key, reversing rearview camera, steering wheel switches, vehicle proximity warning system, original alloy wheels, sunroof, airbag, power steering, power windows, hole where there is no stereo fitted, marks as per map”

2016 Toyota Prius at Japanese car auction -- inside

2016 Toyota Prius at Japanese car auction -- rear seat

2016 Toyota Prius at Japanese car auction -- rear

2016 Toyota Prius at Japanese car auction -- front

2016 Toyota Prius in Japanese car auction -- auction sheet


Japan Car Auction Find: 1984 Toyota Mark II

Posted by Stephen On Friday, April 15th, 2016

Coming up at auction in Japan tomorrow…

1984 Toyota MARK II at auction - front 2

“Grade 3.5, interior B, exterior B, first registered October 1984, five-speed manual gearbox, AC, aftermarket muffler, Mark I alloy wheels, power steering, power windows, twin cam, aftermarket shift knob, interior grime and cigarette burns and scratches, seats have cigarette burns and are worn, rust and paint underneath vehicle, exterior paintwork uneven and modified, front grill missing, wheels scratched, door mirrors scratched, minor scratches and minor dents, marks as per map”

1984 Toyota MARK II at auction - inspection report

1984 Toyota MARK II at auction - interior 1

1984 Toyota MARK II at auction - interior 2

1984 Toyota MARK II at auction - rear

1984 Toyota MARK II at auction - front


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.


The Hydrogen Highway – Japan’s Bet Against Battery EVs

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Japanese automotive manufacturer, Toyota, is reinforcing the government’s push for a “hydrogen highway” with it’s latest next-generation hybrid — Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese. Recently, at the New York International Auto Show, this new entry into Japan’s race to become a “hydrogen society,” was declared the 2016 World Green Car. Twenty-three countries — represented by 73 top-level automotive journalists — had to choose between eight entries, including the Toyota Prius Hybrid. Factors that the jurors took into consideration when making their selection included:

1. Tailpipe emissions
2. Fuel consumption
3. Use of an advanced power plant technology aimed at increasing the automobile’s environmental responsibility.

(Unfortunately, these journalists seem to have missed the point that many of the — very few — hydrogen refueling stations require fossil fuels for its production, and take a lot of engineering to build. Hardly very green!)

Toyota Mirai World Green Car of the Year 2016

Energy of the Future

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes hydrogen will help Tokyo find an alternative energy source to nuclear power, and reduce reliance on imported oil. Japan is the sixth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Of course, an obvious option would be solar, wind and geothermal, which is why it is strange — except when you realize that the nuclear industry is a huge bureaucracy with deep connections to the government.

Group vice president and general manager, Bill Fay, of Toyota Division, points to three major factors about Mirai that will help lead the world in a more sustainable direction:

1. It has a per tank travel range of over 300 miles.
2. Unlike electric vehicles that can take several hours to recharge, refueling the Mirai can be done in under five minutes. Much like putting gasoline or diesel fuel in a car, a nozzle is inserted and a trigger squeezed to fill the tank.
3. Emissions consist solely of water vapor.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe; it is also incredibly powerful so Toyota has taken important steps in the design of its hydrogen tanks, which are tucked under and away from the back seats. Safety assurance is achieved through polymer-lined tanks that are carbon-fiber wrapped and multi-patented. Their three-layer structure is built to absorb five times the crash energy of steel. Additionally, the car has a unique frame design that distributes crash forces around the passenger cabin, the hydrogen tanks and the fuel cell stacks.

However, in the event of a high-speed collision, you’ll be relieved to know that several measures are in place to prevent any leaking and subsequent combustion of the hydrogen tanks.

First: Sensors stop the flow of hydrogen.

Second: Any leaked hydrogen is quickly dispersed.

Third: Hydrogen escapes safely and rapidly into the air.

Hisashi Nakai, who works in Toyota’s strategy planning department, dismisses concerns about hydrogen posing any dangerous explosion risks despite the highly volatile and flammable properties of the gas. Nakai insists that rigorous testing has been performed on the tank and that it can withstand any shock. “(Fuel-cell vehicles) appear to be the ideal green cars,” he says.

Of course, a cynic would say that with new battery tech on the way using graphene, a derivative of carbon, that will be virtually inert under impact, the fact that Toyota is considering replacing one explosive fuel (gasoiline) with another one (hydrogen) is a bit of a mystery.

Mirai Fuel Cell Anatomy

– No internal combustion (the process of burning something).
– No carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions — at least at the tail pipe.
– The electric motor is from an existing hybrid Lexus (Toyota’s luxury brand).
– A Power Control Unit (PCU) decides when to draw energy directly from the fuel cell stack or use stored energy from the battery.
– Hydrogen and oxygen are combined in an electrochemical reaction, which produces electricity.

The Cost of Conservation

– A comparable electric car costs 6.7 million JPY (roughly $55,000 U.S.)
– A Mirai fuel-cell car costs nearly double that amount.
– The central government throws in a subsidy of two million yen to the buyers to offset some of the purchase expense. Even though their contribution covers approximately one-fourth of the total cost of the car, the price is still very high.

Hype of the Hydrogen Highway

The Japan Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Demonstration Project is dedicated to building an infrastructure network of filling stations along roadsides, aka the “hydrogen highway.” This highly-publicized project is sure to be touted at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The Japanese government said that it will subsidize half the total building expense for the first 100 locations and will bear some of the operational costs. As of March 2016, Japan had fallen 20 percent short of its target of 100 operational hydrogen stations due to the high cost of constructing them: about 400 million yen (over $3.2 million U.S.) each. Japan is not alone; slow construction of hydrogen refueling stations around the world is cramping efforts by automakers to convince the public that hydrogen is a viable option.

Japan’s Government Projections and Predictions

– There will be 4,200 hydrogen cars on the roads of Japan.

Deadline: 2018

– Toyota, specifically, plans to boost Mirai sales to 12,000 units in Japan.

Deadline: 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

– Prime Minister Abe envisions an annual hydrogen market worth one trillion yen ($8.3 billion U.S.), which would also supply hydrogen-producing technology to 5.3 million residences

Deadline: 2030

Postscript

It is hard not to rain on this parade, but … The expense of new fueling stations. The decidedly non-green way most hydrogen is being created. The major strides taking place in battery tech. The cost reductions in batteries when Tesla’s Gigafactory comes on line. All these and more are going to make the case for hydrogen difficult (or in this writer’s view impossible) to make over the coming years.

It would not be the first time Japan has embraced a technological evolutionary dead end — remember Betamax, or MD players ? — and with the full weight of bureaucratic inertia behind it, I would not be surprised if hydrogen fuel cell cars were the same.


Japan Gears up for Automated Driving

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Japan adores displaying its superior technological aptitude to the world — and the future holds a perfect opportunity for them to stun us all with automated driving. Right now, the entire automobile industry in Japan is working diligently to take full advantage of all the exposure they’ll receive when the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics come to Tokyo. Japan’s rank as a global leader in the car-making industry is undoubtedly spurring their efforts.

one car ahead

The Impetus Propels the Cause

In April of 2010, the Japanese government announced the “Next-Generation Vehicle Strategy” initiative as part of their environmental protection efforts. It seeks to increase the percentage of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles as well as fuel cell and total electric vehicle sales to 50 percent of all car sales by 2020 (and to 70 percent by 2030). The most recent statistic available from the Japan Automobile Manufacturer’s Association, Inc. (JAMA) is from 2014 which reveals that number to be a mere 6.7 percent. This figure translates to an increase of more than 40 percent of total vehicle sales by 2020.

This endeavor is a monumental undertaking, further burdened by JAMA’s estimates that total next-gen vehicle purchases will likely level off at little more than 10 percent of total car sales by 2020. So, how do you increase the interest in buying an alternatively powered vehicle? Incentives such as subsidies, infrastructure development, and tax breaks will certainly help. JAMA, however, knows what all drivers dream about so they have rolled out a timeline that calls for increased application of automated driving technologies between 2020 and 2030. Driverless cars are on their way, in three not-so-simple steps:

Step 1: Increase the number of automated functions in new vehicles.

Deadline: 2020

– Japan implements a “Strategic Innovation Program” to introduce compatible road traffic systems as well as automated driving systems.

Step 2: Expand technology in driving environments.

Deadline: 2030

– Develop the necessary technology needed for reliable communications and secure data supply infrastructures.

Step 3: Full deployment of advanced automated driving.

Deadline: 2050

– Design and build advanced road environments specifically for driverless cars.
– The Japanese government, the auto industry, and academia work together for regulatory legislation.

The Driver’s Side is the New Passenger Side

Giving up control of the wheel is a proposal that is as exciting as it is scary. You’ve probably noticed, however, that we are gently being conditioned to accept a hands-free driving experience. The parking-assist feature that many manufacturers have installed in their models is one of several perks in the works. This PCmag.com article ranks the best 2015 driver-assist cars. It’s no surprise that five Japanese brands — Honda, Acura, Mazda, Subaru, and Mitsubishi — are in the top 10. These are the next-generation features they boast:

– Blind Spot Detection: A warning light or alert sound lets you know it is not safe to change lanes. An active system will steer your vehicle back into your lane for you.
– Lane Departure Warning: Alerts the driver when the car drifts over the lane lines. An active system will automatically steer you back in your lane.
– Forward Collision Warning: A camera and a radar sensor detect how far away the car in front of you is, sounding an alert when an accident is impending. A prevention system actively applies the brakes for you.
– Active Cruise Control: This technology uses a radar sensor that will adjust your cruise control speed up or down to compensate for the varying speeds of vehicles in front of you, even in stop-and-go traffic.
– Automated Parking: Automated cameras help take control of steering your car into a parallel parking spot; some technology also guides parking into perpendicular spots.

The systems listed above are designed to reduce, if not eliminate, human error while driving. Automated technologies just emerging and still in production will also take over the following maneuvers:

– Lane changing
– Merging into traffic
– Exiting an off-ramp
– Turning at intersections
– Urban driving (completely automated)
– Driverless parking (like an invisible valet service)

The top six Japanese automakers — Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Subaru, and Mitsubishi — are enthusiastically engaged in the development of this futuristic technology. All the while, the public’s interest is rising just as planned.

Autonomous Driving vs. Adaptive Driving

Data concerning the vehicle’s surroundings is detected and processed by onboard sensors in lower-level autonomous driving. Adaptive driving uses certain vehicle operations in a higher-level of automation based on communications with road infrastructure, other cars, and roadside signals.

Plan B: The Biofuel Initiative

To loop back to the cause — protection of the environment — JAMA introduced an initiative in March 2016 to reduce fossil fuel consumption by increasing production of alcohol made from sugarcane and cassava (the source of tapioca). Also being promoted is biodiesel, extracted from oil palms to help advance agricultural policies and aid in reducing global warming.

Policies and plans … but what results?

For me the real question is whether Japan’s top-down policies and plans bureaucratic approach is going to produce results in time. After all, the other side of the Pacific you have companies like Tesla and Google already making great strides in autonomous vehicles. Then there is the cash king Apple, currently on the sidelines, but rumored to be looking to get into the automotive business in some capacity.

Will Japan’s reputation for technological innovation in the motor industry still be intact ten years from now, or will their offerings be left behind like the Sony Walkman while the world moves on to iPhones?


Japan Car Auction Finds: The Retro (Nissan) Pao

Posted by Stephen On Friday, March 25th, 2016

The Nissan Pao was originally announced in October of 1987 at the 26th Tokyo Motor Show before production began in 1988. Its retro looks gave it instant appeal, such that when it first came out, you had to make a reservation to purchase it as it was intended as a limited edition.
The name itself was supposedly from a Mongolian word meaning a meeting house. To heighten the impact of this one-syllable name Nissan also just marketed it as the “Pao” without the Nissan name in front of it.

Between January and April of 1989 reservations were made and the car sold out in three months. It was very popular at the time and still is a coveted and collectible car. Nissan stopped production in 1990, so the car at auction (below) is one of the last ones off the line. Such is its status as a design icon that one is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
As a 3-door hatchback, it does not really fit into modern car buying habits, but the cohesive retro looks have aged well, so that it is hard to believe that the design is getting on for 30 years old.

One great thing about the Pao is that it is one of the spinoffs of the K10 Nissan March / Micra. (The other two being the Figaro and Be-1.) As a result, many of the mechanical parts are still relatively easy to come by, which would not be true if it was a genuine low-volume vehicle.

Designer Naoki Sakaki is credited with the designs for both the Nissan Pao and Nissan Be-1.

Specifications:

  • It was available in three body colors: terracotta, ivory, olive gray and aqua gray and two interior colors: ivory and black.
  • It came with either a three-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission and had a 1.0 liter engine.
  • It was a great city car, only needing 14.4 feet to turn.
  • It’s fuel economy is still impressive by 2016 standard, getting up to 51 mpg in the city and 79 mpg at a constant 37 MPH.
  • It featured a distinctive clam shell hatch in back with the glass section swinging up and bottom opened into a tailgate.
  • Part of the retro look was external door hinges and flap-up windows.
  • Even the AM/FM radio tape deck was built to look as if it were from the 1950s.
  • Despite its small size, it can seat up to five passengers.
  • Popularity Today

    With its unique appearance, people either seem to love or hate it. Nissan was taking a risk at the time in designing something completely different. It almost looks like a modernized version of a car from the 1950’s. It is a testament to its design that there are groups of fanatical enthusiast owners both inside and outside Japan.

    Now, if you want one, you would think the limited edition status of this vehicle would make it hard to come by, but you can always find some good examples in the auctions in Japan. Let’s have a look at one of these below.

    Here is the translation of the auction inspector’s report:

    “Grade 4, interior B, exterior condition B, first registered February 1990, normal roof, 2WD, FAT, AC, original stereo, original side visor and mats, original steel wheels, power steering, 108,326KM, fornt and rear seats have been re-covered, some roadworthiness test history (2010, 2012, 2014), sticker shows the timing belt has been replaced, interior grime and scratches, oil leak, wheels scratched, door mirrors scratched, minor scratches and minor dents, marks as per map”

    Nissan Pao at Japanese car auction - inspection report

    The first thing to note is that this car has been graded 4, which is about the best you can expect from a 26-year-old car. This car also has a great-looking interior with the original retro stereo being retained, and all the seats having been re-done. For the avid collector, the downside would be that this is the fixed roof version, rather than the canvas top version. Of course, this means the option of open-top motoring is not available, but on the other hand the potential issues with the canvas top getting damaged or aging, resulting in rainwater leaks aren’t going to be a problem.

    Interested in buying cars like the Nissan Pao, or other Japanese collectibles? Get 14 days of guest access to Japan’s cars auctions and take a look for yourself.

    And don’t forget to check out these extra photos of this Pao at auction in Japan.

    Nissan Pao at Japanese car auction - front 2

    Nissan Pao at Japanese car auction -rear

    Nissan Pao at Japanese car auction -interior

    Nissan Pao at Japanese car auction - wheel

    Nissan Pao at Japanese car auction - retro stereo


    1968 Datsun Fairlady in the Japanese Car Auctions

    Posted by Stephen On Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

    This has to be one of the best looking Japanese sports cars ever, with the closest rival being the original MX-5 Miata. Along with its Japanese sport scar contemporaries, the Honda S500 and Toyota Sports 800, SR311 Fairlady encompasses the essence of a genuine sports car. Not the bludgeoning horsepower warfare of supercars and hypercars, and not the cubic inch overkill of the North American muscle cars. No, this car is about the fun of driving. The pleasure of a winding road with the top down and the wind in your hair.

    40,000 of these little gems were produced between 1959 and 1970, with this one being one of the latest SR311 configurations that featured a 5-speed manual transmission that replaced the previous 4-speed. With a standard 135 PS engine configuration (in a car weighing only 940KG), a top speed of 120 MPH was attainable, which was quite spritely for its time and represented excellent value for money.

    Let’s take a look at this one that is in a Japan car auction in Tokyo. Here is the translation of the auction inspectors report:

    “Interior C, first registered 1968 (month not stated), five-speed manual gearbox, ODOMETER CHANGED, marked as odometer changed vehicle as this is an old car, fender mirrors, steering wheel worn and has minor cracks, canvas top cut and has repair marks, possibly aftermarket seats, seats torn, rust and corrosion and paint marks underneath vehicle, interior grime and wear, dashboard loose, rust and corrosion in places, corrosion repair marks, scratches and dents and repairs, exterior paintwork cracked on bonnet and on right side sill and on left rear side panel and on rear boot lid, marks as per map”

    Datsun Fairlady SR311 at auction in Japan - auction sheet

    Although it says that it is an “odometer changed vehicle”, this is very common among cars of this age, simply because the seller cannot be hundred percent sure that the mileage is completely accurate. This would really only be possible if there were full-service records available. So in this case as well, the seller is probably erring on the side of caution by marking the car as such.

    There is a reasonable amount of rust and corrosion on this car, so this would be more of a project vehicle. However, it’s not so bad that it is readily visible in the photographs. Take a look for yourself below:

    Datsun Fairlady SR311 at auction in Japan - front

    Datsun Fairlady SR311 at auction in Japan - rear

    Datsun Fairlady SR311 at auction in Japan - interior


    Subaru XV Design Concept Debuted at 2016 Geneva Show

    Posted by Stephen On Friday, March 4th, 2016

    Whether it’s speed or performance boundaries that you’re looking to see redefined or it’s innovative technology and luxury that you’re looking to get your fill on, the Geneva Motor Show is where you’ll find all of the above in one exciting place. This is where leaders of the car industry come to show off their latest and greatest concepts in automobiles and every big car company highlights this week on the calendar as the time to present the most advanced vehicles to the world. Among the featured cars for this year’s March Madness, Subaru had a little something to earn bragging rights.

    Subaru XV Concept Geneva 2016

    For those who don’t remember, Subaru debuted a couple of Impreza concepts at the Tokyo, and Los Angeles car shows last year. The first car was one was a five-door hatch, and the second car was a sedan. However, the Impreza collection also includes the elevated Crosstrek, known as the XV in most other markets. So now at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, Subaru presents the first certified preview at the high-riding, next-generation Impreza, by way of this XV Concept.

    While the specifics were few, what you see is what you get here. The XV certainly has a more powerful take on the sedan and hatchback models that came before it, in keeping with the Crosstrek’s character. The new concept rides on 19-inch wheels which definitely won’t make it to production, and you can anticipate some sort of boxer four-cylinder engine to drive power to all four wheels.

    All in all, the XV Concept does look pretty decent. However, Subaru has a very long history of making eye-catching concept cars that don’t exactly carry their attractiveness over to production. Nonetheless, the existing Crosstrek has a bit of a rugged handsomeness to it, so let’s hope something parallel occurs when this concept ultimately transforms into a production model in the upcoming year.


    Production Toyota C-HR At The Geneva Show

    Posted by Stephen On Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

    After being on a grand tour for the past two years and then being debuted as a design study at the Paris auto show in the fall of 2014 the Toyota’s C-HR concept has remained prominent on the continent and even managed to make its grand entrance at the 2015 Frankfurt auto show showing off its impressive body to the viewers. Just a month later, this innovative and expectantly trendy C-HR model popped up at the 2015 Los Angeles auto show wearing a Scion badge and a vivid coat of red paint. It was at the Los Angeles show that it was revealed that this brilliant C-HR was a go. Unlike Scion itself, which is now dead. Now the production version has been debuted 2016 Geneva auto show, and it looks impressive.

    Toyota C-HR

    Personally, I dislike the styling of this car’s direct competitor, the Nissan Juke, but this Toyota C-HR blows it away. I know which one I would pick from looks alone.

    It is quite evident that Toyota chose not to stray too far away from their original concept, and will probably impress the masses when they see how they added the low-profile/floating roof to the transition of this production vehicle. Certainly, the entire C-HR is only somewhat different from its original concept form, with very minor variations to the headlamps and the lower front end connecting the smaller wheels as the most noticeable changes.

    According to Toyota’, their Toyota new global architecture (TNGA) which is also found under the newest Prius, it appears that the C-HR, which will have a full hybrid powertrain along with one or more gas-only alternatives.

    The Toyota C-HR was scheduled to be sold in the United States as Scion, but those plans were crushed in early February 2016 when Toyota broadcasted that it would be closing its youth-oriented division. Despite the fact that the announcement wasn’t very surprising, ironically the C-HR’s crossover standing and hybrid powertrain might have certainly helped Scion in crucial market areas where it lacked any product. Now that it is coined a Toyota, the C-HR will be competing with well-known models like the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and Nissan Juke vehicles that made their mark on the subcompact crossover division while the new C-HR was still on tour around the globe in concept form.

    It is anticipated that the C-HR will go on sale later this year, shortly after which I expect we will be seeing them pop up in the car auctions over here in Japan.


    Android Phone to Replace Head Unit in Honda Navigation Systems

    Posted by Stephen On Friday, February 26th, 2016

    It has long been a source of puzzlement to drivers around the world that a cheap smart phone or tablet can easily out-perform and be far more intuitive than the expensive systems installed in cars. Only Tesla’s gigantic touchscreen and BMW’s system have come anywhere near replicating that experience. But perhaps things are about to change.

    It appears that Honda is avidly listening to its consumers and has pulled an item from their wish list to deliver an innovative concept in partnership with Drivemode. This new concept vehicle will completely replace the head unit with an Android phone that will be integrated with the car’s control. So simple. So obvious. So … why has no one done this before? (Hint: The car makers make a bunch of money off expensive control system upgrades.)

    This single-button interface will use audio cues, finger taps, and display-wide swipes for functionality to ensure that you don’t take your eyes off the road to activate commands. The app has received an overwhelming 400,000 downloads already from automakers and drivers who are eager to try it out. Amongst the automakers who downloaded auto-centric Android app created by founders Yo Koga and HK Ueda was none other than Honda.

    Drive Mode Android App

    This new concept is not just about shoving a phone in the car’s dashboard; it’s more about integrating it with the vehicle’s controls. For example, the convenient buttons on the steering wheel that consumers love so much to control the radio will now control the app as well.

    In addition, the back and right-side blind spot cameras will now display on the phone as well. Honda and Drivemode stated that this is still just a concept and possibly some years away from coming to fruition. However, it is part of an even bigger plan to build an app for automakers that replaces the old in-dash system. In the meantime, Drivemode is looking for other ways to make the new model a bit safer for consumers.

    For example, Ueda says the app will eventually support aftermarket Bluetooth backup and blind spot cameras. So, drivers can buy the cameras and mount them to their cars, allowing them to have an additional safety feature, even if their vehicle didn’t have that option when purchased new from the car dealership.
     
    For drivers who are unable to afford the trim levels that offer the smartphone-integrating options (or are are not looking to upgrade their vehicle), they will still have the ability to enjoy a more unified driving experience without weaving all over the busy road trying to launch Pandora. Regrettably, the app is only available for Android devices right now, but Drivemode is looking for extra funding to build the iOS version. Given Apple’s dominance in the smartphone market, this seems to be a no-brainer.

    On the other hand, perhaps this is what the much rumoured Apple Car project is really all about….