There are many out there who would say that Toyota isn't the most innovative automaker out there. They didn't invent the automobile, nor did they invent many of the innovative features that make up modern mobility of today.
Toyota, however, isn't driven to be the first to do something. Their ethos is to provide “the right car, in the right place, at the right time”, a philosophy that drives them to produce something with practicality and efficiency in mind. That mindset has propelled the company to the height they are at now. Toyota overtook the long-time leader, GM, as the world's number one automaker by production in 2008, a title they held until 2010, and again from 2012 onwards.
Being the biggest is one thing, being the best is another. And that's what Toyota is driving towards with their new global direction: Start Your Impossible.
The aim? Mobility for all with zero CO2 emissions and zero traffic fatalities. Ambitious, to say the least.
How does Toyota intend to pursue this 'impossible' goal? Let's count the ways.
1. A change in mindset
At the core of Toyota (and many Japanese companies) is a very Japanese mindset. And it's worked out very well for them.
But at the press conference during the 45th Tokyo Motor Show, we couldn't help but notice some massive differences, like when they fronted their new head for the Business Planning and Operation division, Executive Vice President Didier Leroy. No, he's not Japanese; he's French.
This change could hardly be overemphasized because it is extremely rare for a foreigner to hold a presentation for a Japanese company at their home motor show. Think Carlos Ghosn for Nissan.
That big change, however, is something that's in line with something Toyota president and CEO, Akio Toyoda said: “It is not who gets there first, but who makes it better.”
Toyota then went on to present the rest of the line up, and how they intend to start their impossible.
2. Mobility for all with i-Ride
Mobility should not be exclusive to those who have the full use of all their abilities. Those who have disabilities should be a priority too, that has driven the development of the i-Ride. Something that Leroy himself shared his experiences with his mother.
The vehicle is intended to provide a smart solution for personal mobility for PWDs using artificial intelligence (AI). Interestingly enough, the “i” in i-Ride also stands for 愛 (Ai) in Japanese, which means 'love'. The AI concept has also been expanded more into a mobility aid for people with disabilities which aims to make their lives easier by allowing them better movement through these smart access vehicles.
Toyota’s AI concept was first introduced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) as 'Yui' as part of its Concept-i, which tries to convey the car of the future as a smart and friendly companion.
Another concept introduced in Tokyo is the i-Walk, a personal mobility device inspired by the Segway but with smarter safety features, directional wheel and an adjustable wheelbase.
Both concepts debuted at the motor show are propelled by electricity with a 20-kilometer range.
3. Connected mobility with Fine-Comfort Ride
Toyota meanwhile steps up the premium saloon with its Fine-Comfort Ride concept — a futuristic fuel-cell vehicle which points to mobility as a whole new connected lifestyle experience. Its powertrain is capable of a 1,000 km range and can comfortably fit six people.
Featuring 'floating' swivel seats, the Fine-Comfort Ride concept not only aims to give a premium feel but also improve interaction between occupants as they breeze through the connected and fast-paced world.
4. The JPN Taxi experience
During our time in Tokyo for the motor show, we also got to experience the newly launched JPN Taxi which comes on the heels of the storied Japanese Crown Comfort cabs; the iconic taxis of Japan with their overly-polite ajnd well-dressed (read: suits and white globes) drivers.
We were chauffeured to and from Yokohama aboard a fleet of the new JPN Taxi where we got to experience the legroom, comfort and modern feel of a taxi transport that awaits visitors. I was actually able to get some work done en route to our destination.
Arguably looking similar to London’s black cabs, the new age called the JPN Taxi is finished in deep indigo to further avoid accusation. Deep Indigo or 'koiai is also a traditional Japanese color symbolic of security, dignity, and formality; the very aspects of a what embodies a proper taxi ride.
Powering the new taxis is a more efficient LPG-hybrid powertrain consisting of a 1.5-liter engine with electric motors which is rated at 19.4 km/liter.
The JPN Taxi has also been configured to be wheelchair accessible, and provide ease of ingress and egress for children and the elderly as well; consistent with Toyota’s mobility for all goal.
In terms of safety, it features Safety Sense C suite which comprises of pre-collision systems, lane departure alert and automatic high beams. And it also comes with six airbags. Not that you’ll really need them with the ultra-polite cab driver san behind the wheel.
The new JPN Taxi is expected to welcome athletes and visitors of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
5. Exciting drives with Crown Concept and GR-HEV
While the future is composed of zero-emission, connectivity and futuristic self-driving concepts, the company leadership’s affinity with exciting cars is still evident in models like the Crown Concept and GR HEV Concept.
The Crown Concept points towards the next-generation Toyota Crown which our spies spotted being benchmarked against the Mercedes-Benz E-Class on the Nurburgring middle of this year.
The sporty concept brings back the 'Fun to Drive' philosophy back to the midsize premium sedan, however Toyota will be installation a host of connected functions, safety and autonomous tech as part of its zero traffic fatalities goal.
The GR HV Concept meanwhile highlights that cleaner propulsion can still be fun. The open-top Toyota 86-based Gazoo Racing concept car was heavily inspired by its TS050 LMP1 car. Aesthetics-wise, it gets race-inspired LED illumination and aggressive styling. It is fitted with a hybrid powertrain along with a multi-shift mode which allows for either a push-button automatic mode or clutchless h-pattern shifting.
6. Hands-on or rather 'off' experience with the Lexus LS500
We got a taste of the new Lexus LS 500 flagship sedan which meets the SAE International Level 2 autonomous driving standards. Aside from an assortment of luxury appointments and features, the new LS is equipped with features such as adaptive cruise control with Lane-Keep Assist (LKA) and Lane Change Assist (LCA).
We drove the LS 500 from Pacifico Yokohama to 'infamous' Daikoku PA through the Metropolitan Expresway to personally experience the autonomous functions. While it was a bit tempting just to skip the self-driving and enjoy the premium features while gunning it down the expressway with 359 horses on tap. Offending the extremely polite test-drive officer-san or getting in trouble with the police was clearly out of order.
Aided by a plethora of sensors and cameras, the adaptive cruise control with LKA, will keep the car running at the desired speed (within legal limits) and steer automatically through the lane. You can't keep your hands off the wheel though, the system will make an audible and visual warning as Japanese regulations do not allow such.
As a further safety precation, the system will further its safety override by slowing the car down and turn on the hazard lamps and beep the horns to warn other vehicles if the driver takes his hands off the wheel for an extended period. Ultimately, the system will stop the car to avoid unwanted road accidents.
On wider portions of the highway, we were given the chance to try out the Lane Change Assist function which works with the autonomous driving suite by simple half-pressing the indicator stalk towards the lane you want to change to. Yes, I myself was tempted to take my hands off the wheel for a few seconds to watch the car change lanes by itself.
Cars driving themselves is a foreseeable future, a well-calculated safe form of mobility functioning in an automated grid as the occupants socialize or go about other activities. While the idea of fully autonomous driving is indeed part of the future, it may take at least a decade or so before it can be safely rolled out.
Road infrastructure, internet speed, cost and market acceptance will have significant roles to play in this once seemingly impossible future.