Aug 092011

Japanese carmaker Toyota has just announced that it plans to produce a new range of small hybrid cars for sale in North America. The company said it would be building the new vehicles at its Kanto Auto Works facility, located in northeast Japan’s Iwate Prefecture.

Toyota has already enjoyed years of sales and PR success, thanks to the Prius hybrid that has taken the USA by storm. Now, Toyota is hoping that some new, cheaper designs of small hybrids can prove financially lucrative in the expanding North American market for hybrids, despite the competitive disadvantage produced by the relative strength of the Japanese yen.

The US dollar has been on a steady decline against the yen for years now, making products built in Japan increasingly expensive. Toyota is aiming to produce hybrids that cost no more than two million yen for export to North America.

Toyota Prius Hybrid Eco Car

Toyota Prius Hybrid Eco Car

Toyota is targeting a minimum domestic production level of three million vehicles bearing Toyota and Lexus badges. It is banking on a cheaper alternative to the Prius attracting enough sales in North America to help it hit that target.

There are as yet few details on the proposed ‘Prius-lite’. Toyota says it will use a 1.5-litre engine and will enjoy fuel economy exceeding 40kms on a single litre of petrol. This equates to approximately 180km’s per gallon – or 111 miles per gallon.

The new fuel-efficient Toyota will be built in Kanegasaki, Iwate and is going to be produced as part of a new strategy by the carmaker to transform the Tohoku area, which surrounds Iwate prefecture, into the third Toyota manufacturing base in Japan.

Toyota already has two large production bases at Kyush, in southwest Japan, and Chubu, the region around Nagoya. Toyota says it is also keen to help rebuilt the Tohoku area, which was heavily damaged by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world of environmentally-friendly motoring, yet more technical development appears set to revolutionise efficiencies in an industry for which efficiency is the main ‘driver’. Protean Electric, which produces a sophisticated in-wheel motor technology, announced the launch of a test vehicle intended to demonstrate the potential energy savings of its unusual product.

Vauxhall Vivaro Electric Car Concept

Vauxhall Vivaro Electric Car Concept

A Vauxhall Vivaro van was recently fitted with Protean’s in-wheel motors. The diesel-hybrid van, thanks to the special motors, enjoyed a 300-per-cent boost in fuel economy while in hybrid mode.

The motors are interesting for many reasons. For one thing, there’s the technological marvel of slotting a relatively small, yet still powerful, electric motor into the wheel of an existing car.

What’s more, the company’s Protean DriveTM technology comes with all the electronic gubbins built-in. This means there is no need for separate control electronics, power inverter or software, saving yet more weight and complexity.

The Protean solution appears to be a very simple installation and there is no need to keep drive shafts, or other heavy components. We will definitely want to watch where this technology is headed.

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