Toyota, Lexus & Scion Connoisseurs

Month: August 2011

Toyota shatters Nürburgring electric vehicle record

Back on Tuesday 2 August of this year, an understated news release from German-based Toyota Motorsport GmbH proclaimed a goal that was anything but: setting a new electric vehicle (EV) lap record at the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife. This would require a lap faster than the 9 minutes 1.338 seconds time set earlier this year by the Peugeot Concept EX1. At that point, Toyota only revealed that “the TMG 100% electric car… is based on a two-seater sportscar chassis fitted with TMG’s exclusive EV technology, has a top speed of 260km/h and can travel from 0 to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds”. For those of us more versed in Imperial or U.S. measurement, that translates into a top speed of over 161 mph and a 0-62 mph time of 3.9 seconds, with perhaps a tenth under that for 0-60.

The news was quickly picked up by the UK-based TheChargingPoint.com website, where the TMG news release’s “this car is ideal for a single-make EV championship” comment led the site’s James Allen to pen an excellent article surmising that this may, perhaps, be Toyota’s bid to offer the technology for an FIA-sanctioned electric vehicle prototype motorsports series. Most crucially, Mr. Allen informed us that the record-breaking attempt would take place on Monday 29 August. Six days after Allen’s article appeared, Autoblog picked up on the story, thus bringing it onto this author’s radar screen.

The original Toyota Motorsports news release ended by telling us that, “further details about the project, including photographs and a timetable for the record attempt, will follow in the coming days”. Sure enough, on Friday 19 August came a followup news release. Among its highlights are the revelations that TMG intends to begin commercial sales next year of the 280kW dual electric motor and lithium-ceramic battery powertrain that powered the 970 kg (2134 lb) prototype. Toyota Motorsport GmbH’s General Manager of Electric & Electronics, Ludwig Zeller, thus described the group’s goal:

We want to demonstrate the high level of performance which can now be reached with an electric powertrain, not only in motorsport terms but as part of TMG’s existing development work on road car EV technology. There is no more evocative place to illustrate this performance than on the Nordschleife. Our target is to beat the existing record by more than just a few seconds because that will demonstrate just how far our technology has developed since TMG began working on KERS systems in 2007. Many people are still dreaming of an electric future for motorsport; at TMG we believe this is much closer than some think and we intend to show what can be achieved with a high-performance electric powertrain.

At this point, Toyota also revealed its 3 major partners in the project: Aguti design created and implemented the livery/graphics concept while rational motion integrated the electric powertrain, traction battery and control strategies and EVO Electric motor technology delivers the power.

Finally, the much-anticipated Monday 29 August date arrived, but would the TMG EV P001 (for Toyota Motorsport GmbH Electric Vehicle Prototype 001) be able to meet its self-avowed goal of becoming the first electric vehicle break the eight-minute barrier on the extremely challenging Nürburgring Nordschleife track? As German driver Jochen Krumbach climbed aboard the Radical/e-WOLF-derived racer (more on this in a bit), the suspense mounted. Soon enough, Krumbach drove off, surely making the most of the TMG EV P001’s 800Nm (590 lb/ft) of torque and, we are very pleased to report, not only broke but shattered the 8-minute barrier, let alone the Peugeot EX1’s 9 minutes, with room to spare, at 7 minutes 47.794 seconds! As Gavin Conway of TheChargingPoint.com reminds us:

To put the Toyota’s time in perspective, production cars such as the Nissan GT-R, Porsche Turbo and Pagani Zonda all achieved lap times around the 7-minute 30sec range.

A Toyota Motorsport news release issued the next day cites TMG’s Director of Business Operations Rob Leupen’s thoughts that

There’s no doubt that electric motorsport can be every bit as thrilling as traditional racing and it was an amazing sensation to watch the TMG electric vehicle fly past on the Nordschleife, with only the sound of wind rushing past and tyres squealing.

No need to strain your imagination, though, for this historic lap was recorded for posterity. Jalopnik‘s Mike Spinelli likened it to the sound of a roller coaster, while this author is reminded, at times, of the somewhat cacophonous crescendo that climaxes the Beatles’ classic A Day in the Life (the final track from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) right before the final, drawn-out piano chord. Just see and hear for yourself:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=iwHO6sC7Lhs]

While the Toyota Motorsport site contains a good bit of further information and links, such as an Electric Vehicle Development section, a PDF document with specifications and links to a Flickr page with more photos, it is rather tight-lipped as to the origins of the bodywork and, indeed, of the project as a whole.

TheChargingPoint.com and Autoblog point us towards e-WOLF, a Cologne, Germany-based electric car specialist. With Toyota Motorsport GmbH also based there, it was hardly a stretch when e-WOLF turned to TMG to help develop the Alpha-1 SRF. The bodywork is sourced from England’s Radical Sportscars. But which of their myriad models is the body donor? To this author, it looks like the SR8 RX, while AutoblogGreen‘s Eric Loveday claims it’s the SR9, which isn’t even listed on the Radical site. Wikipedia, on the other hand, describes the SR9 LMP2 as an evolution of the SR8 built to full LMP2 regulations and thus able to be run in the American Le Mans Series, Le Mans Series, and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Is Toyota exploring yet another avenue to compete in endurance racing besides the long-rumored Lexus LFA-derived GTE racer?

Thus, what seemingly started out as a “skunkworks” side project evolved into something much greater. As James Allen so aptly concluded his article:

It would be quite a breakthrough for the profile of EVs. There are other manufacturers interested in supplying this series and seeing Toyota make this move could encourage more. It feels to me like the start of something.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Subaru’s version of FT-86 gets a name: BRZ

Although responsible for the flat-four engine and, allegedly, most if not all of the chassis and suspension componentry beneath the so-called “Toyobaru” (FT-86) coupe, Subaru has been something of a straggler when it comes to revealing specifics on its end of the upcoming joint-venture sports coupe with Toyota. In contrast to Toyota’s trio of FT-86-badged concepts, plus a fourth bearing the Scion FR-S badge, Subaru’s sole reveal was the clear-bodied and ponderously-named Rear-Wheel Drive Sports Car Technology Concept shown at the end of this article. Now comes word, via an official Fuji Heavy Industries press release that Subaru has chosen to name its version the BRZ, which stands for “Boxer engine”, “Rear-wheel drive” and “Zenith”.

While the use of a trio of initials or letters may seem odd to those accustomed to Subaru’s recent word names (Impreza, Legacy, et al), longtime fans of the marque may recall that their two previous dedicated sports coupes relied mostly on initials for their monikers: XT and SVX (although both used the Alcyone name in Japan, and XT was sold as the Subaru Vortex in Australia and New Zealand). The BRZ initials strike some as uncomfortably close to Honda’s hybrid sports coupe, the CR-Z, while others are reminded of Lincoln’s current model-naming protocol. BRZ also vaguely recalls the Plymouth Breeze, the cheapest of Chrysler’s so-called “cloud cars” from the late 1990s.

On Tuesday 13 September at 9:30 AM Central European Time (which translates into 3:30 AM Eastern Time and 12:30 AM Pacific Time), the Frankfurt Motor Show press conferences will see Subaru unveil its second and presumably final RWD sports car prototype, the BRZ Prologue “technology concept”. This implies yet another concept heavy on the technical underpinnings, and that’s just fine by us. With its flat-four engine reportedly moved back by as much as 100mm (almost 4″) and down an undetermined amount versus other Subaru applications for optimum balance and handling, anything that further clues us in on what to expect at the final production reveal of both Subaru and Toyota versions at December’s Tokyo Motor Show is more than welcome.

Speaking of clues, Subaru’s press release is accompanied by a teaser video of the BRZ Prologue, which looks much like the original Rear-Wheel Drive Sports Car Technology Concept. What little of the styling is revealed remains distinct from the Toyota/Scion concepts and shows a nose and front bumper shape reminiscent of the 3rd-generation (3G) Mitsubishi Eclipse. Yet, how much or how little visual differentation there will be between the Toyota/Scion and Subaru versions remains an open question. The concepts themselves hint at distinct looks for the two companies, while comparisons between test prototypes spotted at the Nürburgring with Toyota’s DAU 0684 license plates and in California with Subaru distributor plates show them to look almost identical save for possible minor lighting, wheel, spoiler and trim differences, just like the original Mitsubishi Eclipse / Eagle Talon / Plymouth Laser “Diamond-Star triplets”. Or is Subaru using Toyota-styled test mules for expediency?

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