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Author: Bertel Schmitt

After a 40 year hiatus, spent doing propaganda in the automotive industry around the world, Bertel returns as a journalist and to the roots of his initials. His wife is a late model Japanese Import. The Schmitts settled down in Tokyo.

What does the congressional grilling of Akio Toyoda have to do with the Mirai FCV? More than we imagine

Toyota Mirai FCV line-off Motomachi - 6L-- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt
Today, 5 years ago, on February 24, 2010, Toyoda CEO Akio Toyoda was mercilessly grilled in a show trial at the U.S. Congress for unintended acceleration that did, according to NASA, never happen. Picture Mark Fields, or Mary Barra, being screamed at in Chinese, or Japanese, by lawmakers in Beijing, or Tokyo, and you won’t begin to fathom the intentional trauma. Today, February 24, 2015, the production start of Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai, was celebrated in a line-off ceremony at the Motomachi plant in Toyota City, Japan. Just a happenstance? Not really.

Designers take charge at Toyota


Toyota’s new Alphard and Vellfire minivans, revealed today in Tokyo, are laden with new technology, like the impression to the driver that the car is transparent, or a computer, that parks the car nearly by itself. The minivans also come with Naoya Ukaku, a Toyota designer, and the trailblazer of a new, design-driven management concept.

Ukaku’s title is “Project Chief Designer.” Beginning with the Alphard and Vellfire, all new Toyota models will have one. “The PCD is like a chief engineer for design development,” Toyota’s Dion Corbett told me this afternoon. “He remains the car’s chief designer from idea development, through commercialization design all the way to sales preparations.” Until now at Toyota, these functions were handled by three different departments. The departments remain, but in the future, the Project Chief Designer stays with the car, and transitions with it from department through department while it gestates from the rough scribble on a napkin to final launched product.

Machine mimics man: Automakers fight car obesity, weight wins

Tribute-Bruce-Snowden-Picture courtesy
As many of us are painfully aware, power and weight are at constant odds. Too often, the battle is won by sheer weight, as energy succumbs to obesity. The same goes for the cars we drive. Machine mimics man. As the car industry grows older, cars get heavier. They also gain power, and most of that added power is used to drag the added heft around. Exhaust escalation usually goes hand in hand with the extra expended energy.

California-based Paul Williamsen is chief of training at Lexus. He also received fame as the author of “BMW Fuel Injection: The Enlightened Approach,” a self-published underground bestseller describing the taming of the bedeviled K-Jetronic, a mechanical fuel injection system that beset many European cars in the final decades of the last century, a curse as complex and mysterious as a WWII Enigma machine. Today, Paul shared with his friends a fascinating chart.

The things I learned while not test driving the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai

Having been in far too many nearly finished cars in a former life, I don’t get excited by test drives. Nevertheless, I always go when invited. While other journalists drive the car, I shoot the breeze with the engineers who make the car. It is amazing what you can absorb while not driving at these test drives. Today for instance, I learn that the new fuel cell Toyota Mirai looks the way it looks, because the man in charge was sick of the Prius.

I am in the basement garage of Toyota’s Megaweb in Tokyo, and while the A-list of Tokyo’s automotive press corps takes a very blue, and a senior-silver Mirai through a very closed course outside, I chew, a paper cup with hotto kohee in my hands, the fat with the gentlemen who made the Mirai happen.

“I was responsible for the third generation Prius, and I was getting tired of it,” the Mirai’s project manager Toshihiro Kasai quips after he is asked why the hydrogen power-train was not simply another bullet on the option list of Toyota’s best-selling hybrid. After quickly adding that he was joking, Kasai says that the Mirai slots above the Prius, that a “higher class car must be a sedan, not a hatchback,” and that the car isn’t so expensive, because it is a premium car. It is sold as a premium car, because it still is very expensive.

Toyota unleashes fuel cell vehicle named “Mirai”

Many decades after starting work on fuel cell technologies, Toyota launched the world’s first commercially available fuel cell vehicle today at an event in Tokyo. The car is called “Mirai,” which is Japanese for “future.” Fittingly, the event was held at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, known to natives as the “Miraikan” (= Hall of the Future”). Japanese car launches usually are a low key affair. This time, Toyota laid on a flashy show with huge holographic imagery. Officially on sale from December 15, 2014, the Mirai will retail in Japan for JPY 7,236,000 (USD 62,000) including consumption tax. Government subsidies can bring down the price to JPY 4,236,000 (USD 36,000) in some areas of Japan.

Don’t throw away your old shoes: The Toyota Land Cruiser 70 returns to Japan

If we rack our brains for a car that typifies Toyota, the brain will probably answer “Corolla.” Yet again, the brain is wrong. The eponymous Toyota, the car that embodies toughness, simplicity, and reliability, is the Toyota Land Cruiser. Launched in 1951 in support of the Korean War, the original Land Cruiser fathered a vast family, which is spread all over the world. From the United Nations to al-Queda, from SOCOM to soccer moms, there is a Land Cruiser that fits the job. The toughest in the Land Cruiser family is the Land Cruiser 70. Launched in 1984, it is sold throughout the world. Well, not quite. At home in Japan, sales of the Land Cruiser 70 ended in 2004. Today, the lost son came back home.

Concise history of the Toyota Land Cruiser, in 16 exclusive pictures

The Korean War started in 1950, and so did the history of the Land Cruiser. The American Army needed utility vehicles, and Toyota delivered. In 1951, Toyota had a first prototype, more powerful than the U.S. Jeep, with a 84 hp 6-cylinder gasoline engine. In 1953, mass production started, and the “Toyota Jeep BJ” was shipped across the water to eager customers fighting the Communists in Korea. In 1954, the BJ was named “Land Cruiser,” an unabashed reference to the British competition, the Land Rover.