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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tokyo a Showcase for Technical Innovations

Japan showcased what appears to be world leadership in hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show. Indeed, every Japanese automaker large and small — and a few foreign ones as well — displayed their latest advances in hybrids and fuel cells as well as other technologies.

Lexus’ close-to-production concept of the 2007 LS 460, designated the LF-Sh, was exhibited equipped with a hybrid powertrain, expected to be a new 4.6-liter V8 when it goes into production. Lexus also displayed the GS450h, a hybrid version of its recently redesigned GS sedans that will go on sale soon.

Next door, Toyota unveiled the Estima Hybrid Concept, a new generation of minivan with Toyota’s latest hybrid system, THS II, and electric four-wheel drive. Toyota boasts the Estima delivers ultra-low fuel consumption and leads the compact class in low exhaust emissions. The automaker says the highly efficient system attains 18 kilometers per liter (it is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder) and has an exhaust heat recovery system for lowering carbon dioxide and other emissions.

The vehicle generates its own electricity via two motors. Standard AC outlets can supply 1,500 watts of power — enough to run a television, refrigerator, computer and more, making it ideal for recreation or blackouts, Toyota notes.

The Estima has independent four-wheel drive and independent four-wheel steering that use in-wheel motors. The Estima further uses carbon-neutral materials for interior and exterior materials. Toyota Eco-Plastic comes from plant sources and uses polylactic acid, a polymer made from corn and other vegetables, and kenaf, a natural fiber. Toyota says the carbon released during disposal by combustion is balanced by CO²captured during the growth of plants used to make the materials.

Toyota bills its Fine-X as a new concept and “a glimpse of the automobile’s future.” It is powered by a fuel-cell system, which uses Toyota’s proprietary technology for key components, including the fuel-cell stack and high-pressure hydrogen tanks.
The Honda FCV Concept is the automaker’s latest generation of fuel-cell technology, this time installed in a premium sedan. Honda claims the system delivers more power in less space with the fuel cell occupying a space beneath floor to allow for a roomy interior and short front end.

The hydrogen fuel tanks expand storage capacity over previous tanks, not by increasing pressure, but via a newly developed hydrogen absorption material inside the tanks, which doubles fuel capacity and extends the vehicle’s range to 350 miles. Three- energy-efficient motors — one in the front and two in the rear — deliver power to all four wheels.

Nissan, which brings its first hybrid powertrain to market in 2007, showcased its latest fuel cell technology in its X-trail sport utility, though an even newer generation of the technology is planned for unveiling by the end of this year.

Mazda’s star was the Senku concept, described by the automaker as a four-seater rotary-engine sports car for the near future. Indeed, it may well be the next-generation RX-8. However, the concept version features Mazda’s hybrid powertrain that uses the famed rotary engine, which will runs on hydrogen, electric motors and regenerative brakes common to gas-electric hybrids. The same technology had been demonstrated earlier in an RX-8 and was also installed at the show in a minivan concept, the Premacy Hydrogen RE, which is Mazda’s first front-wheel-drive application of it’s the rotary engine.

Subaru unveiled the B5-TPH concept, which will make its North American debut at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show in January. The sport wagon/sport-utility crossover is equipped with a powertrain Subaru calls a Turbo Parallel Hybrid, a new all-wheel-drive hybrid system. It consists of a turbo-charged 2-liter four-cylinder engine that is horizontally opposed under the hood and is combined with electric motors.

Subaru plans its first commercial hybrid vehicle in 2007, but now that General Motors has sold its stake in Subaru and Toyota has bought in, Subaru’s hybrid plans could be accelerated with Toyota’s help.

Meantime, Suzuki’s Ionis concept, a microvan, uses fuel cell technology from GM, which still holds a stake in Suzuki.

Even tiny Daihatsu unveiled a fuel cell powertrain on a production four-seater Tanto. Daihatsu, which is affiliated with Toyota, borrowed Toyota’s fuel-cell technology for the concept.

While most of the hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles were displayed by Japanese automakers, Mercedes-Benz used the Tokyo show to unveil the F600 Hygenius concept, a fuel-cell study based on its B-Class that aims to top 3.0-liters per 100 kilometers and a range of more than 400 kilometers.

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