2010 Detroit Auto Show: Toyota FT-CH Concept

Article by Christian Andrei, on January 11, 2010

Toyota revealed today at the Detroit Auto Show the FT-CH Concept, a new hybrid vehicle designed especially for urban use. The new concept is with 560mm shorter than the current Prius and could be a preview for the long-rumoured Toyota Prius Coupe which will be built to take on cars such as the upcoming Honda CR-Z which will make its official debut at this year's Detroit Show.

The FT-CH was designed by the Toyota ED2 design studio in Nice and aims at a younger audience than the traditional Prius buyer. Also, the car is much ligher and more efficient comparing to the 2010 Toyota Prius. Even the price will be lower comparing it to the Prius. Toyota confirmed today in Detriot that it intends to bring an all-electric car to market by 2012 and a fuel-cell vehicle by 2015.

CH (which refers to the compact hybrid) is actually a part of the compact class. For some perspective, the best way to describe it would be to compare it to the Prius, a mid-sized car. As such, the Toyota FT-CH shows the functionality and attitude of a vehicle that works well within the urban setting.

The size of the FT-CH makes it maneuverable, nimble and responsive. According to Lentz, the FT-CH is the package that many Toyota customers and dealers have been waiting for. The style of the FT-CH was created by the brand’s European Design and Development (ED²) center located in Nice, France.

It is shorter than the Prius by 22 inches while its width is less by not even an inch. While it may appear that the FT-CH has smaller external dimensions than the Prius, it still offers maximum passenger comfort. Furthermore, the interior has just enough room but it stands out because of its creative sense of style. One highlight of the FT-CH is that the designers at ED² managed to depict a type of appeal that is now known as the 8-bit generation.

For those unfamiliar with this terminology, the 8-bit generation refers to the early 1980s when the video game industry was then ruled by the 8-bit microprocessor technology. With the many advances in technology, the 8-bit is now part of the retro period.

Thus it is not surprising to see art and music that have been inspired by the 8-bit. By providing a throwback to the 8-bit generation, Toyota hopes that it will increase its appeal especially with the young buyers as it also associated with innovation, fun, and style. Additionally, the FT-CH is lighter than the Prius and is more fuel efficient.

Toyota also expects that in order to become more attractive to the younger demographic, who are usually not as affluent as the older generation, the FT-CH will be priced lower than the Prius. Lentz confirms that since the Prius is now universally known for its hybrid technology, TMS will start to develop its family “marketing strategy” especially for the North American market. Lentz say that with this, they hope to be able to maximize the brand equity of the Prius.

Lentz adds that they are still forming the strategy and clarified that it will clearly need more models in order to be called a family. The FT-CH is one of the concepts that the company is considering for this family, Lentz concludes. Toyota intends to sell a million hybrids annually worldwide starting in early 2010.

Majority of this is expected to be sold in North America. To meet this objective, Toyota revealed plans to release eight new hybrid models in the coming years. However Toyota states that it will not include the next generation models of its current hybrid cars. Rather it will solely be for the new hybrid cars and the hybrid versions for many of its current gas engine units.

At the core of its hybrid technology is the battery. Toyota has long been dedicated to the research and development of improved nickel-metal hydride batteries. This was started in the early stages of the development of the Prius during the early 1990s. After seven models and three generations, Toyota has managed to improve the reliability, quality, and energy density, all while being able to decrease the weight, size, and most importantly the cost.

One of the significant components of Toyota’s achievements with regards to hybrid technology has been its joint venture partnership with the company Panasonic. By the end of this year, Panasonic EV Energy (PEVE) will have three fully operational but separate production facilities.

The total combined production from these three plants is estimated to be one million units per annum. In order to move forward with its electrification, Toyota launched a global demonstration program that involved around 600 Prius vehicles.

By the start of this year Toyota says that 150 plug-in hybrid vehicles will start to enter the U.S. They will be put in different regional cluster through its selected partners. These will then be used for technical demonstration and market or consumer analysis.

Press Release

Toyota Unveils Compact Dedicated Hybrid Concept, Reveals Future Plan for 'Prius Family' North American Marketing Strategy

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A, Inc., today unveiled the FT-CH dedicated hybrid concept at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. The FT-CH is a concept that would address Toyota’s stated strategy to offer a wider variety of conventional hybrid choices to its customers, as it begins to introduce plug-in hybrids (PHVs) and battery electrics (BEVs) in model year 2012, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCHVs) in 2015 in global markets.

“Within the next 10 to 20 years, we will not only reach peak oil we will enter a period where demand for all liquid fuels will exceed supply,” said Jim Lentz, TMS president. “A century after the invention of the automobile, we must re-invent it with powertrains that significantly reduce or eliminate the use of conventional petroleum fuels. One of many alternatives is through what is commonly called the electrification of the automobile. By far, the single most successful example of this has been the gas-electric hybrid.”

The CH stands for compact hybrid as in compact class and it’s a concept that can best be defined by comparing it with the mid-size class Prius. The FT-CH captures the spirit and functionality of a car that thrives in the inner-city environment; sized right to be nimble, responsive and maneuverable.

“It’s a package Toyota dealers and customers have been asking for,” added Lentz.

The FT-CH was styled at Toyota’s European Design and Development (ED²) center in Nice, France. Compared to Prius, it is 22 inches shorter in overall length, yet loses less than an inch in overall width. In spite of its compact external dimensions, FT-CH was designed for maximum passenger comfort and interior roominess, with an imaginative sense of style.

ED² designers looked to capture the vivid, high-energy appeal of what has come to be called the 8-bit generation. Popularized in the early 80’s, 8-bit microprocessor technology dominated the budding home video game industry. Today, 8-bit is considered a specific retro-style that is embraced by such things as 8-bit genre music and 8-bit inspired art.

The direct reference to the 8-bit generation is meant to be fun and innovative, colorful and stylish, with strong appeal to young buyers. Lighter in weight and even more fuel efficient than Prius, the concept specifically targets a lower price point than Prius, thus appealing to a younger, less-affluent buyer demographic.

Pointing to how Prius has become a universal icon for hybrid technology, Lentz confirmed that TMS is developing a Prius family “marketing strategy” for North America that will take full advantage of the Prius brand equity.

“The strategy is still taking shape and obviously it will require additional models to qualify as a family,” said Lentz. “Among others, the FT-CH is a concept that we are considering.”

In the early 2010s, Toyota plans to sell a million hybrids per year globally, a majority of those in North America. To accomplish this, Toyota will launch eight all new hybrid models over the next few years. These will not include next generation versions of current hybrids; instead, they will be all new dedicated hybrid vehicles, or all new hybrid versions of existing gas engine models.

The heart of hybrid technology is its battery. Since the early 90’s, during the early stages of first-generation Prius development, Toyota has been committed to in-house R&D of advanced nickel-metal hydride batteries. Through three generations of Prius and a total of seven full-hybrid models, it has systematically reduced size, weight and cost while improving energy density, quality and reliability.

Toyota’s joint venture partnership with Panasonic has been a key element of its success in the advancement of hybrid technology. Later this year, Panasonic EV Energy (PEVE) will have three separate, fully operational production facilities with a combined capacity of more than one million units per year.

Moving the promise of electrification one step further, Toyota recently kicked off its global demonstration program involving approximately 600 Prius plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Beginning early this year, 150 PHVs will begin to arrive in the U.S. where they will be placed in regional clusters with select partners for market/consumer analysis and technical demonstration.

The Prius PHV introduces Toyota's first generation lithium-ion drive battery. When fully charged, the vehicle is targeted to achieve a maximum electric-only range of about 13 miles and capable of achieving highway speeds of more than 60 mph in electric-only mode. For longer distances, the Prius PHV reverts to “hybrid mode” and operates like a regular Prius. This ability to utilize all-electric power for short trips or hybrid power for longer drives alleviates the issue of limited cruising range encountered with pure-electric vehicles.

All program vehicles will be equipped with data retrieval/communication devices which will monitor activities such as: how often the vehicle is charged and when, whether the batteries are depleted or being topped-off during charging, trip duration and all-electric driving range, combined mpg and so on.

As it becomes available, data from the program vehicles will be posted to a dedicated Web site. This in use, readily available data will help consumers understand how the vehicles are being used and how they're performing.

Toyota believes this demonstration program is a necessary next step in societal preparation in that it allows Toyota the unique opportunity to inform, educate and prepare customers for the electrification of the automobile in general and the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology.

Toyota is moving quickly with the development of PHV technology well beyond this demonstration program. Advanced battery R&D programs with nickel-metal, lithium-ion and “beyond lithium” are underway for a wide variety of applications in conventional hybrids, PHVs, BEVs and FCHVs.

In the early 1990s, Toyota began R&D on building a practical and affordable hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. FCHV technical advancements have moved at a rapid pace. Engineers have made great strides in cost reduction targets in both materials and manufacturing and Toyota is committed to bringing hydrogen fuel cells to global markets in 2015.

Toyota’s latest model, the Toyota FCHV-advanced began its own national demonstration program late last year. Over the course of the three year program, more than 100 vehicles will be placed in an effort to demonstrate the technology’s performance, reliability and practicality in everyday use.

Recently field tested in southern California by two national laboratories at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy, the FCHV-advanced confirmed an estimated single-tank fuel range of 431 miles. In combined city and highway driving from Santa Monica to San Diego the FCHV-adv logged an estimated 68 miles per kilogram of hydrogen, the rough equivalent of 68 miles per gallon. That range is equivalent to a Highlander hybrid at more than double the MPG with zero emissions other than water vapor.

In 1997, Toyota introduced the RAV4 EV battery electric vehicle in California. 1,484 of these 100 mile range large-battery electric vehicles were either sold or leased over the course of the program. Nearly half are still on the road.

Shortly thereafter, Toyota started a modest demonstration program with a small- battery electric urban commuter vehicle, called the e-com. This concept addressed the idea of the “on-demand” city station car similar to the Zip-car business model that is becoming popular in large urban areas. Although shorter in range, the e-com program addressed a specific mobility niche at a much more affordable price than the RAV4 EV.

The RAV4 EV and e-com programs were short lived due to lack of commitment from the market; the consumer and the consumer’s environmental mind set were not ready to commit to battery electric vehicles at that time. Recent increased awareness of environmental issues and the benefits of advanced technology vehicles have reinvigorated an interest in the electric vehicle market. As a result, Toyota will bring a small, urban commuter lithium-ion BEV to market in model year 2012.

Battery technology has progressed significantly in the time since the RAV4 EV and e-com programs. But major challenges still remain. The cost of lithium-ion batteries needs to be reduced significantly, or a more affordable alternative developed.

Like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, battery electrics will require the creation of infrastructure for recharging on the go. This issue of range is also a challenge to overcome. Even at 100 miles, BEVs as a primary mode of transportation do not yet offer what most consumers see as true mobility.

Toyota believes these are hurdles that will be cleared. For the last decade its focus has been to concentrate on a comprehensive advanced technology strategy including BEVs, PHVs, and FCHVs. Common to all three is the move to electrification, the full commitment to advanced battery technology and how lessons learned from conventional hybrid R&D have given Toyota a leg-up on all three.

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