2008 LA Auto Show: Toyota CNG Camry Hybrid Concept

Article by Christian Andrei, on August 26, 2008

Any news coming from Toyota seems to be perceived as a mockery to the three biggest automakers. It's really not their fault. Toyota is feeling the pinch of the financial downturn but they are not in danger of impending collapse and they have a lot of profits coming in and enough cash on hand to endure the current financial storm.

As the American car manufacturers are going down under and pleading for cash just to pay their employees, Toyota is producing its newest in hybrid technology: a hybrid based on natural gas.

Although the Toyota CNG Camry Hybrid is a concept car, it provides some appealing figures. This Hybrid can travel an impressive 250 miles or 400 kilometer on natural gas the equivalent of just 8 gallons of gas.

It has also very low levels of emission for hazardous gases and pollutants. However, the vehicle needs natural gas tanks, of a cylindrical configuration, in the spare tire compartment and therefore are equipped with run flat tires.

And, because natural gas is less dense than gasoline or diesel, it is also less powerful. The Hybrid will be displayed at the LA Auto Show this Wednesday with plans for its production still a thing of the future.

Recognizing that liquid petroleum and fossil fuels will be depleted someday, TMS Advanced Product Strategy group VP Chris Hostetter stated that it’s important that vehicle companies look to alternate sources of fuel. Hostetter then put forward CNG as an ideal alternative.

Toyota was one of the car manufacturers to recognize the potential of CNG. It released a four-cylinder Camry meant for the California market in 1999. This particular model of the Camry utilized CNG. However, due to weak customer support, the CNG-powered Camry was shut down in 2000.

The lack of interest in the Camry was due in part to the limited number of CNG refueling stations – a fact that is true up until years after the program was discontinued.

However, that could change as Hostetter says that his company is exploring the potential of CNG as an alternative type of fuel to be used in the future. In fact, CNG is one of the alternatives that they are currently researching on and developing for future use.

Press Release

Toyota CNG Camry Hybrid Concept

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., today highlighted the versatility of its Hybrid Synergy Drive® system by showing a compressed natural gas (CNG) Camry Hybrid concept vehicle at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show.

"In the near future, growing demand for liquid petroleum simply and effectively will exceed supply," said Chris Hostetter, group vice president, TMS Advanced Product Strategy. "Before that occurs, automakers must look to vehicles powered by alternative fuels. We believe CNG will be one of those alternatives."

The current CNG benefits are amplified by rapidly changing market conditions and an increase in consumer environmental awareness. As a transport fuel, natural gas is a clean and safe gasoline alternative. It can potentially reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil and reduce vehicle operating costs. Currently more than 99 percent of natural gas used in the U.S. comes from domestic & other North American sources. Proven worldwide natural gas reserves are estimated to last until 2100 and have the potential to last until 2200 through improved advanced production methods.

Natural gas also produces lower particulate emissions, nitrous oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and non-methane organic gases (NMOG), and less CO2 per unit of energy when compared with gasoline. In addition, it has a higher flash point (ignition temperature) than gasoline, can run at a higher compression ratio and is quickly dispersed into the atmosphere, should a leak occur.

The CNG Camry Hybrid concept was designed by the TMS Advanced Product Strategy group and built by Metal Crafters of Fountain Valley, Calif. To convert the stock Camry Hybrid to a CNG vehicle, the gasoline fuel system was replaced with a CNG system including two CNG tanks installed in the spare tire well area.

The exterior of the vehicle also received some sporty ‘concept’ touches. A sleek custom front fascia and front bumper cover eliminate the grill opening, while a custom rear bumper covers the tail pipe and visible exhaust system. The vehicle is fitted with 19 x 7.5 alloy wheels and Bridgestone Potenza 225/35ZR19 run-flat tires to accommodate the lack of a spare tire. The overall ride height is lowered while new side body skirts and "Compressed Natural Gas Hybrid" graphics complete the unique look.

In 1999, Toyota marketed a CNG-powered four-cylinder Camry to fleet customers in California. Due to relatively low gasoline costs at that time, customers were not attracted to a vehicle that required special refueling techniques and a limited refueling infrastructure. The program was discontinued a year later. Today there are less than 1,000 CNG refueling stations nationwide, with less than half open to the public.

"Toyota believes CNG has huge potential, both in the U.S. and globally," said Hostetter, "but CNG is just one of the many alternative fuels we’re exploring in our ongoing advanced technology research and development."

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