As the economic slowdown intensifies and people continue to buy fewer cars, most manufacturers are starting to hit the brakes a little harder on production levels. Toyota is shutting down plants in Japan for 11 days, and more closures could come as the company says it will only make half the number of cars from February to April as it did last year. That would take Toyota down to 9,000 cars per day as it grapples with an increasing inventory. With the near future predicted to be even bleaker and the urgent need to align production with sales, more factory stoppage announcements are likely to come.
Toyota officially revealed the much anticipated third generation 2010 Prius yesterday at the Detroit Motor Show. We already heard many of the mechanical details over the past year or so, but today it was confirmed that the Prius will get a combined EPA rating of 50 mpg. The engine has been up-sized to 1.8L with an output of 98 hp and the total net output of the hybrid drive system is 134 hp.
The basic design is still recognisable as a Prius, but the body has some slick changes. The shape is smoother with drag coefficiency of just 0.25. The peak of the roof has now been moved back 4 inches giving the car a more reclined profile and increasing rear headroom. The optional extras include LED headlights and lane departure prevention, but the most innovative new option is the solar roof. A roof-mounted photo-voltaic panel will power the air recirculation system when the car sits in the sun, reducing the internal temps and the subsequent load on the air conditioning system. The new Prius will go on sale in the states in the middle of the year.
The Associated Press is reporting that Toyota will once again have a Toyoda running the company. Akio Toyoda, the 52-year-old grandson of Toyota Motor Corp’s founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, is reportedly about to be voted in by the board. If everything goes to plan, he will officially take over the presidency in June. It will be the first time in 14 years that a Toyoda will lead the company. Akio is known for being a lot more laid-back than the typical Japanese executive, which may go some way to rejuvenating the company.
Current president Katsuaki Watanabe is on his way out as Toyota faces its first projected operating loss in the company’s 70-year history. Toyota sales have slumped and the automaker has had to cut production and lay off temporary workers. Although Toyota remains predictably tight-lipped on the move, it’s expected that Watanabe will become a vice chairman, with current chairman Fujio Cho keeping that position. Toyoda has been an executive vice president since 2005, so will be well prepared for the job.
For Holden 2008 brought good-news and bad-news, the Commodore has once again won the title of Australia’s best-selling vehicle. With this announcement, the Australian arm of General Motors has extended the Commodore’s run as best seller to 13 years straight. That’s the good news part. The bad news is that the 51,093 sales in 2008 are the model’s lowest total since it first debuted in 1978.
Australia’s second-best-seller is the Toyota Corolla, and the small car put up a very strong fight to wrest the title from Holden. There were a few main factors that helped retain the crown for the Commodore, including the introduction of the Sportwagon bodystyle and the October launch of Holden’s $29,990 (AUS dollars) driveaway deal. Fuel prices also dropped towards the end of the year, and that likely helped swing the momentum back towards the Holden from the more fuel efficient Corolla. The Commodore vs Corolla battle is set to rage again in 2009.
What do you get when you put together 4 friends, camping equipment, 1 chilly bin a few dozen beers, fireworks, sleeping bags and a trip up to Pakiri beach planned? You don’t just have all the means for a great weekend away, you also have the basis for a full test of a large car’s ability. On this mission the Toyota Aurion AT-X was to play the roles of transporter, guardian and entertainer for the journey ahead.
Prior to departure I glanced over the Aurion before the dust and road dirt would steal its city-shine. In styling the Aurion makes little attempt to mask its large proportions. Like a tuxedo-wearing bouncer the Aurion is muscular but well dressed. Built on the Camry platform the Aurion was gifted a new head and tail, and this works well achieving a flat, fluent look throughout. Neutral in stance and clean cut at the front, the rear styling shows more flair; a sloping rear windscreen leads down into a high boot line that houses two wrap-around rear lights a chunky bumper and twin oval exhaust pipes that hint at the Aurion’s performance capabilities. A final check over the 16-inch rims and Dunlop Sport tyres, and we were clear to load the Aurion up.
Fitting all the gear into the Aurion was its first challenge. The boot is voluminous and had a good shape that pushed fairly far into the cabin, however, the opening was quite small with larger items requiring some jiggling to fit through and some old-fashioned interior boot hinges intruded on available space. But the Aurion’s boot was big enough to swallow up our gear leaving the cabin free for passengers only.
The Aurion feels like a large car inside but despite good legroom front and rear, feels like it’s unable to match the Commodores or Falcons. The cabin is basic and smart with dark cloth and thick black plastics. The contrasting bright-silver plastic is relentless climbing up the centre stack and infecting elsewhere. Drivers seat is electronically adjustable – it could use more lateral support, but was wide and comfortable for the journey. The instruments are easily read and illuminate well; the air-con and stereo controls are simple and functional. Interior storage options are bountiful and everyone found prime positions for water bottles, sunglasses and paperbacks.
Time to make tracks and find out if the Aurion has some go to match its show. The 3.5-litre 24-valve V6 is a beastly six-cylinder smacking out 200kW of power and 336 Nm of torque, this is good enough to take the Aurion from standing to 100kmh in mid 7-second territory. Maximum torque isn’t available until 4700rpm so low-down performance can seem lazy, but that’s quickly forgotten once the revs start climbing. With class-leading fuel economy figures of 9.9L/100km and a 70-litre fuel tank I knew no petrol stops would be required. Once we’d left the traffic lights of Auckland behind, the Aurion proved itself as a legit open road gladiator with passing lanes its Colosseum. Power was effortless and smoothly delivered with the growling V6 unafraid of exploring the upper limits of its rev range. It could do all this while still being quiet and comfortable enough to accommodate some rear passenger napping mid-journey.
We made the turn at Warkworth from SH 1 to more twisting roads, for the Aurion’s final test before we reached our destination. Well mannered through the turns the Aurion couldn’t quite mask its size in terms of agility. Grip was solid with the Aurion only showing a hint of understeer when pushed. Steering was precise and even offered some feedback on bumpy corners. The Aurion’s front-wheel drive status is a point of difference with its competitors, but it pulled itself well through the bends despite the heavy motor sitting over the driving wheels. As the roads tightened further and sweeping corners changed into hairpins the Aurion’s gearbox occasionally proved too eager to shift up a gear and had to drop itself back down to keep up momentum. That said, in regular driving situations the gearbox is very good at making the most of the engine with closely spaced ratios. There is also a manual override on the automatic transmission that makes holding the vehicle in a specific gear simple. The final few miles of the trip were done on gravel roads the Aurion’s ride was absorbent and had no issues keeping good grip.
Getting to our destination was a success, but if we encountered any bad luck along the way, the Aurion is guarded with an armoury of safety features. Six airbags, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force and brake assist are included as standard. An impressive equipment list for an entry-level variant.
Aurion means tomorrow in Greek, and as the sun set on Pakiri beach I knew that the next day’s return trip would be easily gobbled up by the large Toyota. Around town, motorways, twisty open roads and even gravel, the Aurion proved itself a capable, comfortable no-nonsense worker far more content with cruising along on straight roads than being thrown through tight corners. With solid Toyota build quality the Aurion should seldom need attention and will fight to the bitter end.
Click through to the next page for a full list of specifications
Price: from $43,990
What we like:
- Safety features
- Raw power
- Balanced and comfortable ride
- Good economy for engine size
What we don’t like:
- Interior colour scheme
- Premature gearbox up-shifts
Words Adam Mamo Photos Darren Cottingham
Toyota Aurion AT-X (2008) – Specifications
Brief Description V6, 24 Valve, DOHC, Chain Drive with Dual VVT-i
Capacity 3456 cc
Engine Size 3.5 litre
Bore 94.0 mm
Stroke 83.0 mm
Compression Ratio 10.8 1
Number of Cylinders 6
Number of Valves 24
Max. Power 204 kW
Max. Power Max. 6200 rpm
Max. Torque 346 Nm
Max. Torque Max. 4700 rpm
Induction Type Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI)
Fuel Type Petrol
Tank Capacity 70 Litres
Octane Rating 91 Unleaded
Emission Control Standard Euro IV
Fuel Consumption – ADR 81/01 (Combined) 9.9 L/100km
CO2 Emissions – ADR 81/01 233 g/km
Front MacPherson struts and stabiliser bar; Front suspension tower brace
Rear Dual link strut and hollow stabiliser bar
Description Engine speed sensitive power-assisted rack and pinion steering
Ratio Max. 16.0
Min. Turning Circle (Tyre) 11 m
Turns Lock to Lock 3.2
Wheels and Tyres
Wheels 6.5JJ x 16″ Alloy Wheels
Tyres 215/60 R16 steel belted radial ply tyres
Spare Wheel 6.5JJ x 16″ Steel Wheel
Tyre Brand Dunlop: SP Sport 300 E Michelin
Overall Length 4825 mm
Overall Width 1820 mm
Overall Height – Max. 1470 mm
Wheelbase 2775 mm
Track – Front 1575 mm
Track – Rear 1565 mm
Overhang – Front 965 mm
Overhang – Rear 1085 mm
Minimum Running Ground Clearance 150 mm
Interior Length 2130 mm
Interior Width 1525 mm
Interior Height 1200 mm
Seating Capacity 5
Luggage Capacity (VDA) 504 L
Gross Vehicle Weight 2110 kg
Kerb Weight 1585-1590 kg
Max. Towing Capacity Braked 1600 kg
Max. Towing Capacity Unbraked 500 kg
Max. Download on Towball 160 kg
It’s no secret that Chrysler is having to fight harder than its Detroit brothers for survival, and the American automaker is pulling out all the stops to keep the lights on even if that means closing the doors. Chrysler is shutting down all of its plants for one month, beginning December 19. In a short release to the media, Chrysler blamed the continued credit crunch as the main reason for the shutdown, and is trying to realign its vehicle stock with consumer demand. Dealers have notified Chrysler that they’ve got plenty of perspective buyers, but up to 25% of customers are currently unable to obtain financing. So Chrysler plant workers will have a really long Christmas break at 95% pay, which can’t be too bad.
Chrysler’s move is far from unprecedented, though, as GM announced on Monday that it would be cutting production by 250,000 units in the first quarter of 2009. GM has also delayed production of its Flint engine plant. Toyota has also delayed plans to open its unfinished Mississippi plant, and Mitsubishi is closing its Illinois plant for seven weeks.
Hilux now has a new two wheel drive model to boost up its range; a 3.0 litre turbo diesel extra cab utility with manual transmission. That brings the Hilux range to a grand total of 16 different model variants. The six petrol models, both two wheel drive and four wheel drive, now all comply with the Euro IV exhaust emission standards.
Changes have also been made to the existing models with the exterior for both the two wheel and four wheel drive variants featuring a new headlight design, matched with a new front grille design and new look front bumpers. The four wheel drive SR5 models have newly designed alloy wheels and all SR5 models have the addition of audio and multi information display steering wheel controls. A limited slip differential, already standard on the rest of the two wheel drive range, has now been added to the 2.7 litre petrol single and double cab models. Cruise control is now a standard feature on the four wheel drive 3.0 litre turbo diesel SR5 double cab with manual transmission and the two wheel drive 4.0 litre V6 petrol SR5 double cab with manual transmission. A new exterior colour has also been added with blue metallic replacing the current dark blue metallic.
Rumors have recently surrounded Toyota saying that a separate Prius brand will be announced by the automaker shortly. Toyota has replied on its own blog by stating that it is only a maybe at this stage.
Toyota can confirm that it’s considering a hybrid-only brand that would see separate space in dealerships – much like what is already being done with the Scion brand in the States. But a final decision has not yet been made and Toyota’s not even sure what products would fall under that new brand name, except for the Prius. Rumors continue about new hybrids from Toyota, including Prius-like hatchbacks both a bit larger and a bit smaller than the current model.