Toyota is good at a lot of things, but their greatest strength is that they can build affordable, very reliable cars by the metric crapton. That’s a fantastic quality in a major carmaker. What they’re not so good at is innovation; part of why they’re so good at reliability is that they tend to stick with tried-and-true technologies. That may be why their new battery electric vehicle platform, bZ4x, seems so underwhelming. It doesn’t explain why they’re copying one of the stupidest EV ideas out there, Tesla’s silly yoke steering wheel, though. Nothing explains that.
Remember, Toyota is a company that didn’t even make any front-wheel drive cars until 1978 (and in America we didn’t see that FWD Tercel until 1980), and even then they stuck with a longitudinal engine because they felt a transverse one would freak people out, even though Honda and VW and Fiat and Austin and many others had been doing it for years and years.
Toyota announced this battery-electric (BEV) platform back in April, and now we’re finally getting the details on it. If you can wade through all of the cringe-inducing marketing horseshit, you’ll find, well, essentially the same sort of battery electric skateboard platform that nearly everyone in the industry is already using.
And, yes, there’s also this:
Toyota isn’t calling this a yoke. Instead they’re calling it the vaguely masturbatory-sounding “one-motion grip.”
The press release justifies this using some really peculiar vocabulary:
Cockpit (meters and operating system) supporting a new driving experience
Cockpit that emphasizes meter visibility
Meters are positioned to be visible through the upper part of the steering wheel (top-mounted meters, a first for Toyota)
Emphasizes ease of viewing by reducing eye movement and enabling a distance point of focus
Modularized driving controls including a steering column, adopting a wing-shape that promotes eye guidance from hands to meters
Meters? Who the hell calls the car’s instruments or dash gauges “meters?” Nobody, that’s who. How long have you been in this business, Toyota? Meters. FFS.
(NOTE: I have been told that engineers will use this term for instruments or gauges in a car. And, sure, I know it’s used for, like, the electric meter on the side of your house, and it’s in the names of many instruments: speedo-meter, tacho-meter, fuelo-meter, etc.)
They go into their One-Motion Grip not-wheel more:
One-motion grip*4 combining steer-by-wire system and uniquely shaped steering wheel (A Toyota first)
Some models adopt the steer-by-wire system, where there is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and tires. Characteristics of this are listed below
- Lock-to-lock is set at around 150 degrees, eliminating the need to change grips when steering, greatly reducing the burden on the driver for U-turn, garage parking and on winding roads
- The steering feeling is improved through independently controlling the steering torque that the driver feels and the steering angle of the tires. Steering characteristics can be changed with drive mode select
- Blocks unnecessary vibrations from tires and only transmits necessary vibrations such as road information. System controls tire movement to ensure vehicle stability when driving on uneven surfaces or when Lane Tracing Assist is activated
- One-motion grip provides more legroom, improving driving position freedom and ease of entry and exit
At least Tesla had the dignity to not release an insipid press release about their yoke. The lock-to-lock of 150 degrees is interesting, though, and may make this a more useable sort of less-usable wheel than Teslas, but I’d have to try it to really know.
If there’s anything truly innovative in this platform, Toyota is keeping it well-hidden. I mean, it’s fine. It’s effectively Toyota’s version of, say, Volkswagen’s MEB, and I’m confident is a well-engineered platform.
It does stack a lot of hardware up front, which may impede the option for a front storage compartment, but that stack of inverters and HVAC equipment is set fairly far back, right over the front axle, and when their bZ4X SUV body is superimposed atop the platform, it does appear that there would be room in front of the axle for some front-end cargo storage, which I’m fond of.
The level of bullshit in this press release really is incredible, though. Look at this, right from the beginning:
• Contribution to SDGs based on the concept of “home planet”
Toyota’s approach to carbon neutrality is “practical and sustainable,” aiming to reduce CO2 with products that are easy to use and highly appealing.
• The TOYOTA bZ series adopts a BEV-dedicated platform that aims for a value greater than zero (“beyond Zero”). The bZ4X has the excitement of an SUV-style BEV, driving appeal, and is the first model of the Toyota’s bZ series, which emphasizes safety and peace of mind. It will be launched worldwide in the middle of 2022.
First, what the hell is an SDG? Sensual Donut Guild? Salamander Defamation Generation? Oh, wait, it’s Sustainable Development Goals. Okay. But what the hell is this “home planet” business? Is it because these will be offered on the lucrative Earth Domestic Market? Great.
And this line is incredible:
The TOYOTA bZ series adopts a BEV-dedicated platform that aims for a value greater than zero (“beyond Zero”).
Greater value than zero? Hot damn, way to dream big, fellas. A non-zero value! That’s literally better than nothing.
Now I’m going to make you watch their dumb video:
Why do carmakers make stuff like this? Is this convincing anyone of anything? Like, what’s the message of this pablum:
Toyota, punishingly, goes on to explain all this:
1. You & Others
In addition to comfortable cabins, Toyota bZ offers a new lifestyle and the opportunity to spend precious time with family and friends.
2. You & Your Car
Toyota bZ delivers the BEV’s unique joy of driving and excitement at anticipated possibilities.
3. You & the Environment
Toyota bZ will not only reduce CO2 and other emissions―it aims to contribute positively to the environment.
4. You & Society
Toyota bZ aims to create a safer society where everyone enjoys greater peace of mind.
Oh boy, a car that lets me “spend precious time with family and friends,” finally! It also delivers “excitement at anticipated possibilities” and a society “where everyone enjoys greater peace of mind.”
Stop, Toyota, just just stop.
Every technical quality noted in the video is on par with the current, state-of-the-art of modern battery electric vehicles. This car could have been released five years ago just like it is without getting anybody terribly excited.
It’s fine, it’s all just fine, but what must be maddening for people inside of Toyota is how long it took the company to get here, especially because Toyota was uniquely established to have a really successful battery electric car before almost anybody, thanks to the Prius.
One of Toyota’s rare and extremely successful, genuinely technologically innovative moves, the Prius brought hybrid technology to the masses, and since the model’s introduction in 1997, it managed to become nearly synonymous with hybrid-electric cars by the early 2000s.
If in, say, 2008 or so you looked at the automotive marketplace and wondered who would be in the best position to market and sell a new battery electric car, you would have had to say Toyota, thanks to the Prius brand.
Priuses were already considered “electric” cars back in the early 2000s by many, accurate or not; they had incredibly strong brand and name recognition, and if Toyota had introduced a BEV around 2010, when Nissan introduced their BEV, the Leaf, they very likely could have found a lot of success and begun to transition their loyal Prius owners to true Prius EVs.
But they didn’t. Instead, somehow, Toyota has waited until they’re among the last of the major automakers to introduce a viable BEV platform, and any advantage that the Prius brand could have carried is pretty well squandered by now.
So, now here they are, with a BEV that I’m sure will be well-built and engineered, and may find success, but it still feels like a lost opportunity for Toyota. I’m sure they’ll get through it.
That yoke thing is still silly, though.