Hybrid Lexus Goes on Display at Harrods

By dancurranjr On December 20th, 2010

Billed as the first ever hybrid luxury hatchback, the Lexus CT 200H has gone on display in the window of the world’s most luxurious department store this week.

The green luxury car boasts a hybrid engine which offers the option of powering the car by either electric or petrol. The Lexus CT 200H is aiming to offer a green choice of vehicle for the luxury car market. What better place is there to showcase the first ever hybrid Lexus than in London’s most prestigious store?!

The Lexus is on display in the window usually used to showcase super cars such as Ferrari vehicles and Aston Martins. In fact, the last vehicle to go on display in the Harrods shop window was the Aston Martin Cygnet, as reported by Cars for Stars News last month.

Thanks to its super green credentials, the hybrid Lexus is the only luxury automatic to be exempt from the London congestion charge. As well as offering reduced emissions which makes it ideal for city driving, the Lexus CT 200H offers the same level of performance and comfort as you’d expect from a vehicle from the top name car maker.

The hybrid is part of a four window Lexus display in Harrods which will run from this week, until January 15th 2011. The window display has been designed so as to allow customers the opportunity to get up and close to the luxury vehicles so they can get a real feel for the car,  so what are you waiting for?! Head down to Harrods now for a chance to check out the new Hybrid Lexus CT 200H in the flesh.

SOURCE: Cars for Stars

Can a Hybrid Be a Luxury Car?

By dancurranjr On December 30th, 2009

A fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid luxury car: Not so long ago, that was an automotive oxymoron. Now, it’s a market segment.

The concept of selling high fuel efficiency as a high-end feature is gaining currency in the auto industry, thanks in part to regulatory pressure and to the buzz in certain circles around the Tesla electric roadster and other electric-powered cars.

Mainstream luxury brands are getting on the green bandwagon, betting that a growing slice of wealthy car buyers defines an “advanced” or “premium” car as more than just a potent engine. The latest arrival in the growing flock of hybrid luxury cars is the Lexus HS 250h. I took a weekend test drive in one to see how Toyota Motor Corp. is attacking the challenge of designing a high-technology car that is both ultra-frugal and indulgent at the same time.

It’s not an easy balance to strike.

Other mainstream luxury hybrids on sale in the U.S. are variations on existing models. That approach helps with costs, but it doesn’t yield eye-popping miles-per-gallon figures.

The $87,950 Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid sedan, for example, is rated at 21 mpg in combined city and highway driving, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The 295-horsepower car uses a six-cylinder engine and a “mild hybrid” system to average three miles per gallon better, on the government’s tests, than the eight-cylinder, 382-horsepower Mercedes S550 sedan.

Then there’s the $43,000 Lexus RX450h, a crossover wagon that uses a more-robust hybrid system than the big Benz to achieve an average 29 mpg, compared to 20 mpg for the standard RX 350. Good, but still not enough if you want a very small carbon footprint.
Not Like Any Other Lexus

The HS 250h, however, isn’t like any other Lexus. Toyota says it isn’t just a rebadged Prius, either. Its body architecture is adapted from a European Toyota model called the Avensis. It has a 2.4-liter gasoline engine, larger than the Prius’s 1.8-liter motor. Combined with the boost from its batteries, the car is rated at 187 horsepower, compared to 134 horsepower for the Prius.

Lexus’ strategy for the HS 250h—which starts at $37,845—is to position it as the car of the future, available today. You can buy one with a cruise-control system that uses radar to slow your car when others get in the way, and an optional navigation system you can talk to.

“And on top of all that, it’s a hybrid,” says Brian Bolain, Lexus’ national manager of marketing and lifecycle strategy.

That said, the most impressive feature of the HS 250h’s list of specifications is its 35 miles per gallon EPA rating for combined city and highway driving.

I drove a Lexus HS 250h (and yes, all those H’s seem redundant) that I borrowed from Toyota from Washington, D.C., through eastern Pennsylvania and into the hilly country of New York state. From my first encounter with this car until I sent it back to the Lexus press fleet, I struggled with mixed feelings.

The HS 250h’s exterior styling plays it very safe, especially in contrast to the wedgy, angular profile of the new 2010 Prius. The interior is dominated by a prominent peninsula that pushes from the center of the dashboard into the space between the driver and passenger seats.

My test car had the optional navigation-system package, priced at $2,125, which also includes satellite radio. The center console was dominated by a joystick-style controller that operated the map functions. I never quite got the hang of the joystick, and a real buyer would expect—and should demand—a tutorial in how to get the most from the system.

The map did come in handy, however, when it alerted us to a huge traffic jam on our route home, and allowed us to bushwhack around the trouble. (Models without the navigation system don’t have the joystick.)

The Lexus HS has some features and behaviors that take a bit of getting used to if you aren’t already a hybrid driver. The car starts with the push of a large button on the dashboard, and can move out of a parking space on electric power. You might hear the gasoline engine come to life right away, or you might not.

The car has a continuously variable transmission, so there’s no gear shifting. “The transmission may feel different,” cautions the owner’s manual. The transmission does offer settings that will help slow the car when descending a steep hill.

The car’s performance in normal highway driving is conventional, except when you slow down and brake. That’s when I heard the whirring and whooshing sounds associated with the car’s technology, which captures braking energy and uses it to recharge the battery pack. Most luxury cars strive for silence. The Lexus HS makes noises.

My test car also had a $3,900 “technology” package that included a feature I used a lot during my trip: a radar-enabled cruise-control system that allowed me to set a speed, and then turn over to the car the chore of adjusting speed to the traffic. If I got stuck behind a slowpoke, the Lexus slowed down to prevent me from tailgating.

The Lexus HS 250h is a pleasant cruiser on freeways, but it’s not much fun on twisting, hilly roads. The car labored up steep grades in the hilly country around the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New York. It’s not a cornering machine.

We traveled relatively light—a good thing, because thanks to the battery pack, the Lexus HS has just 12.1 cubic feet of trunk space, compared to 14.7 cubic feet for the Lexus ES 350 sedan and 13 cubic feet for the Lexus IS sedan.

The Lexus HS did deliver on mileage. I averaged 34.8 miles per gallon over 293 miles of driving, and boosted my mileage close to 40 mpg during stretches of the drive, according to the trip computer.
A Steep Sticker Price

The question some prospective Lexus HS buyers may ask is this: If you want a high-mileage hybrid, why buy a car that isn’t as fuel-efficient as a Toyota Prius, and costs $14,000 to $15,000 more? My loaded test car had a sticker price of $44,967, although most HS 250h cars will go out the door for under $40,000, Mr. Bolain says. The Prius starts at $23,370 and gets 50 mpg in city and highway driving.

Gas-electric hybrids account for just under 2% of the total car market, and luxury-brand hybrids are a sliver of that. The Lexus HS offers more of what environmentally conscious consumers want from an advanced-technology vehicle, and Mr. Bolain says there will likely be more Lexus models that offer the HS 250h’s brand of technology.

But more than once while winding up hill and down dale in the Lexus HS, I wished I had one of those peppy, high-mileage four-cylinder diesel BMWs or Audis that Europeans get, and we don’t. Does that make me a bad guy?

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal

Lexus Launches the RX450h Hybrid SUV

By dancurranjr On May 25th, 2009

2010-lexus-rx-450hPremium Japanese auto maker, Lexus has officially unveiled the hybrid version of its latest RX model. Designated as the RX 450h, this new fuel efficient SUV comes with an updated version of the auto maker’s Hybrid Drive system that is paired with a new 3.5 liter V6, mated to a CVT transmission.

The new “green” RX is able to pump out 295HP in total, while being able to deliver 15.9 kilometers with a liter of fuel, better than the predecessors’ 12.4 kilometers per liter. The new model also releases 148 grams of emissions per kilometer. To help the 450h offer the above mentioned fuel consumption and emissions output figures, it comes fitted with, among others, the Atkinson combustion cycle, Cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), Exhaust Heat Recovery (EHR) and AI-SHIFT control (Artificial Intelligence – SHIFT).

Compared to the new RX 350 which carries a starting price of S$ 165,000, the 450h can be yours for S$188,000, for the Luxury trim model, with no moonroof. For the moonroof, be prepared to fork out S$192,000 and if you up for the wide-moonroof option, expect to part with S$195,000 (all prices are inclusive of COE).

SOURCE: Cars Singapore

How Hybrid Vehicles Are Made: An Amazing Peek Inside the Cleanroom

By dancurranjr On April 30th, 2009

2010-lexus-rx-450hThe supreme quality that defines the new Lexus RX 450h begins with the factory where it is built. The design, equipment, manufacturing procedures and the skills of master craftsmen working at the Kokura plant are all fine-tuned to achieve the best possible results on every car that comes off the production line.

The attention to detail is distinctively Lexus, ranging from strict environmental controls to staff being required to wear pocketless, anti-static clothing. “Clean and Silent” initiatives contribute to a quieter assembly line which helps workers concentrate, improves efficiency and helps cut down the number of faults.

Much of the manufacturing process is carried out by programmed robots, ensuring consistency, but the hand and eye skills of the takumi – the skilled master craftsmen – remain a crucial element in achieving Lexus quality standards.

Stamping

A dust particle measuring just 20 microns – about the size of a grain of pollen – can have an adverse affect on the quality of body panel stamping, leaving scratches that are difficult to rectify later in the production process. Lexus has waged war on dust, subjecting its stamping dies to rigorous sanding and washing twice a week. As this process itself creates a lot of dust, the maintenance area is surrounded by a three-metre high net screen – nicknamed Niagara – across which there is a constant flow of water. Thanks to Niagara, the level of airborne particles in the stamping shop has been cut by more than 90 per cent.

Bodyshell

A rigid body shell plays a major part in the quality of the RX 450h’s driving performance, ride comfort and quietness. In turn, this high rigidity is achieved by using advanced, high-precision welding technologies.

The bodyshell is made by the spot welding of around 300 stamped parts at up to 5,000 different points, work done by robots that move in and around the vehicle body as it is held on a jig. Lexus has developed a new slim robot that can work between the units, enabling many more welds to be made. For example, in the floor and side panel tack welding process, 14 robots were previously able to make spot welds at 70 to 80 different points; adding slim robots into the task has more than doubled this number.

Gaps between the body panels and panel alignment are measured on the production line with precision digital calipers. The measurements are displayed on a monitor alongside the line and the vehicle body cannot proceed to the next stage until all the measurements are within the required parameters.

Painting

Lexus has invested in lengthy research in order to achieve the superb surface quality from its multi-coating paint process.

Cleanliness is vital to achieving this quality and, once again, extensive measures are in place to keep the painting process free from dust and other airborne particles. Conventional methods focused on preventing contamination at the paint shop’s entry and exit points, but Lexus has introduced a system like those used in semi-conductor factories, installing a number of small, one-way air outlets that pressurize the area prior to the topcoat paint booth, so forcing air away from it. This has brought about a significant reduction in the amount of airborne particles getting into the booth.

To maintain an outstanding surface quality throughout the finishing process, the production line uses both the latest robotised technology and traditional hand polishing. All vertical surfaces are water polished with a plane sander after the intermediate coat is applied, then checked both by eye and with digital tools.

Hybrid Unit

Kokura is the world’s only dedicated hybrid manufacturing facility, designed to provide the perfect environment for making hybrid components.

Again, preventing contamination from airborne particles is of paramount importance and to help achieve this, the assembly line has a low ceiling and a positive air pressure system.

Air is constantly being forced outside the building, which helps prevent dust and other matter from entering. Inside, air pressure is modulated between different areas to create a flow of air that moves in the opposite direction to the manufacturing sequence. Components move downstream on shuttered conveyor routes; the further along they move, the higher the air pressure rises, with maximum pressure reached in the assembly process itself.

Temperature and humidity are rigorously monitored to maintain the stability of the factory environment all year round. Double measures are in place at the shipping exit to prevent any foreign matter entering, with a completely enclosed loading dock from where a conveyor moves parts to the receiving door via an airlock.

The attention to detail extends to workers being required to wear pocketless, anti-static clothing and to wash their shoes. They are also prohibited from bringing any metal items with them into the production areas.

Assembly

“Clean and Silent” are the watchwords for the Lexus assembly line. Replacing the chain-driven conveyor with one that uses urethane rollers creates a quieter working environment, making it easier for the technicians to concentrate and hear the noise their tools are making, thereby improving precision and work efficiency. As well as being quieter, the new system also uses less energy and is easier to maintain.

Air tools that are typically used for engine and underbody mounting have been replaced with electric nut runners that automatically adjust to a preset torque for a consistently high level of precision. The electric tools are also quieter and vibrate less.

The RX 450h assembly process involves fitting several thousand parts to the bodyshell. Traditionally technicians would collect components for fitting from racks alongside the line, but by adopting the Set Part System (SPS), Lexus has eliminated the risk of problems caused by picking the wrong parts and has cut down the amount of walking the technician has to do, so increasing work efficiency.

With SPS all parts required for assembly move along the line with the vehicle. This has evolved further with the RX 450h with a new gondola system for door assembly parts. A technician fills the gondola with the required parts on a sub line, which then merges with the main assembly line to travel along with the door to which the parts will be fitted.

Vehicle Inspection

Cutting-edge measuring technology is combined with the human skills of the takumi craftsmen in the detailed inspection process. Automated in-line measurements and quality gate checks are made throughout the body welding and assembly process, with a final fitting inspection in which panel gaps and alignment are checked by hand and eye. The inspectors who do this have daily training and testing to maintain their skill levels.

For example, the door closing speed inspection involves all doors being closed by the inspector at a maximum, laser-monitored 1.2m per second – equivalent to a gentle push with the fingertips. Lexus build precision ensures the doors can be closed securely, even with such light pressure.

After comprehensive road testing, every RX 450h is transferred to a shower test booth to be checked for leaks. The booth simulates a rainstorm at a rate of 200mm per hour, which is more severe than even a typhoon, which will generate no more than 150mm of rainfall an hour.Second in a series introducing key features of the new luxury SUV: advanced manufacturing

Pricing for 2010 Lexus RX Hybrid Announced

By dancurranjr On April 28th, 2009

2010-lexus-rx-450hToyota announced pricing today for two of its luxury division’s most highly anticipated vehicles, the redesigned 2010 Lexus RX hybrid and the all-new 2010 Lexus IS Convertible.

Surprising news for the RX hybrid is that the all-new 2010 model will actually start at a lower price than the 2008 model (Toyota skipped the 2009 model year for the RX hybrid).  A front-wheel drive 2010 Lexus RX 450h costs $42,535 (all prices include destination fees), a decrease of $420 compared with the last-gen model.  The all-wheel drive version of the 2010 RX 450h adds a $1590 premium.  Both versions are significantly more expensive than their non-hybrid brethren, which check in at $37,675 (front-wheel drive) and $39,075 (all-wheel drive), respectively.

Both RX hybrid models come standard with an updated version of Lexus’ Hybrid Drive system, which features a 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V-6 and lighter electric motors than last year’s models.  Lexus claims the RX 450h’s powertrain offers performance “similar to V-8” engines, with “better combined fuel economy than the average four-cylinder midsize sedan.”  The EPA estimates 32 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway for fwd models, with two fewer miles-per-gallon in the city for all-wheel drive models.

Available options for the RX include hard disc drive navigation with voice recognition and a remote touch controller, auxiliary USB inputs, Bluetooth capability, a rear seat entertainment system with two high-definition seven-inch displays mounted in the front seatbacks and a heads-up display.

The 2010 Lexus IS convertible will come in two flavors, the IS 250C and the IS 350C.  Both models feature a three-panel roof made of lightweight aluminum that opens in 20 seconds.  The powertrains from the IS sedans are carried over here: for the IS 250C, a 2.5-liter 204-hp V-6 with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, and a 3.5-liter 306-hp V-6 with a six-speed automatic for the IS 350C.

The IS 250C will cost $39,365 with a manual transmission or $40,535 with an automatic transmission, and the IS 350C will cost $44,815.  For comparison, a rear-wheel drive 2009 IS 250 with a manual transmission is priced at $32,180.

Toyota says all the body panels of the IS were “designed to blend seamlessly with the new three-panel folding roof” except the hood, which is carried over from the sedan.  Lexus puts the drag coefficient of the convertible at 0.29, versus 0.27 for the sedan.  The convertible also gets new taillights, and a convenient one-touch automatic ingress-egress to access the rear seats.

The best news yet: we won’t have to wait long for either Lexus.  The IS convertible will go on sale at the end of May, and the RX hybrid will follow not long after.

SOURCE: Automobile