Friday, October 18, 2013

2014 Corolla finalist for "Green Car of the Year" award

What vehicle has made the most environmental impact this year while also being easily available to the average American? There are five different nominees up for the title of "Green Car of the Year", an award being presented at the LA Auto show on November 20th.

A panel of judges, including Jay Leno, Ocean Futures Society president Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune will bestow the title to one of the following contenders:

The Audi A6 TDI ($58,395), which utilizes a diesel engine to improve fuel efficiency.

The BMW 328d ($38,600), which also has a diesel engine and 45 estimated highway MPG.

The Honda Accord ($29,945), which has become available as a hybrid for 2014.

The Mazda3 ($27,595), which offers a unique i-Eloop energy saving system on the top-of-the-line s Grand S touring model. i-Eloop stores up electric energy when the driver lets off the gas, saving it for later use.

The Toyota Corolla ($18,700), which was completely redesigned for 2014 and offers a LE Eco model that uses improved aerodynamics and unique CVTi-S (continuously variable transmission) tuning to achieve 42 MPG on the highway.

The big factor at play here is determining which car is raising the bar when it comes to promoting efficiency, while also being most likely to show up in someone's driveway. Based on price alone (and the impressive fuel economy in the 40's) my vote would be for the 2014 Corolla. However, according to USA Today, "The variety of cars in the finals shows how driving an ecological car can mean different things to different drivers, with their variety of needs."

Do you agree with that statement? Which car has your vote? 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Oculus Rift meets the 2014 Toyota Corolla

If you grew up in the 90's, chances are you have fond memories for a lot of things—Pogs, Ecto Cooler, and Super Soakers, just to name a few. Remember visiting arcades and playing every single racing game there was? Cruisin' USA, Ridge Racer, Sega Rally Championship...the amount of great games (with equally impressive 3D environments, or so we thought at the time) seemed endless.

Those were certainly the days, and Toyota seems to have gotten a kick of that nostalgia recently, too. They tasked Ogeeku, a team of game developers, to re-create those memories using the Oculus Rift tool, a virtual reality headset for gaming. However, unlike most racing games where the goal is to accelerate as fast as possible, they wanted the emphasis to be on what it feels like to actually drive a car. To accomplish that, they modeled everything after the driving experience of the all-new, redesigned 2014 Toyota Corolla. The end result? A retro yet futuristic simulation they're referring to as "CorollaCade"!

CorollaCade, Oculus Rift, Virtual reality test drive

The team put everything together in just under a month. Take a look at the video below to see how they did it-

Besides the amazing trip down memory lane, the other great news about CorollaCade being built is that Toyota hopes to make additional machines in the future (likely with more resources and development time) that the public could use to get the experience of a virtual reality test drive.

Think the CorollaCade takes four quarters to play? What Toyota should they feature for their next virtual reality simulation?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Is a hybrid in your future? The father of the Prius thinks so.

There's been a lot of talk in the past year about the future of automobiles and how we all need to prepare ourselves for the day of the "driver-less" car. Automakers and even tech giants like Google are working on their own versions of cars that pilot themselves, and claim that they could be ready in the next 10 years. Hop in, tell it where you want to go, and watch in amazement as the vehicle drives you to your destination. Sounds like science fiction, right? Would you trust a computer system to make all of your driving decisions?

Toyota Prius, Takeshi Uchiyamada, Self-driving car

Toyota's chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, who was one of the pioneers of the original Toyota Prius, has a different opinion– he believes that we should maximize advances in hybrid technology first. Before autonomous cars (or even simply all-electric cars) take over, Uchiyamada says "there are still many more gains we can achieve with hybrids." For example, the current 3rd generation of the Prius has 10% better fuel efficiency than the previous one, at a combined MPG of 50. Mr. Uchiyamada is confident they can improve that number even more when the 4th generation is developed.

His game plan? To sell 5 million hybrid vehicles in the U.S. by the end of 2016 and achieve mileage standards set forth by the Obama administration. “It’s only when we put ourselves under the same kind of intense pressure we faced in developing the Prius that we can achieve great goals. That’s what it takes. I want our industry to achieve this goal," he said.

Toyota's continued work with hybrid technology is actually more in line with what I think is best for all of us, as drivers. Rather than moving on from hybrids and only focusing on self-driving vehicles, they're slowly adding more self-driving features in future vehicles and getting us comfortable with using them. Two examples immediately come to mind: the first is the advanced technology package available on the Prius V, which offers a parking assist option where the driver uses a camera to find a suitable spot for the vehicle. Once located, the vehicle automatically guides itself into a parking spot.
The second is the Yaris Hybrid-R, a concept vehicle capable of 414 horsepower. It utilizes multiple motors, with a gas engine to power the two front wheels, and two electric motors that specifically power the rear wheels, giving the car all-wheel drive traction. While unlikely to ever hit the showroom, elements of its design may make their way into future cars.

In addition to both of these technologies, Toyota is also working on sensors that would allow a vehicle to apply brakes and control the steering wheel on its own. According to Mr. Uchiyamada, they want to eliminate driving fatalities on the highway, but believes that drivers need to be in control of their vehicle for the foreseeable future.

Do you agree that we're not yet ready for a world where cars drive themselves?