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Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown, image courtesy of Toyota

Cars

Toyota Tiptoes Into The Electric Car Era With Crown PHEV

Toyota says it will bring a plug-in hybrid version of the Crown to the US market shortly, but refuses to talk about a battery-electric version.

Ever carmaker, it seems, is reaching back in time to re-imagine models that were successful in the past as electric cars. Renault is bringing back two models that have been out of production for decades as EVs. Buick will sell all its electric under the Electra label. Now Toyota says it will reprise the Crown — the large sedan that first went into production in 1955 — as a plug-in hybrid that will be sold in America. The Crown has not been offered in the US market since 1972, although it has continued to be sold in the home market where it is now in its 15th generation.

The Toyota press release tells us, “Built on a newly developed chassis based on Toyota’s GA-K platform, Crown has a raised overall height that’s nearly four inches higher than Camry. The unique height of this sedan offers increased road visibility, along with easy entry and exit. Its flowing silhouette and sculpted body lines create a fresh look that is entirely unique for its class. Altogether, the Crown package is a combination of innovative style, performance and function.”

Raised ride height is all the rage these days. It helps people with creaky knees and balky hips get in and out more easily and it does permit those inside to look down on the less fortunate motorists around them. It also allows a company to suggest a vehicle is an SUV, or SUV-like, or almost an SUV.

In America, the Crown will be available in three trim levels — XLE (which used to be the top of the line), Limited (which also used to be the top of the line) and Platinum. Now pay attention here people, because this is where things get tricky.

The XLE and Limited versions of the Toyota Crown use the company’s fourth generation Toyota Hybrid System which combines a high efficiency 2.5-liter DOHC 4-cylinder gasoline engine with two electric motors in a highly compact system. The gas engine employs variable valve timing on both camshafts to lower fuel consumption and maximize output. A CVT transmission is part of the package as well. The EPA rates this package at 38 MPG combined.

Step up to the Platinum level and things get more interesting. Now the car comes with the latest Toyota HYBRID MAX powertrain that features a 2.4 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine tuned to hit peak torque between 2000 and 3000 RPM coupled with a 6-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels in conjunction with an electric motor that helps maximize torque production. An eAxle equipped with a high output water cooled electric motor is used to power the rear wheels. Total output is 340 horsepower, making it the most potent plug-in hybrid yet offered by Toyota. According to the EPA, this drivetrain is rated at 28 MPG combined.

There are a welter of other product details include in the Crown press release having to do with infotainment specs and various electronic geegaws to amuse and delight drivers. The Platinum, for instance, has a total of six drive modes, so if you suddenly get the urge to rip off into the deep tundra on your way to the Piggly Wiggly for groceries, the car will be able to instantly respond. The company also says the rear suspension arm placement has been optimized “to suppress changes in the vertical posture, contributing to a flat driving feeling and enhanced texture.” Does it get any better than that?

From a styling perspective, the new Crown offers all the slashes, gashes, crinkles, creases, and bulges one could possible wish for along with 21″ wheels that were once the pride of the low rider set in East LA but are now de rigueur on almost every car made.

Toyota Rides The PHEV Wave

Toyota Crown

Toyota Crown, image courtesy of Toyota

If Tesla is the lead dog pulling the electric car sled, Toyota is blissfully happy to be at the back of the pack, letting everyone else do the hard work of blazing a trail while it trots serenely behind. For most of us, the plug-in hybrid versus battery electric debate was settled many years ago.

At a time when EV charging infrastructure was more of a wish than a reality, there was a feeling that having a combustion engine on board to charge the battery was a good thing for when the battery ran out of oomph. But time has moved on and the idea of the “belt and suspenders” approach seems less appealing.

The justification Toyota offers is that it can equip a whole lot of cars with smaller hybrid batteries than a few cars with larger batteries, and at a time when supply chains for battery materials are stretched to the breaking point, its plan is more sensible and better able to meet the needs of society for low emissions transportation.

Booshwah! Despite a press release that goes on for page after page, no mention is made of how far the Crown can travel on battery power alone in any of its two powertrain configurations, how long it takes to recharge the battery (which appears to still use 20-year-old nickel metal hydride chemistry), or whether the cars have a fast charging option. In other words, the focus is on the engines. The electric motors and batteries are just an afterthought designed to fool the gullible into thinking they are doing something good for the Earth.

One wonders if Toyota salespeople will ever actually mention that the cars can be plugged in or offer customers any suggestions about charging. That seems unlikely. Nor will its dealers be dropping a lot of cash to install EV chargers any time soon.

I hate to be cynical, but my 1994 Saturn SL2 routinely got 34 mpg in daily driving and nearly 40 mpg on the highway. My 2010 Honda Civic got 32 mpg consistently and my 2013 Civic is averaging 33.6 over the last 40,000 miles. The mileage claims for the Crown should be an embarrassment to Akio Toyoda. There are pickup trucks on the road which get more than 28 mpg. I’m not sure what the Japanese equivalent of chutzpah is, but it is applicable to Toyota’s efforts so far.

Autoblog reports that Toyoda suggested last week there may be a battery-electric version of the Crown coming along in a year or so (let’s hope is it a more compelling car that the bZ4x) but declined to say whether it would be available in the US. He apparently still believes in the industry mantra from 2016 that “nobody wants to buy an electric car.”

Maybe Toyota thinks it is smart to let everyone else do the heavy lifting on zero emissions transportation so it can ride the wave others have created later. That could happen, but it also leaves open the possibility that Toyota will miss the wave completely and be left high and dry when the EV revolution passes it by. I wonder how you say “Nokia” in Japanese?

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

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