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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Eye on the Past, a Glimpse into the Future: 2013 Toyota Global Media Tour

Photos by Ulysses Ang
Toyota has been harping a lot about being “Fun to Drive, Again” lately; in fact, it has become their official marketing slogan in Japan. And though the end result is cars that are indeed more engaging behind the wheel; for Toyota, the change is happening from the ground up. For the bi-annual pilgrimage centered on the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota Motor Corporation brought the global media together and showcased their company’s history as well as offering a glimpse into its future. Indeed, throughout the six days, Toyota is focused with one eye at its rich history of innovation and engineering with the other eye looking out for future design and technologies.

Lexus: Leading by Design

The first day in Tokyo started almost immediately with the Lexus Welcome Dinner at the Ryogoku Kokuigikan—a sumo wrestling venue converted into an intimate cocktail space. There, Mark Templin, the General Manager of Lexus outlined the changes the company has done to propel it into a leader and forward thinker in terms of design and craftsmanship. Templin was clear: Lexus isn’t just focusing on their cars, but on the brand as a whole. That night, he showed Lexus’s new global advertisement campaign; Beyond, the new Lexus magazine; as well as Intersect by Lexus, a new boutique that opened in Tokyo and will soon open in New York and Dubai. Of course, the night capped off with the preview of the all-new Lexus RC Coupe and LF-NX Concept.

Toyota Mega Web Showcase

With a slogan reading, “Look, Ride, Feel—Car Theme Park”, Toyota Mega Web is a gigantic 24,000 square-meter space dedicated to everything four-wheeled. With 150 vehicles on display from various manufacturers and vintages, Toyota Mega Web has already attracted more than 50 million visitors. Located next to the Aomi Station on the Yurikamome Line, Toyota Mega Web’s center piece is the Toyota City Showcase where new Toyota models are displayed before they are seen anywhere else. There’s also a section dedicated to Toyota’s recent motorsports foray including the 24-Hours of the Nurburgring with the Lexus LF-A. Other sections in the Toyota Mega Web include “History Garage” featuring classic automobiles as well as “Hybrid Wonderland”.

Intersect by Lexus

Located in the bustling artsy neighborhood of Aoyama, Intersect by Lexus is the first boutique with one unique vision: a space where people can experience Lexus without getting behind the steering wheel. It’s a space dedicated to blend rich and diverse ideas; a unique crossroad, if you will, of people, city, and cars. With two floors, Intersect by Lexus is divided into five separate spaces: Café, Bistro, Garage, Crafted for Lexus, and Events.

 Café is done in collaboration with Norway’s Fuglen promoting “best in the area” coffee experience with Lexus’s unique signature blend. Bistro is produced by renowned food director Daichi Taijima, a place where Tokyo urbanites can sample high-quality local dishes in a casual but stylish atmosphere. Meanwhile, Garage is both an art gallery and well, a garage. It showcases Lexus car culture alongside related lifestyle concepts. Crafted for Lexus is a space for lifestyle items produced by companies that harmonize with Lexus’s philosophies. Items sold under the Crafted for Lexus brand can only be bought at Intersect by Lexus stores. Lastly, Events is a space for a variety of events featuring artists, thinkers, and the like.

Corolla Altis Preview

Toyota’s official welcome dinner happened just a few hours after the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association or JAMA made a historic speech showing their unity amidst the global challenges that lie ahead. The global media assembled at the world-famous Happo-en (garden of eight views). The night was supposed to celebrate the 40-million production milestone of the Corolla, but everyone was instead greeted by the sight of the upcoming Corolla Altis alongside the North American version as well as the first-ever 1966 model. Though no technical presentation was given that night, everyone was free to  inspect the all-new Corolla Altis which carried a “1.6” badge on the trunk, connoting that the 1.6-liter Dual VVT-i will indeed be one of the engine choices to be made available.

Tokyo Motor Show

The centerpiece of this Japan visit is undoubtedly the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show at the Tokyo Big Sight. Lexus kicked off the media presentations by unveiling the all-new RC Coupe and LF-NX Concept. The RC Coupe is remarkable in that it’s the first two-door model from Lexus since the LF-A. Based off the IS Sedan, the RC Coupe is decisively sporty, sporting the widest and lowest application of the trademark “Spindle Grille” yet. The LF-NX meanwhile is the first Lexus model equipped with a force-induction engine. Though no details were given, the LF-NX is powered by a new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.

Just 30 minutes later, it was Toyota’s turn to show off their latest concepts. Already a regular at international motor shows, the Toyota 86 Open Concept makes an appearance yet again at the Tokyo Big Sight. This is joined by the trio of futuristic concepts from Toyota: the FCV Concept, the FV2, and the JPN TAXI Concept. The FCV Concept is a close to production ready hydrogen-powered car from Toyota which the company aims to launch by 2015. It’s rumored to wear the ‘Prius’ badge once it jumps from concept to production in two years. The JPN TAXI Concept meanwhile is Toyota’s response to Japan’s winning bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. Its aim is to replace the current Tokyo taxi fleet with something even more environmentally-friendly than the already green-centric Prius. The JPN TAXI Concept is powered by a new electric-LPG hybrid engine. Finally, the FV2 Concept takes personal  mobility to the next level allowing people to pilot a car solely by body movement.

Toyota Kaikan Museum

Traveling from Tokyo to Nagoya, Toyota’s home base, via Shinkansen, the first stop of the day is the Toyota Kaikan Museum located in Toyota City itself. Here, visitors are greeted by the Toyota Partner Robot which plays the trumpet every 15 minutes. Around the Toyota Partner Robot are exhibits showcasing Toyota’s history, production, and engineering know-how. On the opposite side, is a hall dedicated to Toyota’s current line-up including the diminutive iQ city car to the LF-A to the Auris Char Custom—a unique car designed in collaboration with the anime series, Gundam.

Tajimi Service Center

With cameras tucked away, it was time to head to the Tajimi Service Center in Gifu Prefecture, a US$ 90-million, 187,000 square-meter facility aimed to train Toyota mechanics (including Lexus) on how to deal with problems that may arise from the development stage of its vehicles to possible problems that may show up years after they’ve been on the road. The facility is located on an old clay mining site and contains lecture rooms, a two-story 80-bay hands-on area, and a dedicated 1.3-kilometer test track that simulates 13 driving conditions including wet roads, cracked, and bumpy roads (including cobblestones). The Tajimi Service Center aims to train 4,800 technicians per year, up from 2,600 technicians per year at their previous Nisshin Training Center. Several Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) personnel have already graduated from the Tajimi Service Center, and in turn they’ll pass on their knowledge to local dealers.

Waku-Doki Test Drive and Ponam Cruise

No trip to Japan is complete without a test drive of some of Toyota’s interesting vehicles. At the Spa Nishiura Circuit, delegates were greeted by a slew of test drive vehicles: the 86, Crown Hybrid, Aqua (aka Prius C) G Sports, and Sai. Before hopping into the driver’s seat however, everyone listened to Mr. Kiichiro Yokota who recalled his experiences driving the Prius in every continent in the world except for Antarctica.

And while everyone awaited their turn to drive the 86 sideways at the circuit, the Toyota Ponam-45 luxury boat was also docked at the nearby Nishiura Port for a short cruise. Though more renowned for its wheeled vehicles, Toyota has turned its attention to the seas with the Ponam, which takes its name from “Waipounamu”, a word in Maori mythology that means, “Whale”. The Ponam though still has ties to Toyota’s more mainstream products in the form of its two V8 engines which are marine-adopted versions of those found in the Land Cruiser. Smaller Ponam models are powered by the Fortuner’s 3.0-liter D-4D as well.

Toyota Commemorative Museum

The final event of the Toyota Global Media Tour is a visit to where it all began: the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya. The location of this museum is significant on its own right: it’s the exact spot where Sakichi Toyoda set up the Toyoda Automated Loom Works in 1911. This is also the very same building where Sakichi’s son, Kiichiro set up the automobile company known as Toyota today. The museum follows the history of both textile and automotive industry culminating in a hands-on technology discovery display showcasing how people interact with technology.

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