After years of setbacks, misfortune and defeat at the hands of Porsche, it’s good to see Toyota achieve their second straight year of success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although the victory might be slightly hollow as Toyota are the only manufacturer team competing in the fastest LMP1 class, this is a significant achievement in what is, in the opinion of yours truly, the greatest motor race in the world. A huge achievement for the drivers, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso as well. It’s no mean feat for a team of three drivers to constantly drive a car at extreme speeds for 24 hours straight.
When the last Holden Commodore, a manual SS-V Redline sedan, rolled off the production line in Elizabeth, South Australia on October 20, 2017, it marked the end of nearly a century of local car manufacturing. At its peak in 2004, Holden built 165,000 cars. Record production levels from the other big two were not far behind at 155,000 for Ford (1984) and 148,000 for Toyota (2007). In 2002, the Holden Commodore was Australia’s most popular car with sales of almost 90,000.
For context, the total sales for Holden’s entire range in 2018 (now fully imported) were just 61,000. To emphasise, total sales of Holden cars were 30% lower in 2018 than that of a single Holden model back in 2002.
Above: The VFII Holden Commodore - the last car to be mass produced in Australia
Various reasons have been cited from industry sources, both sides of politics and a whole host of other experts for the demise of local automotive manufacturing. To surmise, these have included:
A small domestic market. Although Australians tend to have high rates of car ownership, our small population made the industry heavily export dependent, as domestic sales were insufficient to profitably sustain the industry.
Geographic isolation. With Australia far away from major automotive markets such as the EU, America and China, exporting vehicles to these regions was expensive, with high shipping and freight costs.
High wages & government-union relations. Compared to areas such as Thailand and India, the Australian car manufacturing workforce had much higher wages. Combined with the two reasons above, this made Australian made vehicles expensive to sell elsewhere.
Protectionist tariffs. These tariffs were important in making domestic car production viable by enticing fleets and government to buy Australian-made vehicles. Nevertheless, a counter-argument can be made that by reducing competition and becoming dependent on fleet sales, they made domestic manufacturers sluggish, and less willing or able to innovate and adapt to changing market conditions, especially in light of FTAs (free-trade agreements) signed with other countries.
Trade deals and ‘more suitable’ cars from overseas. Free trade agreements signed with countries such as Thailand made certain imported vehicles just as inexpensive to buy as locally made vehicles. Often, these cars were more fuel-efficient and cheaper to run than their domestic counterparts, or available in popular body-styles such as SUVs (Ford Territory excepted) that weren’t available through local production. On the other hand, whilst FTAs ostensibly made it cheaper to export Australian made vehicles overseas, these were substituted by ‘hidden’ tariffs that made it difficult to sell Australian vehicles. For example, whilst the Australia-Thailand FTA removed import tariffs from the Thai perspective, Thailand retained tariffs on vehicles with large engines. As Australian made vehicles fell foul of this ‘large engine capacity’ barrier, they practically remained expensive to sell in Thailand.
Exchange rates and oil prices. This issue became especially prevalent in the early 2010s as the Australian dollar was close to (and sometimes above) parity with the US dollar, thus further increasing the cost of exporting vehicles. Coupled with high oil prices, this made domestically produced cars, with their typically large engines and high fuel consumption, expensive to run.
Above all, perhaps what can be said is that the decisions by Ford, Holden and Toyota to cease local manufacturing were justifiable decisions. They weren’t absurd or irrational, they could be explained by logically examining the reasons summarised above.
The skills perspective - the car as the ultimate mobile device
Much of the rationale described above is still applicable today. However it’s important to note that fundamentally, the car of 5 or 10 years into the future will be vastly different from the Holden Commodore that rolled off the line back in 2017.
Cars of the past could be categorised as discrete mechanical engineering projects, with the focus squarely on designing, building and testing parts such as the chassis, engine and body. The car of tomorrow will use this as a basis, but - as summarised by Daimler - will also be connected, autonomous, shared and electric.
What does this mean? The automotive industry will increasingly require not just mechanical engineers, but also skill-sets in software and robotics, as vehicles become increasingly digital and autonomous, and developing software becomes integral to a model’s success rather than an afterthought. Just as important will the skills of designers in making this technology accessible, and marketers in working out how people will use their cars through services such as ride-sharing in the future.
Australia is known over all over the world for punching well above its weight in terms of education. Despite our small population, we have eight universities ranked in the world’s top 150. We clearly have the talent to bring significant innovation to each of these fields mentioned above. As described by an executive from a prominent technology company, restarting production of the ‘ultimate mobile device’ will significantly increase opportunities for STEM careers in Australia, and much like a reverse chicken-and-egg situation, greatly improve this skill-set amongst young Australians.
Although the prevailing short term economic conditions (as discussed above) mean that car manufacturing in Australia will likely remain unprofitable, I think we need to shift our perspective to a long-term, skills based mindset. Our society is on an unstoppable march to becoming digital, and that means the importance of STEM skill-sets, together with business acumen, will only increase in proportion. The car is the ultimate mobile device - a marriage of cutting edge digital software and robotics technology together with traditional mechanical engineering nous. More than anything, it is a true demonstrator of a country’s technological prowess. Germany is known as an engineering giant due to the quality of their vehicles. Similarly, work by Tesla, GM and Google on computer vision and robotics has led America to be known as the leader in autonomous driving technology. With the talent and skills that we have, Australia too can make its mark if we realise that a domestic car manufacturing program can be a lens through which our STEM skill-set can be developed.
The Supra. Over the last 20 years, perhaps no other car has achieved a cult-like legendary status through a movie franchise. The Fast & Furious series and the fourth generation, A80 Supra go hand-in-hand like the much clichéd wine and cheese - or perhaps more fittingly, a well tuned engine and its accompanying NOS system.
Above left: The famous railway crossing scene from the original Fast & Furious film. Above right: The fourth-gen Supra’s fabled status was confirmed during the tribute to the late Paul Walker at the end of Fast & Furious 7.
These movies made the Supra a poster boy for the stereotypical modified, ‘boy-racer’ car and in the process transformed it into a symbol for the culture of individuality, freedom and rebellion that the franchise espoused. One only has to look at the current stock of Supras for sale to see that the vast majority have been modified in some form.
Of course, the movies weren’t the only reason why the Supra was a popular boy-racer car. One of the most important factors with the car itself was the twin-turbocharged 2JZ engine. Utilising an iron block and an over-engineered, stronger than normal crankshaft, it proved to be easily capable of more power in the hands of tuners without significantly affecting reliability. In fact, the hero-status of the 2JZ engine rivalled that of the Supra itself, to the extent that ‘2JZ engine swaps’, where the engines of other cars are swapped with a 2JZ from the fourth-gen Supra, are now commonplace in the aftermarket scene.
Above: The super-tough 2JZ engine from the A80 Supra - easily capable of more power than that produced from the factory
Perhaps the other helpful factor for the fourth-gen Supra was the extremely driver focused interior, which acted as a statement of intent. The centre console and all controls were tilted heavily towards the driver, with the front passenger being a clear second-class occupant in the vehicle. Despite this model having token rear seats, anyone driving a Supra knew that this was the most selfish of vehicles.
Above: The interior of the fourth-gen Supra. As evident from the picture, all controls (including the radio and A/C) were arranged in a swooping arc around the driver. Little thought was given to the ergonomics for other occupants, and this marked the Supra out as a car for enthusiasts.
Put together, what did all of this mean? The Supra was the car for boy-racers, tuners and the aftermarket scene, and it was unashamedly so. In a society with increasingly restrictive laws around speeding and modifying cars, the Supra carved itself out as an icon for those who were not afraid to express themselves and to be known as an enthusiast. The Supra wasn’t a crowd-pleaser - it was divisive and all the better for it.
The new Supra
Almost 25 years after its predecessor, the new, fifth-generation ‘A90’ Supra presents itself as an evolution of its predecessor to cater for a new generation of enthusiasts.
It’s clear from the outset that the new Supra gets its fundamental proportions spot-on. The typical RWD sports car silhouette of a long bonnet and dash-to-axle ratio, coupled with a short rear deck, is present and correct. In turn, this provides a great base to build up the rest of the Supra’s design.
In a nutshell, the Supra’s styling is best described as voluptuous. The muscular, heavily flared rear haunches shift the visual focus of the car backwards to emphasise the power contained within, and give the impression of a car ready to pounce. The tail, with its huge, blacked-out diffuser and ducktail rear spoiler, appear to be more concept than production and work with the rear haunches to create a very aggressive rear profile. A neat touch is the reversing light integrated into the diffuser, which resembles an F1-style brake light.
Above: The blacked out diffuser, arching ducktail spoiler and horizontally arranged tail-lamps combine with the rear haunches to give the Supra a wide, aggressive stance. Note also the similarities in the reversing lamp with an F1 car (see right image).
As evident from the images above, another neat touch is the wraparound design of the new Supra’s glasshouse. Not only does this recall classic cars such as Toyota’s own 2000GT and the Lancia Stratos, it resembles the visor of a racing helmet and hints further at the car’s sporty intentions.
The styling themes that create the muscular haunches and aggressive rear stance continue at the front with the oversized air dams. These intakes combine with the slim headlamps and sculpted, tapering nose to create a bellicose, if slightly fussy, predator face. Above, attention to detail is again demonstrated with the Peugeot RCZ style double-bubble roof, which has the distinction of not only being a relatively unique styling feature, but also reduces vehicle drag and maximises occupant headroom.
Above left to right: The new Supra, BMW’s older 2-Series coupé, and BMW’s new Z4 and 3-Series. Note the similarities in the infotainment, gear-shifter and HVAC and media controls between the Supra and the 2-Series. Meanwhile, the new Z4 and 3-Series utilise BMW’s current Operating System 7.0 for infotainment and the latest BMW design for their A/C and media controls.
Also - that red leather looks damn nice!
The interior is perhaps the part of the new Supra where its BMW roots are the most immediately obvious (the car shares its basic platform, engines and drivetrain with the new BMW Z4). Utilising hand-me-down BMW components, the Supra appears to run BMW’s superseded iDrive 6 infotainment system and shares its gear-selector, HVAC and media controls with the older 2-Series. Nevertheless, these parts are still substantially better than the rubbish infotainment systems and controls on other Toyotas, and means that the Supra (somewhat surprisingly given its sports focus) has the best infotainment system in the Toyota range.
I especially like the Supra’s instrument cluster. Appearing to be a hybrid analogue-digital panel, it combines a central tachometer as its focus (a traditional sports car characteristic), with the modern conveniences offered by a digital display.
Truth be told, the aggressively sculpted styling of the new Supra means that it’s never going to be a timeless, classically elegant sports car in the way the Porsche Cayman, Alfa Romeo 4C and Alpine A110 are.
But it doesn’t have to be. The Supra isn’t a petite, lithe European coupé. It’s a Japanese muscle car. More Mundine than Messi. Japanese car design of late has been following its own aggressive beat, and is all the better for it - models such as the LFA, LC and the LS from Toyota’s sister brand, Lexus, attest to that. And ultimately, who in their right mind would want Toyota to make a replica Porsche 911 when, left to their own devices, Toyota designers can produce something as brilliant as the Lexus LC?
Perhaps a more relevant question is whether the new Supra could feature in a future instalment of the Fast & Furious series. And, for me at least, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The new Supra is simultaneously a homage to its fabled predecessor, and gives a new generation of enthusiasts and boy-racers something to crave. Its story is yet to be told, but it’s clear that the legend is reborn.
American automotive magazine Car and Driver recently undertook a series of comprehensive tests of Autonomous Energy Braking (AEB) systems, involving the Subaru Impreza, Toyota Camry, Tesla Model S and the Cadillac CT6. Four types of tests were undertaken:
Closing in on a stationary car
Target switching to a stationary car
Approaching a slower moving vehicle
The article is excellent and definitely worth reading in its entirely. The key takeaway I found was that despite AEB systems ostensibly claiming to achieve the same goal of preventing, or at the very least mitigating the impact of a collision with another vehicle, the performance of such systems varies substantially and is often not dependent on the class or price of the vehicle. For example, the Subaru Impreza’s EyeSight stereo camera system outperformed the other vehicles on test despite being the cheapest to buy.
In the U.S. at least, another takeaway is the state of legislation in relation to AEB systems. The NHTSA (National Highway Transport Safety Administration, effectively America’s equivalent to ANCAP) has a very basic requirement in order to satisfy its AEB test which most vehicles today can easily meet. These requirements should proactively become tougher, to further compel manufacturers to invest more in AEB systems and additional capabilities such as pedestrian and cyclist detection.
Toyota recently unveiled the all-new 12th generation Corolla. Let’s go through its design and see why it’s a clear step up over its predecessor.
The design of the new Corolla is in line with CEO Akio Toyoda’s vision for Toyota vehicles to be less bland and more characterful. Indeed, Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s American Calty design studio, confirmed that the company wants to progress with more emotional designs and move on from a widely held perception that it makes inoffensive whitegoods on wheels.
Above top: The superseded Corolla, known in Europe as the Auris
Compared to its predecessor, the new Corolla presents an aggressive face that is a stark departure from its predecessors. The two key elements here are the hidden bumper and the headlamps. The front bumper has cleverly been painted black and is camouflaged behind mesh, creating the illusion of a large, gaping grille. Together with the slim, downwards angled headlamps, this creates an aggressive ‘X’ design across the front of the car, in line with other recent Toyota models and helping to develop a family design language.
Above left to right: The new Corolla, Aygo, Yaris, C-HR and Camry. These models all use an aggressive front design incorporating an ‘X’ graphic to develop a shared family resemblance.
The sides and rear: more balanced proportions
The 12th generation Corolla continues its predecessor’s cab-forward design, with a minimal dash-to-axle ratio and the base of the A-pillar positioned almost on top of the front axle.
The key improvement, however, is in the treatment of the side profile. The older model implemented a single crease which acted as a half-hearted attempt to break up an otherwise slab-sided design. In contrast, the latest Corolla implements a curved secondary character line that flows from the front of the rear door handle, across the C-pillar and into the tailgate. This crease has the effect of accentuating the rear haunches, and together with the more steeply raked rear windscreen, helps develop the sense that the new Corolla has a more protruding, substantial rear end. When taken into consideration with the rest of the side profile as a whole, this develops an illusion that visually elongates the car and helps balance the otherwise cab-forward design.
Above left to right: Corolla, 2018 Renault Megane RS, 2014 Renault Megane Coupé
The tail of the new Corolla is in harmony with the front of the car. Angled character lines that extend from the rear bumper reflectors into the tailgate, together with the blade like tail-lamps and curved rear windscreen work together to develop an ‘X’ graphic that mirrors the front of the vehicle.
Of note is the inspiration Toyota has derived from the Renault Megane for the design of the tailgate. In some respects, the new Corolla is an amalgamation of both 2014 Megane Coupé and the 2016 Megane. The steeply raked, curved windscreen has a clear lineage to the Megane Coupé, whilst the slim tail-lamps extend far into the tailgate to serve a secondary function that visually widens the car, in a fashion similar to the 2016 Megane hatch.
The new 12th generation Corolla successfully achieves its objective of presenting a more aggressive, characterful design, in line with the vision outlined by CEO Akio Toyota. The use of an ‘X’ graphic across both the front and rear, together with a more balanced side profile incorporating character lines to emphasise the rear haunches and tail, creates a very cohesive design. With the right combination of trim and colour, the new Corolla is a desirable and compelling option in its segment.
Hans Greimel, writing for Automotive News:
"Toyota will take a 5 percent stake in Mazda, while Mazda reciprocates with a token 0.25 percent stake in Toyota, the car manufacturers said in a joint statement Friday.
Toyota and Mazda said they will also collaborate in developing electrified vehicles and connected car technologies. They will also step up supplying vehicles to each other.
In electric vehicles, Toyota is being positioned as working on the battery-side of electric vehicles, while Mazda works on the overall architecture. The two companies will jointly develop the hardware and software sides of electric vehicles but produce them separately, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi said at a joint press conference in Tokyo.
In connected cars, Toyota and Mazda will cooperate on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, seen as a key toward self-driving and advanced safety systems."
This appears to be a beneficial move for both parties.
For Mazda, it represents a cost-efficient and potentially time saving strategy to jump on the electric and autonomous vehicle bandwagon, by leveraging Toyota's greater resources and battery expertise, whilst retaining control of overall design and vehicle development.
Toyota, in turn, can make use of Mazda's product development and engineering expertise that has been responsible for the famed handling qualities of its SkyActiv architecture. This partnership is sure to also complement Toyota's existing collaboration with BMW on battery development and lightweight materials.