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Auto blogFri, 30 Aug 2013 19:02:00 EST
The Toyota Yaris Hybrid-R Concept has been teased already, offering up little glimpses and details of the Frankfurt-bound vehicle. And while those few, shadowy shots have been great, we've really wanted to know how this hatchback would deliver its promised 400-plus horsepower. Under hood sits a 1.6-liter, race-derived, direct-injection, turbocharged four-cylinder that powers the front wheels. Sounds peachy, but with 414 horsepower splashed across the page, we're going to need something more than a 1.6-liter, turbo four.
A supercapacitor, developed from the Toyota TS030 Hybrid Le Mans racer sits in place of a hybrid's traditional battery packs. The benefit, according to Toyota, is that power can be more rapidly absorbed and discharged than in a traditional battery system, like nickel metal-hydride.
The gas engine is joined by a trio of 60-horsepower electric motors. Two of the them power the rear wheels, while the third sits between the engine and the six-speed, sequential gearbox. Developing the same amount of power as the rear-axle motors, this centrally located motor channels power to the race-derived supercapacitor during braking, and ships extra grunt to the rear wheels under acceleration when the front wheels start to lose grip. Besides the distributive power of the central motor, the rear electric motors can adjust the amount of torque flowing to each wheel, much like a differential.
The performances of some Toyotas in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) regimen of crash tests leave something to be desired. Consider the small overlap frontal crash test: only six Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles have undergone the new test, yet all but one of them received a poor rating. Osama Nagata, CEO of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc., says midcycle vehicle updates are in the works to address the safety issues brought to light by the IIHS test, Automotive News reports. He confirmed that the RAV4 is getting safety updates following its crash test performance last month, but he didn't name any other models.
All three Toyotas that were tested - 2013 RAV4, 2012-2013 Prius V, 2012-2013 Camry - received poor ratings. The 2007-2012 Lexus ES 350 and 2006-2013 IS 250/350 also received poor ratings. The only other Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle to score better than poor is the 2014 Scion TC. It received an acceptable rating in the small overlap frontal crash test and is the only recent vehicle in Toyota's line-up to get the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating.
The small overlap front crash test measures the safety of a car when its front left corner is strikes an object during an accident, bypassing traditional crumple zones, which deform in a way to protect passengers. In 2009, automakers were alerted to the forthcoming addition of the test, which was first implemented last year, IIHS spokesman Russ Rader says. They responded with differing intensity, he says, pointing out that Subaru and Honda started incorporating design changes early on so their cars would perform well in the tests.
In the past, if an automaker did something wrong, they were usually prosecuted by the US government through something called the TREAD Act. Short for Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, it basically requires automakers to report recalls in other countries, along with any and all serious injuries or deaths, to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Failing to report or attempting to conceal anything when there's been a death or serious injury constitutes a criminal liability. The idea is that this setup puts the onus on manufacturers to keep NHTSA apprised of safety related issues before they become a problem in the US, thereby allowing the regulator to better protect consumers.
In theory, it sounds like a relatively airtight set of rules for dealing with misbehaving automakers. That didn't stop the US Department of Justice from ignoring TREAD in its prosecution of Toyota's handling of the unintended acceleration recall, though. The result of this new approach, which charged Toyota with wire fraud, was a $1.2 billion settlement. Now, the wire-fraud approach could be used for the expected case between the US government and General Motors, based on the statements of Attorney General Eric Holder, who specifically mentioned "similarly situated companies" when discussing Toyota.