New systems come as company lags rivals on old-school features
Toyota Motor Corp. is forging ahead on advanced safety systems, even as it falls behind rivals on more mundane crash-protection technology.
A week after receiving only marginal ratings in a critical new crash test for its Corolla small car, Toyota outlined plans to introduce by about 2015 a slew of next-generation high-tech, sensor-driven systems aimed at preventing crashes.
On tap is a new pre-collision safety system, a more advanced adaptive cruise control technology and an improved lane-keeping feature. Toyota also aims to install existing active-safety systems in mass-market vehicles such as the Camry around that time.
But executives also concede Toyota is playing catch-up in old-school features that are subject to increasing scrutiny, such as the frame that protects occupants in a crash.
On Oct. 3, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the redesigned Corolla, traditionally Toyota’s No. 2 seller in the United States, earned only a “marginal” rating in the group’s small overlap test, which simulates a crash in which the driver-side front corner of the car hits a pole or tree.
The rating means the car won’t qualify for overall honors next year on IIHS’s safety pick list, which is watched by consumers and touted by marketers. An “acceptable” or “good” score on the small overlap test is a prerequisite for either Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ status.
‘Trying to recover’
“Now we are trying to recover,” Seigo Kuzumaki, the company’s No. 2 safety technology officer, said at an advanced safety technology event here. “From a production point of view, it requires a drastic change. So it requires time.”
Other big-selling Toyota vehicles have fared poorly on the test, including the Camry sedan, RAV4 crossover and Prius V hybrid. Japanese rivals, including Honda, Subaru and Mitsubishi, have earned top ratings in the test.
Kuzumaki said engineers plan to implement running changes to such models as the RAV4 and Corolla to improve their small overlap performance before their next redesign. The tweaks will include strengthening A pillars and reinforcing frames.
The changes will add weight to the cars, more than 22 pounds in most cases, he said. Toyota will try to offset the weight with fuel-saving improvements to aerodynamics, he said.
Toyota has incorporated small overlap safety features into its next-generation product platform, known as TNGA, short for Toyota New Global Architecture. The first cars built under the new approach debut in 2015.
“TNGA is very good timing to change the structure drastically,” Kuzumaki said. TNGA designs will also include new structural reinforcements to better withstand other kinds of crashes, including oblique impacts, pole impacts and rollovers, he said.
IIHS said it started talking to automakers about small overlap crash testing in 2008. Some manufacturers were quicker to incorporate design changes than others.
Kuzumaki said the test targets a real safety issue, but that IIHS’s test configuration, which tests crashes at only 40 mph, covers just a “small percent” of real-life scenarios. “It’s just one test configuration,” he said.
IIHS spokeswoman Kristin Nevels said one in five crashes that result in serious injury or death is a crash with a small overlap configuration.
“This crash configuration indeed occurs in real-world crashes, and analysis of these real crashes indicates that even cars that earned good ratings in our old test weren’t providing good protection in these types of crashes,” she said.
At the other end of the spectrum, Toyota unveiled new high-tech features.
It showed an upgraded version of its Pre-Collision System that combines automatic steering with automatic braking to prevent collisions. The existing system initiates an automatic braking function but does not take evasive steering actions.
One version of the current iteration is available in the Lexus LS. It can sense pedestrians in addition to objects such as other vehicles. Another version, used in the Lexus ES, can only sense vehicles and large objects.
The new system will debut in top-end vehicles because it uses a costly stereo camera and millimeter wave radar.
Around the same time, Toyota also plans to install another pre-crash system across mass-market nameplates, including the Camry and eventually the Corolla, said Masahiko Kato, general manager of advanced vehicle control systems.
That system will be cheaper because it won’t have steering assist and because it will use only a single camera, paired with millimeter wave radar. It will have an automatic braking function and be able to spot pedestrians, which are typically harder to sense.
Toyota also unveiled a system called Automated Highway Driving Assist, which incorporates two new technologies.
The first, Cooperative-Adaptive Cruise Control, builds on the current-generation adaptive cruise control by adding direct 700-MHz band vehicle-to-vehicle communication to space out vehicles. That makes it faster and more responsive than traditional adaptive cruise control, which relies on slower millimeter wave radar.
The second, Lane Trace Control, uses cameras to calculate the vehicle’s trajectory and automatically keep it on course, even around curves. This is an evolution of Lane Keep Assist, which is in use in some Lexus models.
The difference: Lane Trace works at all speeds, while Lane Keep operates only at high speeds. Lane Trace also can navigate much tighter curves.
For the United States, Toyota also plans a Panoramic View Monitor that uses four cameras to give a 360-degree view. It also gives a 180-degree view from the front or rear to bolster visibility when pulling out of a parking spot or around a blind curve.
The system, offered only in Japan on four models, is “very expensive” because it uses four fisheye cameras, said Masato Okuda, project manager for vehicle control system development. He said it is expected to debut in a Lexus or high-end SUV in the United States.
Source: Automotive News