The Toyota Motor Corporation has a long history of eco-consciousness, even before it was such a fashionable cause. The Japanese automaker first introduced the compact and highly fuel efficient Corolla in 1966, at a time when abbreviations like EPA and MPG did not factor in to the average American car buyer’s decision-making process. The Corolla was met with a lukewarm response; an oddball, weighing in at under 6000 pounds, measuring less than seventeen feet in length, and boasting fuel economy above ten miles per gallon. Of course, Toyota’s foresight would be appreciated seven year later, as Corollas sped past crowded gas stations, where people waited in line for hours to fill their thirsty Cadillacs at the unimaginable price of $2.19 per gallon. That was just the beginning.
Toyota later brought forth Variable Valve Timing + intelligence technology, currently found in all Toyota, Lexus, and Scion vehicles. VVT-i boosts the engine output, but also significantly lowers emissions and improves fuel efficiency. The flagship Avalon and many current Lexus models are equipped with a newer Dual VVT-i system, and these vehicles all earn a SULEV super ultra low emissions rating.
At the same time, Toyota introduced the revolutionary Hybrid Synergy Drive. More potent versions of the amazingly efficient Prius power plant are now being used in the RX and Highlander crossover SUVS, the Camry, and even the high-performance GS sport sedan. The Lexus LS 600h is on the way, and a hybrid Tundra may also be in the works.
Toyota’s list of past innovations and eco-accomplishments is quite impressive, and here’s what is next:
The “i-Swing” was introduced in Tokyo as a follow-up to Toyota’s recent high-tech vehicles, the 2001 Pod and the 2005 PM. This latest incarnation is a significant departure from the Pod and the PM, which were both still bound by some traditional car rules. With these two previous high-tech innovations, Toyota had adhered to long-held automotive axioms like four wheels and an interior. The i-Swing breaks those rules.
The PM was Toyota’s first one-seat concept, and the i-Swing follows that lead. The cockpit feel is more akin to something being worn than something being driven, with its interchangeable form-fitting padding and color-adjustable polyurethane shell.
The i-Swing is also equipped with an artificial intelligence technology. The AI will learn driver moods and preferences and also act as personal assistant. Vehicle settings will be adjusted accordingly, and the driver will receive personal reminders through a built in calendar. In a tribute to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Toyota has named the AI system “AL,” which may be a bit unsettling for i-Swing drivers who are familiar with the outcome of that film.
Performance specs have not been released, and the i-Swing may not appear capable of much more than sidewalk-speeds, but Toyota claims that the vehicle will be able to keep up with most city and back road traffic. In “pedestrian mode,” the i-Swing rides on two wheels, at speeds ideal for a crowded city square. The third wheel drops down for “i-Swing mode,” and much higher speeds can be reached. A joystick control is included, but drivers can lean forward to brake, and backward to accelerate.
The i-Swing may be easy to dismiss as fantasy, or even as a marketing tool of political correctness for Toyota. However, the question has been raised: is this the future of transportation?
Skeptics should remember, there once was a time when the very idea of the ‘auto-mobile’ also seemed quite ridiculous. “Preposterous,” the transportation experts once snickered. “How would it move without the horse?” Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â -B.Veinotte
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