If you hated my recent rant about driver distractions, you’ll positively love the new Lexus HS 250h hybrid sedan. Apparently, this car has every gadget and electronic device known to man, including an optional Remote Touch Interface with joystick and mouse that lets you
control all sorts of functions, from the audio system to the trip computer to the navigation map. While the icons are large and some haptic feedback helps you feel where your cursor-arrow is headed, the system still requires a degree of precision and concentration that a driver may find intrusive and distracting.
See, you bring your laptop into the car and actually do all this stuff on it while you are driving with your other hand. Really cool, eh? The NY Times describes a “dizzying array” of buttons and gadgets, calling the car “technology infested.” Yet, every bell and whistle seems to sell cars, particularly in Japan, where there are three- to four-month waiting lists for this beast. Adding all those fancy packages (like front and back cameras) brings its cost to around 50 big ones.
You could buy two Priuses for that. But you might want to wait till 2011, when Toyota introduces a plug-in Prius. Lithium-ion batteries will give the car a 14.5-mile electric range; then, with a full tank of fuel, you could go 870 miles as a typical hybrid. Six hundred of these cars will be leased to “corporations, universities, and government agencies” in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. (which should get only about 150).
But Toyota may be late to the plug-in game: GM has been threatening to produce up to 60,000 Chevy Volts beginning next year, and Ford, VW, and Nissan are introducing new models. But the Big T still has a big edge with the Prius, and this version would not only be “affordable,” but charge in 100 minutes. The company is wary of pure-electric vehicles because of infrastructure problems and the still-uncertain direction the new technologies will follow.
A just-released study by the National Research Council predicts we won’t see plug-in hybrids in significant numbers for a “few more decades.” It will take “hundreds of billions” in government subsidies to make them happen. The big roadblock, they say, is the cost of batteries, even figuring that diminishes by 50 percent over the next 20 years, which is a conservative estimate, according to some.
Finally, Toyota is teasing out a new “dedicated hybrid” concept car it will bring to the Detroit Auto Show on January 11. Looks like another city car to us, but that is a market that Toyota could still make a mark in. Car and Driver thinks it looks like the iQ minicar: “our bet is that this concept is based on that car’s platform, or possibly a newer version of it.” We confidently predict it will draw lots of attention at Detroit, and we’ll get back to you, as they say, on that.
Is Toyota behind the curve on electric technologies in cars—or are they getting in at the right time? Give us your thoughts.