There are very few iconic characters that can be recognized worldwide, but Star Wars‘ R2-D2 and C-3PO are undoubtedly two droids with universal appeal.
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Just a day after Google was awarded a driver’s license for its self-driving car, the tech giant brought one of its autonomous Toyota Prius out to Washington D.C. in hopes to make driverless cars legal in the United States.
It appears that Google made its way to the nation’s capital in hopes to appeal to federal policymakers and to maybe convince some to take a ride in its self-driving Prius. We’ve already seen what it can do for a blind man, and Google’s main focus right now is to prove its benefits to lawmakers. For the most part, Google is confident in the technology developed in its self-driving cars, its biggest concern now is for the public to widely accept the benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road.
But of course, the U.S. government has been officially tight-lipped on the issue of autonomous vehicles with the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology stating that it had no knowledge of Google’s plans of operating its Prius out in D.C.
The state of Nevada has just become the first to issue a driver’s license to a car.
The vehicle in question is Google’s autonomous Toyota Prius, which company engineers have been testing on California roads for the past two years, logging 140,000 miles with just one traffic-incident. That accident, caused when a car driven by a person bumped into the back of the autonomous car, is just the sort of thing Google intends to dramatically reduce or even eliminate with its revolutionary technology.
The car uses video cameras as well as radar and laser sensors to “see” as well as impressive computing power to control the vehicle’s next function, adapting to a rapidly changing environment. During the entire testing process Google engineers have been on hand in the vehicle in case human intervention became necessary.
Google’s driverless car has been issued a red license plate, with an infinity sign on it next to the number 001.
While the first, Nevada may soon be joined by California, which recently introduced similar legislation to introduce autonomous driving to the state’s busy freeways.
Toyota continues to enjoy success with its Prius family of models, as its plug-in hybrid sold 1,654 units in the month of April.
The sales figure trumps its main competitors, the Chevrolet Volt (1,462 sold) and the Nissan Leaf (370 sold) making it the most popular plug-in vehicle last month in America. It’s no huge surprise that the plug-in variant of the Prius is selling well compared to its counterparts, considering how well-known the Prius moniker has become over the years.
Last month the Japanese automaker also saw the highest sales total for its Prius models ever for the month of April, moving a combined figure of 25,168 units across all its model variants. In total, Toyota sold 30,126 hybrids while its luxury division Lexus moved a respectable 2,467. Compared to April 2011, Toyota’s hybrid sales saw a huge jump of 124.6 percent, but it’s worth noting that April 2011 was also after the disastrous tsunami that hindered vehicle production.
“Thanks to continued strong sales of Camry and Prius family, Toyota was America’s number one retail brand for the second straight month,” said Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. “With consumer confidence improving, we expect to see sustained industry growth in the months ahead.”
Ford recently announced the EPA fuel efficiency rating for its electric Focus model. Since it doesn’t burn any gasoline, the number isn’t in miles per gallon (MPG), but was given as miles per gallon gasoline equivalent, or MPGe. A new term to the automotive lexicon, it’s worth exploring exactly what MPGe means and how an MPGe rating is determined, especially as the number of electric cars and plug-in electric hybrids on the roads continues to increase.
Price, looks and size… these are the few factors that used to decide what vehicle you’d park in your driveway. Looking for a cheap and small car? A Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic will do. Need something bigger, perhaps a mid-size Hyundai Sonata or an SUV. Things used to be pretty easy.
With increasingly high gas prices and an overall movement towards green, fuel efficient vehicles, fuel economy has become more important. In fact, for many price, looks and size are now completely trumped by fuel economy.
“Buyers just look at the MPG on the sticker,” says IHS Automotive Analyst Devin Lindsay commenting that car buyers are now completely mesmerized by the EPA sticker label.
Take a look at the Toyota Prius, for example. It’s not terribly big, is fairly expensive, and looks… well… weird. But that didn’t stop three million of them from being sold, all thanks to a hybrid gas-electric engine that provides excellent fuel economy.
The Prius isn’t the only option for someone looking for a fuel efficient car, however; especially those in search of a more engaging driving experience. If you want to cut down on trips to the pump, and still drive a fun, powerful, good looking car, your best bet might just be in a diesel powered vehicle. That does mean you’ll almost certainly have to drive German, although a flood of new diesel-powered vehicles are about to hit our shore.
Self-driving cars aren’t new, but if electric vehicles’ slow adoption rates among U.S. consumers are any measure of new technology acceptance then autonomous cars can’t be close at hand, or can they?
According to a speech given by Larry Burns, former General Motors research and development head, we can expect such technology by 2020. Unless you’ve been ignoring auto news, that sentence might seem strange. We already have cars that drive themselves, even to Taco Bell drive-through windows, courtesy of Google.
What’s the real benefit to autonomous cars? To be able to eat your Taco Bell Cheesy Gordita Crunch while it drives you to your destination of course.
In all seriousness, Google’s self-driving car just did its biggest and best promotional video yet. The autonomous Toyota Prius shuttled around Steve Mahan, a legally blind man, through a day of errands.
Google’s self-driving Prius has completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led travel and one of their favorite moments was a carefully programmed route for Steve Mahan to show off the benefits of autonomous vehicles. While this was mostly a technical experiment in Google’s eyes, we believe it opens up the rest of the world’s eyes on just how beneficial the technology could be if safety standards could be met.
Without ever touching the pedals or steering wheel, the legally blind Steve Mahan got to enjoy some Taco Bell drive-through and was able to pick up his dry cleaning, something he wouldn’t have been able to do on his own having lost 95 percent of his vision. Steve Mahan was also labeled as self-driving car user #0000000001 by Google.
According to the end of the video, it was created with the assistance of the Morgan Hill Police Department and the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center in San Jose, California.
While its a good thing for the blind, the world had better be careful. If this goes too far, steering might be considered exercise.
Check out the video of Steve Mahan driven around after the break.
Part of a two-year highway reauthorization bill is ruffling feathers among some of the world’s top auto manufacturers because it could allow for massively increased fines.
The provision in question would raise the amount of money an automaker may be fined for failing to properly recall problematic vehicles. As it stands, the maximum fine is $17 million. If passed, that number could grow to $250 million, something the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (which represents the big three, Toyota and several others) says is disproportionate and unfairly punitive.
While a $233 million dollar increase in fining capacity is inarguably a huge jump, it raises the question: what defines an improperly performed recall?
We’re not on the short list to be making those judgement calls, but there are a few egregious incidents that might justify such a serious penalty.
It wasn’t so long ago that people discovered, much to their horror, that their Toyota may experience unintended acceleration. Bad as that was, things got worse when the company tried to find excuses rather than addressing the issue head-on.
Toyota isn’t the only culprit in recent history. Ford is currently being sued for allegedly selling F-150 trucks and E series vans with faulty fuel tanks over the past decade. In this incident it seems Ford might have known about the defect and done nothing to fix it.
Incidents like this aren’t an every day occurrence but maybe automakers would be mor readily inclined to deal with those issues if stiffer penalties were in place.
[Source: The Detroit News]
Charge as much as you can, when you can — that seems to be the mentality at Al Hendrickson Toyota of Coconut Creek, Fla. where the sought-after Toyota Prius C is marked up by a whopping $7,000.
A Twitter user with the handle Miami4me2c posted a picture showing the dealership’s “Market Value Adjustment” which brings the car, which carries a $19,900 base price, to a grand total of $27,834. That’s enough to buy the mid-range Prius hackback, but it doesn’t seem to matter because the Prius C is a hot-selling car.
Much to Toyota’s delight, it sold 1,200 units in the first three days of availability in the U.S., and demand continues to exceed supply. So much so that the automaker is taking steps to ramp up production by shifting resources and dedicating more space in its Kanto factory for the small Prius.
Despite that, dealerships like Al Hendrickson can try to scoop as many ladles of greed gravy as possible until the company manages to address the issue. It’s not uncommon for dealerships to mark high-demand cars up to recoup losses, but this case seems excessive.
We called the dealership looking for an explanation, but they refused to comment on the topic.
GALLERY: 2012 Toyota Prius C
The Toyota Prius GT300 race car debuted at the 2012 Tokyo Auto Salon, looking ready to compete in the 2012 Super GT season. But things didn’t go as planned when the team took to testing its race car out at Okayama Circuit prior to the season opener.
We’re sure all the Toyota haters out there would find this the perfect time to make fun of the Prius for catching fire, but let’s keep in mind this is a complete race car and can hardly compare to what we see on the streets. So don’t expect any Chevrolet Volt comparisons from us, especially since it’s already been revealed that the cause of the fire was from a faulty fuel line rather than any issues in the vehicle’s hybrid system.
Thankfully it appears that much of the damage is cosmetic and the driver was unharmed when leaked fuel caught onto the exhaust, igniting the fire. The team is confident that they’ll have their Prius race car ready to roll at the season opener in Okayama.
Watch the video of the Toyota Prius GT300 race car on fire after the break.
[Source: Hanzo Autobuzz]
Board games aren’t popular like they used to be, thanks to the wealth of electronic entertainment available today. Still, many of us probably remember the Game of Life which is probably what Toyota is banking on with their new ad campaign for the Prius c.
Targeted towards first-time car buyers, Toyota leveraged its partnership with Hasbro to incorporate The Game of Life in its new “Malti-poo” ad. Another commercial will follow called “Dolphin Tattoo,” both of which will feature bright colors and bold imagery similar to the board game.
While the ads may seem weird, we applaud the Japanese automaker for realizing that a new generation is buying and that old sales tactics might now work.
“The Prius c campaign acknowledges the fact that buying a car is a big decision, as well as a new experience for many in this demographic,” said Bill Fay, group vice president, marketing, Toyota. “We wanted to give our customers something entertaining and engaging, yet familiar, they could identify with while introducing a vehicle to help them navigate this exciting new chapter in their lives.”
The Game of Life ads won’t only be TV commercials, Toyota will also be adding interactive digital elements to apps and other social networking sites like Facebook.
The Prius c is the newest addition to the growing Prius family, offering 53/46 mpg city/highway with a starting price of just $18,950. You can read and watch our review here.
Watch the quirky “Malti-poo” commercial after the break.
For the ninth month in a row, the top-selling car in Japan is the Toyota Prius, helping hybrids make up more than 20-percent of all auto sales in Japan.
In February, Toyota sold 35,875 Prius hybrids, while the Honda Fit came in second place with 24,973 units sold. That’s quite the gap, especially considering third place was the new Toyota Aqua (Prius c in America – read our review here) that sold 21,951.
Hybrid models are now making up nearly half of Toyota total sales in Japan while Honda announced that 60-percent of their Fit sales are hybrid variants. Rounding off the top five was the Honda Freed in fourth place (13,293 sold) and the Toyota Vitz in fifth (11,288 sold). Over 40-percent of the Honda Freed sales are also hybrids.
The more interesting news is the fact that the Aqua hybrid production isn’t even keeping up with demand. The Japanese automaker originally planned to build 12,000 Aquas per month but now overwhelming demand has customers waiting almost six months for their vehicle if they placed their orders today.
Toyota worked hard to bring the Prius nameplate from obscurity to common parlance, whether its loved by save-the-planet tree huggers or hated by gas-wasting macho men, few can feign ignorance to the world’s most iconic hybrid.
“With the four cars, you’re seeing the entire Prius family short-term. For the long term, we continue to evaluate it. I certainly have things that I’d love to see evolve,” Toyota divisions group vice president and general manager, Bob Carter said.
With the advent of the Prius V and Prius C, it’s clear that Toyota wants to expand the Prius offerings for broader appeal. Toyota even teased the idea of a Prius light truck.
“So, no, you’re not going to see us put a hybrid in a truck if it doesn’t meet that. I would never support anything with a Prius badge that is sub-40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km). We’re not going to put a hybrid in the Tundra (fullsize-pickup truck) and call it the Prius Tundra,” said Carter.
Toyota is expecting 220,000 Prius deliveries this year in the U.S., with the V and C projected to make up 15-20 percent of that number. Toyota has a major goal set for themselves of having every model in the U.S. lineup sporting a hybrid variant by 2020, and with this in mind, the Prius family looks like it’s set to keep growing.
[Source: Ward's Auto]
Read AutoGuide’s Toyota Prius c Review here or watch below for our video review:
Toyota confirmed today that the 2012 Prius Plug-In has been approved for the State of California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP).
The CVRP is a consumer incentive made available in addition to the $2,500 Federal Tax credit for qualified vehicles. The 2012 Prius Plug-In has started to arrive at dealerships, and will also be eligible for the State of California’s HOV lane sticker.
The Prius Plug-In will be eligible for a $1,500 rebate that will be given to consumers on a first come, first serve basis. That rebate will be available to anyone who purchases or leases a Prius Plug-In for 36 months or longer.
The Prius Plug-In features a new Lithium-ion battery, boosting overall fuel economy and offers convenient charging times of only 2.5 to 3 hours using a standard 120-volt outlet, or 1.5 hours with a 240-volt outlet. The Plug-In also comes in an “Advanced” model which adds additional standard features of Premium HDD Navigation with Entune, Plug-In Hybrid Applications through a smartphone, Head-up Display, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and more.
The base MSRP for the Prius Plug-In Hybrid is $32,000 while the Advanced has an MSRP of $39,525. Both models are eligible for up to $4,000 in government-supported incentives – $2,500 federal tax credit and $1,500 CVRP.
A national rollout of Prius Plug-in is planned for 2013. At launch, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid will be available in the following 14 states:
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- New York
- New Jersey
J.D. Power and Associates released their annual vehicle dependability study today, something consumers and manufacturers pay close attention to.
“Despite facing immense challenges in 2009, automakers placed a keen focus on delivering outstanding levels of quality, which they understood would be essential to their long-term success,” said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates.
Browsing through the results wouldn’t mean much to the average person unless that person were mulling over a car purchase, except for the fact that this year’s study findings break new ground. Results gathered by the famous firm suggest that vehicle dependability is at an all-time high – and not by a small margin.
In fact, that margin is larger than ever before thanks to a 13 percent improvement in reliability over the 2011 results. Last year’s study cited 151 problems reported per 100 vehicles. This year that number is down to 132 per 100. The study is based on responses by more than 31,000 original owners of 2009 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The survey takes problems over the previous 12 months into account and bases the results per 100 vehicles.
Basically, J. D. Power is telling the rest of the world what a swath of already-satisfied customers from 2009 probably know.
“Three years later, owners of these models are enjoying unprecedented levels of vehicle dependability and manufacturers are experiencing market recovery. This is good news both for owners—who are holding onto their vehicles for longer than ever—and manufacturers, since perception of quality and dependability is a critical factor in vehicle purchase decisions,” Sargent said.
Dependability certainly is a critical factor, which is why we’re chuckling a little that the 2009 Toyota Tundra got the nod this year over the world’s “most dependable, longest lasting line of pickups.” If Ford won, this could have been sweet revenge for Chevy’s low-blow Superbowl ad, but it’s still funny. Better luck next time, Chevy.
It’s also a little funny to think that the 2009 Toyota Prius made it into this year’s list when you remember that was the same year the venerable hybrid poster child started accelerating independent of the driver. To be fair, that happened in a minority of the cars and was a dead issue during the point at which J.D. Power conducted their study. Still, it’s interesting to see how forgiving families apparently are towards the killer car.
Counting Toyota and its subsidiary companies as one, the Japanese giant actually won eight out of 16 categories. Ford was the next best, winning three categories including its subsidiaries.
See the complete list of winners below:
Sub-Compact Car- Toyota Yaris
Compact Car- Toyota Prius
Compact Crossover- Chevrolet Equinox
Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle- Scion xB
Compact Sporty Car- Scion tC
Ranked Entry Premium Car (tie)- Lexus ES 350; Lincoln MKZ
Midsize Car- Ford Fusion
Midsize Crossover SUV (tie)- Ford Explorer; Nissan Murano
Midsize Pickup- Nissan Frontier
Midsize Premium Car- Hyundai Genesis
Midsize Premium Crossover SUV- Lexus RX 350
Midzise Van- Toyota Sienna
Large Car- Buick Lucerne
Large Pickup- Toyota Tundra
[Source: J. D. Power and Associates]
About two months ago we reported a collection of luxurious and exotic machines that were involved in a bizarre accident in Japan that claimed at least eight Ferraris, three Mercedes-Benzes, a Lamborghini, a Nissan Skyline and a Toyota Prius.
The exotic car crash occurred on the Chugoku Expressway out in the Yamaguchi Prefecture and fortunately only ten people were hospitalized with just minor injuries.
Now a video of the aftermath from that accident has surfaced and it appears that Japan is now home to at least two parking lots full of fine machines just sitting and rotting. This accident is now being dubbed “the world’s most expensive car pileup” with an estimated combined cost of $4-million in damage.
Take a closer look at the Italian carnage after the break.
We might become cautiously optimistic about Toyota if these reported order numbers continue to grow exponentially. It was just the end of December that we got reports that the Toyota Prius c in Japan (known as the Toyota Aqua) had reached 60,000 orders; and now just a little over a month later, they have reached 120,000 orders for their new compact hybrid sedan.
And without the Prius c even hitting American dealerships yet, Toyota can call the vehicle a success considering they have 10 times the order of their monthly sales target of 12,000 vehicles in Japan. Now their biggest issue is whether or not they wish to increase production in order to meet the overwhelming demand in Japan.
It’s probably no surprise that the Aqua is such a huge success in Japan. The standard Prius was the best-selling car in Japan last year, and despite the setbacks encountered through the tragic earthquake and tsunami, Toyota still managed to sell more than 250,000 Priuses.
GALLERY: Toyota Prius c
You would probably expect a Berlin police officer to go out and patrol in an Audi, a Mercedes, an Opel, or even a VW, but how about a Toyota Prius?
The Berlin government calls it “Initiative 120″, an effort to sport an eco-friendly fleet of police vehicles that will all have emissions outputs of less than 120 g/km; Hence the name “Initiative 120″. Just three Prii have been delivered to the fleet so far, with 11 gas conscious vehicles being introduced for the first phase of the initiative. The other nine police hybrid or EV vehicles being introduced to the force are the Opel Ampera extended range EV, the Renault Fluence sedan Z.E and Kangoo Van Z.E., and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV hatchback.
The Berlin police said in a statement that this is only the beginning of the program, and they plan on introducing more eco-friendly cars to their fleet in the future.
We’ve seen a lot of strange things come out of Japan’s aftermarket over the years, but this might be the most ridiculous thing yet. Relax Cabin, a Japanese aftermarket company, specializes in camper conversions and apparently thought Toyota Prius owners would have a demand for such a thing.
We guess there’s a remote possibility that someone that owns a Prius would be interested in something like this, but given that the conversion adds over 20-inches to the length of the car and 22-inches to the height, we’re guessing all aerodynamic tweaks Toyota made to make the Prius as fuel efficient as possible has gone out the window. The massive structure is made from reinforced plastic, and we reckon that it isn’t light, further killing the mpg the Prius is made for.
But those that are interested in giving their Prius a whole new world of versatility also has some options available to them. The Prius’s back seats can drop down to make enough space for a double bed while the top compartment can also house another double bed. If that wasn’t enough, you can add a retractable coffee table or side sofa to your Prius camper van.
We never thought those three words would be used legitimately in the same sentence. Prius. Camper. Van. Sigh.
GALLERY: Relax Cabin Toyota Prius Camper Van
GALLERY: Relax Cabin Toyota Prius Tokyo Auto Salon 2012
Google’s mission towards to mass market autonomous vehicles took another step forward this week when they were granted a patent for a method of controlling the self-driving car. The patent details how the vehicle can transition from being human-driven to autonomous mode.
The technology raises an interesting thought, where the car could transition to autonomous mode on a section of road that’s dedicated to self-driving cars. Obviously we’re quite a ways out from having all of our roads populated with autonomous vehicles, but by being able to recognize a bar code or a radio tag, a vehicle could switch modes safely – especially knowing that all the vehicles around it are using the same technology.
While a lot of people are skeptical as to why Google is even pursuing this endeavor, we believe in the sake of pushing technology forward, Google is doing everyone a favor. Google of course stands by their desire to ”help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time, and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.”
Even cooler is the fact that the patent outlines how a vehicle could receive instructions from an Internet address over a wireless network. This could be pretty scary in the wrong hands, that’s for sure. We’re still waiting for the day that our Toyota Prius drives itself to a nearby McDonald’s while telling us the specials that it has for that day. Talk about the possibility of intrusive advertising.