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Toyota unveils electric car

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Toyota has revealed details of a new, production-ready ultra-compact battery-electric vehicle (BEV) ahead of a planned commercial launch in Japan late next year. Development chief Akihiro Yanaka said the vehicle, which is less than 2.5 metres long and 1.3 metres wide, is a next-generation mobility solution designed to cover short distances while limiting impact on the environment.

“We want to create a mobility solution that can support Japan’s ageing society and provide freedom of movement to people at all stages of life,” Mr Yanaka said. “With the ultra-compact BEV, we are proud to offer customers a vehicle that not only allows for greater autonomy, but also requires less space, creates less noise and limits environmental impact.”

The ultra-compact, two-seater is specifically designed to meet the daily mobility needs of customers who make regular, short-distance trips such as the elderly, newly licenced drivers or business people visiting local customers.

It has a range of approximately 100km on a single charge, reaches a maximum speed of 60km/h, and features an extremely tight turning radius.

Toyota is also pairing its planned launch next year with a new business model that aims to promote the wider adoption of battery electric vehicles in general. This includes examining every step of the battery’s life, from manufacture through sale, resale or re-use, and recycling to maximise its value.

In the near term, Toyota will focus on expanded leasing initiatives designed to recapture used batteries for evaluation and re-use as appropriate in pre-owned vehicles, as service parts, or even in non-automobile applications.

Toyota is also developing peripheral services for battery electric vehicles such as recharging stations and insurance.

The vehicle will be displayed at this month’s Tokyo Motor Show along with the Toyota i-ROAD and three different “walking area” BEVs that will be available for test rides on a 1.5km path.

Toyota’s BEVs: Types & Main Features

• Ultra-compact BEV Concept Model for Business is designed for business applications that include repeated short-distance trips and parking, this model serves as a “mobile office” with three modes to support travelling, working and taking breaks.

• Walking Area BEV Standing Type can be used for patrolling, conducting security checks or carrying heavy equipment around large facilities such as airports or factories.

• Walking Area BEV Seated Type provides mobility for people who are handling large amounts of luggage, or who may have difficulty walking.

• Walking Area BEV Wheelchair-linked Type connects to manual wheelchairs by providing motorized power to them for use at large facilities and tourist locations.

• Toyota i-ROAD is a short-distance mobility solution that combines the size of a motorcycle with improved stability to support last-km urban commuting or tourism.

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For users, in-car touchscreens ever more useless

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As touchscreens become more commonplace, the gulf of perceived differences in the performance of these features between cars and other devices (such as mobile and in-home) has become wider. A new report from the In-Vehicle UX (IVX) group at Strategy Analytics has investigated car owners’ satisfaction with their on-board touchscreens. Long hamstrung by poor UX and extended production cycles, in-car touchscreens are seen by car users and buyers as lagging behind the experience offered by touchscreens outside the car. As such, consumer satisfaction has continued to slide in China and Europe, while reaching historic lows in the US.

Surveying consumers in the US, Western Europe, and China via web-survey, key report findings include:

  • Difficult text entry and excessive fingerprint smudging are common complaints among all car owners.
  • Because touchscreens have reached market saturation in the US, satisfaction with in-car screens has tailed off significantly.
  • However, touchscreens remain a relatively newer phenomenon in many car models in Western Europe (compared with the US) and thus their limitations are less prominent in the minds of car owners.
  • Overall touchscreen satisfaction fell for the fifth straight year in China, indicating a growing impatience for in-car UX to match UX found elsewhere in the consumer electronics space.

Derek Viita, Senior Analyst and report author, says, “Part of the issue with fingerprint smudging is the angle at which in-car touchscreens are installed – they make every fingerprint increasingly visible.

“Fingerprint smudging is an issue across all touchscreen-based consumer electronics. But in most form factors and especially mobile devices, consumers can quite easily adjust their viewing angle. This is not always the case with fixed in-car screens.”

Says Chris Schreiner, Director, Syndicated Research UXIP, “Although hardware quality certainly figures in many of the usual complaints car owners have about their screens, it is not the sole factor. Cockpit layout and UI design can play important roles in mitigating some issues with in-car touchscreens.”

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Volvo to use blockchain to trace battery cobalt

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Volvo Cars will become the first carmaker to implement global traceability of cobalt used in its batteries by applying blockchain technology. The announcement follows the reveal last month of the company’s first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge.

Traceability of raw materials used in the production of lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, is one of the main sustainability challenges faced by carmakers. Volvo says its committed to full traceability, ensuring that customers can drive electrified Volvos knowing the material for the batteries has been sourced responsibly.

“It is a mineral that is essential to the production of the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars,” says Greg Maruszewski, Managing Director of Volvo Cars South Africa. “But, sadly, it has long been suspected that some of the cobalt comes from mines that don’t use ethical mining practices. Now, thanks to blockchain traceability, we will know that the cobalt has been sourced responsibly. We are the first and only vehicle manufacturer that can make this statement. Accordingly, South African motorists who buy a Volvo in our XC90 T8 range can do so with pride – with the guaranteed knowledge that only ethical mining practices have taken place in the cobalt supply chain.”

Blockchain technology, which establishes a transparent and reliable shared data network, significantly boosts transparency of the raw material supply chain as the information about the material’s origin cannot be changed undetected.

Volvo Cars has now reached an agreement with its two global battery suppliers, CATL of China and LG Chem of South Korea, and leading global blockchain technology firms to implement traceability of cobalt starting this year.

Technology firms Circulor and Oracle operate the blockchain technology across CATL’s supply chain following a successful pilot earlier this summer, while the Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network (RSBN), together with responsible sourcing specialists RCS Global and IBM, is rolling out the technology in LG Chem’s supply chain.

“We have always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials,” says Martina Buchhauser, head of procurement at Volvo Cars. “With blockchain technology we can take the next step towards ensuring full traceability of our supply chain and minimising any related risks, in close collaboration with our suppliers.”

A blockchain is a digital ledger containing a list of records linked to each other via cryptography. Within supply chains, the technology creates records of transactions, which cannot be changed while also enforcing a common set of rules for what data can be recorded. This allows participants to verify and audit transactions independently.

In this particular case, data in the blockchain include the cobalt’s origin, attributes such as weight and size, the chain of custody and information establishing that participants’ behavior is consistent with OECD supply chain guidelines. This approach helps create trust between participants along a supply chain.

Volvo Cars last month launched the XC40 Recharge, the first of an upcoming family of fully electric cars under the Recharge banner. By 2025, it expects half of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids.

Last month, Volvo Cars also launched an ambitious climate plan, which includes a radical reduction of carbon emissions by 40% per vehicle by 2025, as well as a continued commitment to ethical business across its entire operations and supply chain.

CATL and LG Chem are renowned battery manufacturers, both with long and successful track records supplying lithium-ion batteries to the global automotive industry. They fulfil Volvo Cars’ strict sourcing guidelines in terms of technology leadership, responsible supply chains, reduction of carbon emissions and competitive cost models.

The agreements between Volvo Cars, CATL and LG Chem cover the supply of batteries over the coming decade for next-generation Volvo and Polestar models, including the XC40 Recharge.

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