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Lexus LF-30 concept doors up EVs should embrace radical new body shapes: Lexus designer Ian Cartabiano

The chief designer of the Lexus LF-30 electric vehicle concept shown at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show has told Chasing Cars that the time is now for EVs to embrace more radical shapes, throwing off the shackles of conventional design.

Ian Cartabiano is the man behind the LF-30’s unique lines. Penning cars on the French Riviera – the site of Toyota Europe’s design centre – Cartabiano’s recent work reads like a greatest hits list for Toyota and Lexus from the past decade. Responsible for the widely-praised LF-LC concept, which morphed almost unchanged into the LC coupe, Cartabiano also designed Toyota’s latest Camry, and the Toyota C-HR.

Toyota designer Ian Cartabiano
Toyota Europe designer Ian Cartabiano

The futuristic LF-30 is a vision of where Lexus will take its electric vehicle development over the next ten years. At just over five metres in length, the LF-30 is of a similar size to the brand’s LS flagship saloon – but the LF-30 assumes a unique shape that blends coupe, sedan and crossover cues. Equipped with a 110kWh battery, the LF-30 produces 400kW/700Nm.

“The future of electrified design should really try to create something new…rather than be mired in the past”

“It is a new type of luxury-performance car that has the sleek attitude of a performance vehicle, with more [interior space] than an LS … but with the driving dynamics and stance of an LC, but the height of a UX,” said Cartabiano of his LF-30. “I think that’s a really interesting combination, and it could only happen with an electrified platform.”

Much of Cartabiano’s repertoire is in the design of internal combustion vehicles – but he says the packaging advantages of electrification have created a unique opportunity for car designers in the years ahead.

“Electrification really provides a lot of freedom for designers … to create something new. The only reason to hold onto traditional [design] cues is to make a visual transition for a traditional customer,” he says.

Lexus LF-30 concept rear
The LF-30 embraces elements of sedan, coupe and crossover styling.

So, should electric vehicles ditch long bonnets, and other conventional elements of car design that car buyers find familiar?

“It depends on the brand, realistically, but in my opinion, [Lexus is] a future-looking, forward-facing brand … I think we are at the point now where we should make a more futuristic, braver statement, and really take advantage of what EV technology can provide,” Cartabiano says.

“My personal opinion is that the future of electrified design should really try to create something new – create a new expression of technology – rather than be mired in the past.”

That said, Mr Cartabanio, who drives a vintage Toyota Celica GT-Four and describes himself as “very much a car guy”, is also drawn to electrified reinventions of past designs.

“For a vehicle in our brand, I think we should be future-facing. But I would also love to have an electric Jaguar E-Type – like they drove at the wedding,” – referring to the converted electric Jag driven by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Harry and Meghan.

Electric Jaguar E Type Royal Wedding
Cartabiano is also a fan of electrification of vintage cars – namedropping the Rimac-powered Jaguar E-Type driven by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex

“I think EV doesn’t have to be boring and silent – it can be fun,” says Cartabiano. “Electrification could be really exciting for performance…I love driving. I love the feeling of torque and horsepower. I think the electric motor provides something really exciting, especially if we can enhance the sound of it – make it a little bit more mechanical, more turbine-like. I think it can provide a thrilling experience.”

Given the LF-30 is designed to be a look at electrified Lexus motoring in the year 2030, Cartabiano and his team avoided the temptation to design too many Jetsons-esque features that would not pass muster in the real world.

“We envisioned this car generally around 2030. It’s not like fifty years in the future – and if you think about the realities of global government regulations and safety, [ideas like having the] seats turning around is really a non-starter,” he says.

“I think sometimes it’s easy in the era of autonomous driving and electrification to make a living room on wheels…it’s kind of a go-to standard, lately. I don’t think that is the only solution, especially for a luxury brand, where ownership is important.”

Lexus LF-30 concept interior
The interior is deliberately more realistic than some other EV concepts.

Cartabiano says the LF-30’s spacious interior remains driver-focussed, working organically with this concept’s performance aspirations. “It’s really an intriguing sense of space…as the driver, you really do feel like you’re in control. It’s a cockpit inspired by this Japanese concept of ‘Tazuna’ (a ‘single rein’ between horse and rider), you feel a driving connection that is LC-ish.”

So, should we expect to see elements of the LF-30 make their way into production Lexus vehicles – including the brand’s first electric car? Cartabiano is tight lipped.

“Fantasy is a large part of every concept car, but more so for this one…we wanted to push the boundaries a bit more for [the LF-30], exercise some creative freedom, and try to set the tone for what could happen in the future. This is purely just a concept, but you may see some features of this car, design-wise, make it into production in the next 10 years or so.”

“It really depends on the reaction, honestly,” concedes Cartabiano.

Whether Cartabiano’s influence will make its way onto the first Lexus production EV in the next couple of years, we’ll see – but there’s a good bet we will see echoes of the work Cartabiano’s ED2 – Toyota’s European design centre – has done on the LF-30.

“It is one of the great perks of working for this company,” says Cartabiano. “We have two awesome brands, and we make so many different cars. It keeps you engaged, and keeps your creative juices flowing. It is really great.”

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Toyota RAV4 Hybrid long term review grey Long Term Log: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Part 2

Even for those that aren’t on the SUV bandwagon, it’s hard to dispute the utility of crossovers for driving around the ‘burbs. They’re easy to buckle children into, they can jump kerbs if your parking angles are a little off and their cushy seats and suspension make the school run that much more relaxing. Only problem? SUVs are large and heavy, so they suck fuel, be it petrol or diesel.

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is the first mainstream SUV in Australia that can really bust that myth. When I say mainstream, I mean a car that most people can afford – there have been luxury hybrid SUVs, like the six-figure Lexus RX hybrid, and even the more-expensive-again electric Tesla Model X – but you can walk into a Toyota RAV4 for less than forty grand.

Read the first instalment of our RAV4 long-term review here.

Urban driving in the Toyota RAV4 hybrid

We’ve been driving the range-topping RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser for a couple of months now, and we spend about three-fifths of our time driving around Sydney’s suburbs. There’s my commute on the lower north shore, regular runs to the northern beaches and all manner of work commitments. Point being, our Graphite-over-Nutmeg RAV4 spends a lot of time in bumper to bumper traffic.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid long term review grey

But bumper to bumper is where hybrids do their best work. Content to run in electric-only mode at low speeds, you crawl along with zero tailpipe emissions and zero petrol being channeled through the Toyota’s innards – which meant a month where all our driving was urban resulted in E10-petrol consumption of just 5.4L/100km. Holy cow.

By contrast, petrol SUVs that swung by for comparison from Volkswagen and Mazda used more than double that figure.

If you want an easy way to drastically cut your fuel bills and reduce your environmental footprint – without having to do anything drastic – swapping into a RAV4 Hybrid is a great start.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid long term review grey

The stellar fuel consumption is one thing but the instant torque from the three electric motors when darting around the city is a bonus, too. We’re not saying it’s Tesla-like in its acceleration – it certainly isn’t – but the little squirt from the battery essentially operates like a low-blow turbo.

There used to be a horrible sound and vibration when older Toyota hybrids switched from electric power to the petrol engine, but substantial NVH work means that this transition is now much smoother and vibe-free. If you have music on, you won’t actually know when you’re running on volts or on gasoline, except for the ‘EV’ symbol in your instrument cluster.

The hybrid battery and motors do add some weight to the RAV4 but that doesn’t fundamentally affect this SUV’s dynamics, which are pleasant and light. Direct steering combines with a soft but controlled ride, making the Toyota a surprisingly fluent drive but also a very comfortable one.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid long term review nutmeg leather

Toyota haven’t tried to make the RAV4 sporty; they have aimed for comfort, and all the better for it. Having said that, it’s not floppy at all; it’s a great balance.

The spacious interior includes a set of good, heated front seats, a good JBL stereo (on our Cruiser) and heaps of rear legroom and headroom. This is only a five-seater – a new Kluger seven-seater with a hybrid option will come along at the start of 2020.

Seamless is how you’d describe the experience of driving the 2019 RAV4 in the city. With the car’s computers making all the decisions for you in terms of fuel sources, all you have to do is buy it to start reducing your environmental impact and fuel bills at the same time. What more could you want at this point in time?

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid long term review grey
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Grey Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid front end Long Term Log: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Part 1

Time on test: 6 weeks
Total test time: 12 weeks
Mileage on test: 1,500km
Fuel economy on test: 6.2L/100km

The latest Toyota RAV4 burst onto the SUV scene earlier this year, sporting better driving dynamics, a more plush interior, and an emphasis on fuel-saving hybrid engines. We were so impressed with the RAV4 that we’ve brought one into our long-term fleet.

Wearing three hybrid badges – one on the tail, two on the flanks – the new 2019 Toyota RAV4 certainly doesn’t shy away from demonstrating its fuel-saving cred. And so it should: hybrid power is the RAV4’s major unique selling point in the crowded Australian car market. You’ll find a plethora of decent choices with petrol or diesel engines, but the RAV4 is the first really affordable hybrid SUV to be brought to Australia.

Nutmeg leather option on Toyota RAV4 Cruiser
Our RAV4 Hybrid features the rare ‘Nutmeg’ interior option.

If that results in real fuel savings at the bowser, then hybrid tech is likely to be embraced by a much larger cohort of Australian car buyers. The low running costs of hybrid Toyotas have long made them a mainstay of this country’s taxi fleet but making hybrid engines appeal to the substantial number of private SUV buyers out there is a big priority of the new RAV4.

We’re six weeks into a twelve week run at integrating the new Toyota RAV4 into our lives, where it’s doing diverse duties – some weeks as a commuter, some as a long-distance road tripper and even some as a light off-roader.

Grey Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid driving
We’ll be subjecting the RAV4 to a number of driving disciplines.

From the RAV4 range, We chose the high-specification but remarkably affordable RAV4 Cruiser AWD grade, which goes for $39,140 with a conventional petrol two-litre, while adding the hybrid battery pack (that also beefs up the petrol engine to 2.5-litres) costs another $2,500. AWD adds a further $3,000. Wearing graphite grey metallic paint and a contrast sandy leather interior, our RAV4 hits the road at $49,624 driveaway.

Given this SUV weighs in at a hefty 1,710 kg before you load passengers and cargo, we were a little sceptical that a small electric motor and battery would provide enough motivation in the RAV4 to prevent the old-school, non-turbo petrol engine from carrying most of the load most of the time.

After all, the RAV4 AWD’s battery capacity is fairly modest – 1.9kWh, with the two electric motors mounted on the front axle producing 88kW and the rear electric motor – added if you opt for AWD – producing 40kW. It’s fascinating to compare those stats to the cheapest all-electric SUV offer – the $60k Hyundai Kona Electric, which has 64kWh of capacity and produces 150kW of power.

Grey Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid front end
Do you need the Cruiser, or will a lower-spec grade do? We’ll find out.

If our first month-and-a-half of motoring is a guide, though, these concerns were unfounded. The hybrid system is more than powerful enough to take over during significant tracts of driving – especially at town speeds, where the RAV4 takes off from a stop in pure-EV before the engine kicks in, usually around 25km/h. We’re finding that once we have built up to about 50km/h, a lift of the throttle re-engages EV mode where it is happy to mostly maintain pace with the engine off.

The real beauty of hybrids over their more sophisticated full-electric counterparts is that this system requires no management from the driver. Charging the battery is done mostly by braking, with the occasional use of the petrol engine as a generator.

Grey Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid rear end
Is the new RAV4 now the easiest medium SUV to recommend? We’ll see.

With around 60% of our first 1,500km being spent in-town, our current fuel economy of 6.2L/100km is very low for this segment and is within a reasonable margin of Toyota’s official claim of 4.8L/100km. Also impressive is the fact that town economy doesn’t seem to suddenly blow out with four passengers and cargo aboard.

This sort of economy figure is achievable by the most frugal of turbo diesel SUVs, but the petrol engine used by the RAV4 produces cleaner emissions and doesn’t actually require a particularly economical driving style to reproduce. We haven’t been deliberately light on the throttle!

We’re looking forward to the second half of our test, where we’ll continue to monitor our RAV4’s fuel consumption and resulting CO2 production, but also delve into more depth about this SUV’s upgraded interior, how practical the new RAV4 is, and whether you actually need a Cruiser grade – or if the cheaper GX or GXL are a better buy.

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2019 Nissan Leaf EV Australia Charging Nissan to offer 16 electrified vehicles by 2022

Japanese carmaker Nissan remains bullish about its stated goal of electrifying one-third of its sales volume by 2022, with senior executives confirming that the goal will be supported mainly through a substantial launch programme for new Nissan electric vehicles.

It’s an ambitious plan that will require achieving about 20,000 sales annually of electrified Nissans in Australia, encompassing full electric vehicles, EVs packing a petrol-powered generator aboard, and more traditional hybrid systems.

Getting to 20,000 ‘electrified’ sales will require Nissan to extend its electric tech to new segments, given the brand currently offers just two qualifying vehicles in Australia: the battery-electric Leaf, and a mild-hybrid Pathfinder SUV.

Chasing Cars spoke with Nic Thomas, Nissan’s global head of EVs, on the sidelines of the launch of the second-generation Leaf in Melbourne this month about the brand’s looming EV push.

The second-gen Leaf EV was launched in Australia this month.

“We’ve announced as part of our mid-term plan that by 2022, which is obviously not far away at all, we will have eight battery electric vehicles on sale around the world, and eight E-Power vehicles,” Mr Thomas said. The new Leaf makes up one of the aforementioned battery EVs.

The brand counts full EVs like the Leaf hatch as battery electric vehicles, while E-Power Nissans carry a petrol engine aboard to act as a generator or charger for an EV drivetrain.

“E-Power is a derivation of electric vehicles where you take the battery EV drivetrain – the motor, the inverter – providing that instant acceleration, fun to drive, really quiet ride, but then you have a range extender petrol, a generator, as well,” Mr Thomas explained.

Nissan are close to finalising development on an all-new electric vehicle platform shared between the brand and its alliance partners, Renault and Nissan. This platform will support both full electric and range-extending E-Power derivations.

2018 Nissan Qashqai ST-L Vivid Blue Driving Rear
One future electric Nissan will be an EV SUV sized like this Qashqai.

This modular platform will underpin several of the electrified Nissans that arrive by 2022. Mr Thomas confirmed that a new Nissan electric SUV will sit on the platform, sized similarly to a Qashqai in the small-to-medium crossover segment.

“Many of our vehicles can be based off this modular platform, which gives the opportunity to reduce costs,” Mr Thomas said.

Renault and Mitsubishi will also build cars off the new modular electric platform, Mr Thomas confirmed, but noted that these vehicles would not constitute part of the eight-Nissan figure.

Thomas downplayed suggestions that Nissan would also look to leverage alliance partner Mitsubishi’s existing plug-in hybrid tech as seen in SUVs like the Outlander PHEV.

“I can’t comment on Mitsubishi’s strategy. At Nissan we focus very much on electrification using our battery EV and E-Power technologies,” he said.

2018 Nissan Navara ST-X Review Burning Red Side Profile
Nissan’s commercial vehicles are “very likely” candidates for electrification.

As for which of these new electric Nissans will be offered locally, Nissan Australia managing director Stephen Lester confirmed there would be several product launches over the next three years in support of the one-third of volume goal.

“I can’t confirm specific plans or products that we have in the pipeline, but I think you can certainly look to the suite of products we’ve got and the things we’ve talked about,” Mr Lester said.

“We have technology such as e-Power in other markets already, and you can be sure that we’ll be looking at ways to bring those types of things into Australia.”

Depending on battery sizes, it’s likely that in the medium term Nissan electric vehicles will continue to be more expensive than their combustion counterparts. The Leaf is priced at $49,990 before on-road costs and offers 230km of range from its 40kWh battery.

Battery prices are trending down, which could make EVs more affordable in future.

Lester additionally confirmed that it was “very likely” that electrification would spread into Nissan’s commercial vehicle lineup, which consists solely of the Navara ute in Australia – though an full-electric NV-series small van is available overseas utilising the same 40kWh battery as the Leaf.

Other short-term options include bringing the hybrid version of the existing Japanese-market X-Trail to Australia, which adds a small 0.9kWh battery producing 31kW/160Nm to the 107kW two-litre X-Trail for a combined output of 134kW.

Mr Lester also reflected upon the shifting demand for low- and zero-emissions vehicles in Australia.

“Here in Australia and around the world, we are under a tremendous shift and change in how people engage with…the types of vehicle they are buying,” he said.

“Now that technology has progressed, and continues to progress, we’re seeing greater opportunities in a diversified powertrain lineup.”

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