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Team Toyota drives through the Indian heartland on the 5 continents drive with one question in mind, ‘What makes a car better’?
“Tomorrow morning, team meeting at 7:30am, vehicle health check-up at 8:00am and the drive starts at 8:15am,’’ said Yoshikazu Sahara san, team leader of the Indian leg of the Toyota 5 Continents Drive. There was no please-be-on-time rhetoric that followed. You see, the Japanese need no excessive persuasion when it comes to being on time. Qualities like punctuality, precision and planning are all deeply ingrained in their culture. And this has somehow led the company to build some fantastic cars like the Land Cruiser, Fortuner and the Camry Hybrid that has become the global benchmark in hybrid-electric technology. The team then nodded to the leader’s instructions, and after a lip-smacking Rajasthani dinner at the opulent Ramada resort in Udaipur, we all headed to our respective rooms to get enough rest for a long drive the following day. On this Indian leg of the Toyota 5 Continents Drive, a team from Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), GAZOO Racing (GR) and Toyota Kirloskar Motors (TKM) drove from Bengaluru to New Delhi, driving past the Indian heartland – through the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, covering about 2889km. They passed through Davangere, Kolhapur, Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Udaipur and Ajmer.
That’s the literal translation of Toyota’s core philosophy of Genchi Genbutsu, one which the 5C Drive is based on. In this project, Toyota employees travel the world, through diverse roads, environments and cultures, attempting to answer the question, ‘What makes a car better?’ There are also other objectives to fulfil – the most important of which is to provide Toyota engineers with real life exposure, training them to solve problems with limited resources at hand. Exploring potential improvements in Toyota cars is also what the team pursues. And lastly, this global initiative aims to bring Toyota employees from different divisions together, to achieve better inter-departmental understanding. On the India leg, there were members from GAZOO Racing, public affairs, resources and brand management, legal, marketing and of course, engineering.
The idea of driving through five continents was TMC president Akio Toyoda’s, who firmly believes that restricting Toyota employees to workshops, development facilities and test tracks won’t produce the best results. One has to explore, learn and pass on the knowledge to help build durable and reliable products – just like the ones which are on sale in India presently. The first of the 5C drives took place in Australia where 80 members drove 13 cars across the continent, which is said to have some of the world’s most demanding roads. After that, the drive took place in North America (2015), Latin America (2016), Europe (2017) and Africa (2018).
I was invited to be a part of the Udaipur to Delhi leg, and was mighty impressed at the team’s functioning. Every morning, after the route briefing, the team inspected all the cars – Toyota’s entire Indian line-up plus the Land Cruiser 200 which is the symbolic car for the 5C Drive. The daily inspection process included checking tyre pressures, underbelly inspection (our bumpy roads made the Japanese anxious), engine oil levels and tightening the wheel bolts with a torque wrench. That’s the ideal tool to use, if you were unaware. All the nine cars then drove in convoy and the co-ordination between the vehicles was noteworthy. The lead car called for hazards via walkies for cars behind to exercise extra caution. Warnings were issued for every truck barrelling down the road from the opposite side, every reckless motorist zigzagging without indicators and every bumpy section. They set quite the benchmark for safe driving.
The drive combined a blend of highway stretches and scenic mountain roads. Tarmac conditions, though, were questionable making the drive quite a test for the Toyota cars. But having driven Toyota’s entire line-up in the past, I was certain that the cars would reach the destination without any problems. During the three days while I was on the 5C Drive, I travelled in the Land Cruiser 200, Fortuner and the Camry Hybrid.
The Land Cruiser is like a mammoth on our streets. It takes each and every road undulation in its stride like it was its one sole purpose of existence. It rides on an independent double wishbone suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar upfront, and a four-link rear suspension with coil springs, stabilizer bar and semi-floating axle in the rear. This complex system provides an unmatchable level of flexibility to the suspension making it tackle anything and everything that comes in its path. Combine this with its ginormous 4.5-litre V8 diesel engine that produces 261bhp and 650Nm of torque. 650Nm! Just let that sink in for a while. This, along with its AWD system propels the LC 200 onto the unchartered terrains without any hassles. For an SUV which is popular around the globe for its dune-bashing capabilities in scorching middle-eastern heat, tropical Indian weather and our poor roads were a piece of cake for the LC 200. Also it does all the dirty jobs while keeping you cocooned in comfort. The car has an incredible four-zone climate control system and its seats too are very comfortable for long journeys. My journey in the LC 200 from Ajmer to Gurgaon left a long lasting impression on me regarding the car’s ability of flattening out the ride on our bumpy roads.
The Fortuner, too, is an extremely capable SUV. It’s like the outstanding disciple of the Land Cruiser 200. Being one of the most popular SUVs in India, it makes for a perfect blend of stylish design and great on-road performance while being very capable off the beaten path as well. The automatic variant, which was my steed for a day of the 5C Drive, is powered by a 2.8-litre diesel mill producing 175bhp and 450Nm of torque. It has intelligent electronic aids like the active traction control system which adjusts the SUV’s 4X4 drivetrain to deliver maximum torque to the wheels that have the highest grip. Moreover, there’s a rotary switch on the dashboard that allows you to electronically switch between 2WD, 4WD high and 4WD low modes – a feature that’s extremely convenient, letting you switch between modes by a simple twist of the wrist.
While the SUVs felt strong and commanding, the drive in the Camry was a story narrated in silence. The hybrid-electric luxury saloon takes off in pure electric mode and it’s hard to notice when the petrol motor comes to life. Underneath the hood of the Camry Hybrid lies a 2.5-litre, four cylinder petrol engine that makes about 176bhp and 221Nm of torque on its own. This engine works in tandem with an 88kW electric motor and the combined output is an impressive 215bhp. There are also smart energy recuperation systems in the car that recharge the batteries on their own. As the vehicle brakes, the kinetic energy generated is converted into electrical energy which is then stored into the battery which eventually powers the front wheels. As a result, the drive in the Camry is effortless. The hybrid-electric drivetrain is refined, and surprises you with its silence. The rear seats cocoon you in luxury and its touchscreen on the centre armrest lets you recline your seat and even adjust the climate control and audio settings. My very first day on the 5C Drive was spent on these plush rear seats of the Camry Hybrid and I must admit that it was one of the most relaxing and stress-free rides I’ve had in a long time.
While these cars have their own distinct personalities, what remains consistent in all of them is the use of top quality materials and refined powertrains, which feel like they’ll last an eternity.
The data gathered by the team will be passed on to the engineering and development teams at TKM and TMC, who will analyse it and then look for improvements that can be made. The engineers did mention some interesting lessons. “During our North America drive, we travelled through incredibly high temperatures. Our cars in the US were soon fitted with better cooling and heat management systems,” said Yoichi Minamiyama, GM, resources and brand management, GAZOO Racing.
Another example was given by Tatsuya Ito, assistant manager, motorsport department, GAZOO Racing, who said, “During our winter drive in Finland, the radar systems of the cars would not activate due to snowfall. To solve this issue, we installed heaters around the sensors to melt the snow.” At Toyota’s Hokkaido test facility in Japan, the straightest section is only 3.5km long. In Australia the team drove a whopping 137km long straight section, prompting the team to improve straight-line stability and vibrations of Toyota cars sold in Australia.
The Asia leg is the last leg of this drive and it’s slated to end in Japan, before the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games begin. Before that the team will drive through South East Asia, China and Japan. Will they complete this mammoth task? Well, there are no second guesses about that. Their flawless preparation, unmatched punctuality and focus on creating ever better cars is a driving force behind the brand’s global success. No matter how harsh the idea of discipline and hard work is, it never fails to produce results. And especially when the brand has already produced impressive machines like the LC 200, Fortuner, Camry Hybrid amongst many more, I really wouldn’t question their methods. And it would also mean better Toyota cars – there’s nothing like getting your hands dirty at ground zero to learn about and improve the breed.