If you’re wondering about the future of the Lexus brand, you’ll clearly want to check out the new LF-30 hatchback making its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show this week.
With its aggressively angled nose, steeply raked windshield and oversized gull-wing doors, the LF-30 is obviously a concept vehicle. Nonetheless, Toyota’s upscale marque hints that the all-electric model “foreshadows” the brand’s future, especially the battery-cars that will soon start fleshing out its line-up.
Like the mainstream Toyota brand, Lexus was an early pioneer when it comes to conventional hybrids, but has been reluctant to take the next step. But as it faces increasingly pressure from regulators around the world – never mind competition from luxury brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi – Lexus is getting ready to plug in. And it may even have the next-generation batteries that could enhance the appeal of those future battery-electric vehicles.
There are plenty of intriguing features on the Lexus LF-30 meant to push the technical envelope. Among other things, the all-electric show car migrates from axle-mounted motors to motors mounted within each of its four wheels.
The approach isn’t entirely new. There are several companies working on the technology, though their initial focus is on commercial vehicle applications. But “hub motors,” as they’re often called, have a number of potential advantages:
- A vehicle like the Lexus LF-30 could instantly shift torque, operating as a front-wheel-drive, rear- or all-wheel-drive vehicle;
- Power can be increased or decreased at any wheel to enhance torque vectoring;
- That not only improves handling but can permit more accurate control were a vehicle operating autonomously;
- They also give designers and engineers more freedom to package a vehicle’s hardware.
There’s also what Lexus refers to as “Advanced Posture Control,” which, it explains, “regulates drive power from the high-torque electric motors to adjust vehicle posture in line with human sensibilities.” That would appear to mean the concept can eliminate squat and dive during acceleration and braking.
For performance fans, meanwhile, the approach would deliver some appealing numbers, Lexus claiming the four motors give the LF-30 a combined 536 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That, it says, could launch it from 0-100 kmh, or 62 mph, in 3.8 seconds, with a top speed of 200 kmh, or 124mph.
The LF-30’s motors draw power from a 110 kilowatt-hour battery pack that can be charged at one of the new 150 kW Level 3 quick chargers. That would suggest getting to 80% of full capacity in around an hour, based on what other models like the new Audi e-tron can accomplish. The pack would deliver up to 310 miles range on a full charge.
While the Lexus concept is sticking with lithium-ion batteries, parent Toyota plans to unveil a concept vehicle at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics using next-generation solid-state batteries. The technology “potentially” has a number of advantages in terms of range, charging times and cost, said Sam Abuelsamid, a principle analyst with Navigant Research. Another plus: by replacing the slurry of metals and acids used in today’s batteries, polymer and ceramic solid-state cells will effectively eliminate the risk of fire.
Though Toyota Chief Technical Officer Shigeki Terashi said this month that the automaker only “will introduce but not yet sell” solid-state batteries on the Olympics concept, he added that the carmaker hopes to have the technology ready for production “as early as possible in the 2020s.”
The LF-30 also uses a steer-by-wire system that eliminates mechanical connections between the steering wheel and front wheels. That’s another way the use of hub motors would play out.
Pretty much everywhere you look in the LF-30 you’ll find cutting-edge technologies, some of which could find their way into production in the next decade – though one has to question the idea of a deployable drone to carry luggage to and from the car.
Of course, what would any modern show car be without plenty of touchscreens, an onboard voice assistant and the ability to read gestures? Autonomous capabilities flesh out the package.
From a design standpoint, the Lexus LF-30 is the successor to the brand’s 2015 show car, the LF-SA. And, as its name implies, pushes things out towards the end of the next decade.
While the overall look is outrageous – and, as the Tesla Model X has largely shown the drawbacks of going with oversized gull-wing doors – not everything we see will work into future Lexus products. But one key design element likely will.
Moving the battery pack and motors under a skateboard-like platform frees up plenty of space that can be devoted to passengers and cargo, giving a class-size or two larger interior. Jaguar already took advantage of that with the I-Pace, and it will be an approach others plan to follow going forward.
Lexus, like Toyota, is developing a new and dedicated BEV platform that could be shared with a number of vehicles. We should see how much of the LF-30 is carried over sometime in the next few years.