The hybrid Sport Utility Vehicle
By Lou Ann Hammond, Mon, 14 Mar 2005 08:00:00 PDT
It's the Sport Utility Vehicle that everyone has been waiting for, the Lexus RX 400h. At January's North American International Auto Show, Lexus introduced their 2005 RX 400h SUV to the world. It was one of many introductions but the buzz was on about this SUV even before the introduction. According to Dave Hermance, Executive Engineer Environmental Engineering for Toyota Technical Center 11,000 people have already put money down on pre-sold orders. Lexus has pre-sold almost half the RX 400h hybrids that they are scheduled to produce.
Toyota, Lexus' parent company, has the best Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) on the market. Other Manufacturers, even Manufacturers that say they are not going to make hybrids, are using Toyota's technology. Toyota's technology has been on the market the longest of any hybrid system.
There have been some profound changes in their system since the first car I drove. The 11,000 people that have pre-ordered their 2005 Lexus RX 400h know that they will be paying at least $3,000-$4,000 more than its cousin, the Lexus RX330. They may not realize all the extras they will be getting when they buy the most ecological luxury SUV on the planet.
Celebrities have been seen in Prius' since they came out. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were ridiculed for owning a Prius and a Land Rover. It made sense to me; they wanted the environmentally sound and fuel efficient city car, but they also wanted elegance. What needed to happen was a melding of yin and yang, the straw-sipping gas saving technology with a "every amenity is standard" sport utility vehicle practically wrapped in fur.
There are only a few luxury vehicles that could have met this criteria. The public decides which vehicles are "the" vehicle to own. The Lexus RX 330 is known as one of these vehicles. It is the car dejour of the understated overly wealthy. The number of celebrities and people with mega-money are going to be spending more money, this time knowing they are helping the environment.
The RX 400h is based completely on the RX330 platform with very few changes on the exterior that can be noticed between the RX330 and the RX 400h. The front grille is a little bolder, the headlights a glowing orange on the outside, vents on the bumper for cooling and the foglights are oval instead of squareish. Why would Lexus change so little on the outside and yet expect their luxury following to pay $3,000-$4,000 extra?
It's the economy and the environment, stupid. People are tired of spewing carbon dioxide into the air even if our government won't say it is a greenhouse gas. People are tired of giving money to countries that harbor terrorists that want to kill us. People are willing to put some of that money where the mouth and their security should be.
The Lexus RX330 got the best miles per gallon in its luxury segment at an average of 21mpg. The RX 400h holds the trophy now for the best mileage, ranking at an average of 28mpg. That is a savings of 180 gallons of gas per year on a vehicle driven 15,000 miles a year between the RX300 and the RX 400h hybrid.
Remember, the RX330 is the best in the luxury segment. Land Rover is the worst miles per gallon in segment at 16mpg. That would be 937 gallons of gas the Land Rover would use on a vehicle driven 15,000 miles. The savings between the hybrid and Land Rover would be 402 gallons in one year.
It's great to know that you're saving 180 gallons of gas, or $360 a year and still getting the same functionality and luxury that you have come to know. You have also kept 360 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air. On the average, for every gallon of gas used in an internal combustion engine it creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Feeling pretty good about yourself? Combine your gas savings and CO2 emissions savings with your fellow luxury hybrid owners and you have saved 4,320,000 gallons of gas and spewed 8,640,000 pounds less of carbon dioxide in the air.
The Lexus RX 400h has the same 3MZFE 3.3-liter V-6 engine that is in the RX 330. Thanks to the three motors (MG1,MG2 and MGR) on board the hybrid your total horsepower is 268 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm and a torque of 212 lb.-ft of torque@4,400 rpm.
The RX 330 comes as a front-wheel drive or an all-wheel drive - not the RX 400h. The third motor (MGR) has the specific function of being a motor and a generator. The 50 Kw MGR provides rear-wheel drive to the RX 400h making it an all-wheel drive.
This is a strategic move by Lexus. According to Tom Libby, Senior analyst at J.D. Powers' Power of Information Network (PIN) all-wheel drive in the SUV luxury segment has been on the rise. In 2002 all-wheel drive sales were 32.1 percent, 2003 all-wheel drive sales were raised to 56.7 percent and 2004 ended the year with all-wheel drive sales at 58.3 percent.
Besides creating an all-wheel drive the MGR adds more power. Hybrids are known for their regenerative braking, generating the Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery while braking instead of having to be plugged in. If the car is a front-wheel drive only the front wheels create the regenerative braking. Since the RX 400h is an all-wheel drive all four wheels have regenerative braking.
With all this you're probably already holding the phone in your hand and looking through the phone book for your local Lexus car dealer. Hold on; more news. Lexus has a host of alphabets that they have integrated into a Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management System (VDIM). VDIM manages all dynamic functions including ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, TRAC and VSC.
Hermance explained the neccesity of this; "braking control is not linear so a certain jaggedness happens when shifting from one function to another. VDIM is like taking a squarish bowl and transforming it into a completely round bowl and each function is implemented seamlessly without getting stuck in a corner, or jag."
The RX 400h is rated Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) Tier II Bin 5. The Toyota Prius is rated Advanced Technology - Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), the highest rating you can get. AT-PZEV means you are getting cleaner air out of the tailpipe then what is going in the car.
There is a catch here, because it sounds like the RX 400h creates more emissions, but that is not true. The RX 400h creates the same emissions and evaporation as the Toyota Prius. The difference is the warranty. In order for it to be listed as an AT-PZEV the vehicle has to have a ten year warranty on the battery and a ten year or 150,000 mile warranty on the car. The SUV hybrid has Lexus' national warranty of eight years and 100,000 miles.
At the time of print Lexus is saying that they will be producing 20,000-24,000 RX 400hs. They realize that if they have already pre-sold 11,000 units that they need to look at the demand and supply of this vehicle. Expect them to talk to Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC;aka Japan) to get more units.
Come on guys, make more, show us what the actual demand for hybrids. Short supplying us to build up the hype and marketing is getting old. You wouldn't do this with a Camry or other vehicle that were so hot that it had 11,000 pre-sold units, stop doing it to the hybrids. More people are understanding the concept of finite resources and they believe that carbon dioxide is not a good thing.
If Lexus had sold all their RX330s as RX 400h hybrids last year we would have saved 18,407,700 gallons of gas in one year and spewed 36,815,400 pounds less of carbon dioxide.
The Lexus RX 400h, goes on sale April 15, with a base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $48,535. Beyond its advanced gas/electric hybrid powertrain and new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) stability control system, the base price includes a wide array of premium standard features, which are typically offered as popular options on the RX 330, valued at more than $6,000.