Off-wheel steering and electric traction: innovative Toyota crossover will go into series

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Toyota’s unusual electric crossover will go into series production in mid-2022. The model deserves attention — as a real embodiment in a mass car of quite bold technical and ergonomic solutions.

The bZ4X crossover will be the first child on Toyota’s all-electric joint platform bZ, developed in collaboration with Subaru. Moreover, the Japanese are placing big bets on the new architecture: it is positioned as a global one, designed to take a dominant position in the rapidly growing ecocar market not only in Japan, but also in China, Europe and the United States.

The midsize crossover will have a low center of gravity and interior volume comparable to that of a D-class passenger car. The distance between the front and rear seats is 1 meter. True, it is not yet very clear how this figure was calculated, so it remains to take our word for it. The instrument panel is moved up and strongly forward, to the windshield: according to the calculations of ergonomists, this will have a beneficial effect on eye fatigue and, in general, will reduce the reaction time to readings.

However, such a solution has not been a curiosity for a long time, more interesting is a steering wheel without a mechanical connection with the rail.

Steering wheels today are found on almost every second concept car — it is understood that in cars with autopilot the driver does not need to keep the steering wheel all the time. A steering wheel of this shape has already appeared in the new Tesla Model S, but authoritative experts from the US Consumer Union criticized it. Toyota engineers still believe that steering wheel will become normal in cars for the foreseeable future.

First, the Drive-by-Wire system eliminates some of the traditional parts, such as the steering shaft or the gearbox on the steering rack. This has a positive effect on both weight and passive safety: there is no need to calculate the kinematics of the column folding on impact. And secondly, in theory it should be convenient from the point of view of ergonomics: from «zero» the steering wheel has only 150 degrees of rotation in each direction. The driver does not have to rearrange his hands when actively maneuvering — for example, in a parking lot. By the way, the car will be able to park without the participation of the owner, using the Advanced Park remote system.

Nevertheless, in order not to scare an unprepared audience too much, bZ4X can be bought with a regular steering wheel. True, it will not have a mechanical connection with the wheels anyway.

It is important in this story that Daisuke Ido, director of the Toyota ZEV plant, focuses on the brand’s aspiration not only to produce environmentally friendly cars, but also to develop battery technology. According to him, Toyota is the only battery manufacturer that is «responsible» for the full cycle of battery life, including efficient and safe disposal. The latter is really an unresolved problem today, which the fighters for the electrification of transport prefer to keep quiet about. Toyota is not silent and even