The Toyota bZ4X concept, unveiled at the Shanghai motor show this week, previews the Japanese brand’s first new model range specifically designed as electric cars.
When the production version of the bZ4X launches in mid 2022, it will be the first of seven bZ models which will form the core of the 15 new battery-electric vehicles Toyota intends to put on sale by 2025.
The bZ moniker stands for ‘Beyond Zero’, Toyota saying it is transitioning from a pure car company to a business developing better mobility generally, and bZ shows that it is going beyond the much vaunted principle of zero-emissions cars.
Toyota is following the lead of other brands in giving their electric models their own identity – think Volkswagen ID, Hyundai Ioniq, Mercedes EQ. So the new cars will sit alongside existing Toyota models rather than simply replace them – the bZ4X is a mid-sized SUV targeted at those who might buy the similar-sized but hybrid-powered RAV4.
The bZ models will have their own styling treatments to distinguish them from other Toyotas – a notable element of the bZ4X is the lack of a front grille, not needed for EVs, and instead a combination of sensors, lights and aerodynamics in what the designers describe as a ‘hammerhead style.’
The concept is more evidence of Toyota’s growing association with Subaru, a joint design from the two manufacturers and built on a new platform specifically designed for EVs.
Occupants are promised lots of space while the driver has their own ‘module’ with the controls designed around them – the controls are low set to improve visibility, above the steering wheel is a digital instrument display while the steering wheel itself becomes a more oblong-shaped ‘yoke’ operating an electronic ‘steer by wire’ system.
Other notable features on the concept include a solar-charging system, which puts more power back into the battery and increases the range – though of course what we don’t know yet is just how much of this technology will make it into the production model.
According to Toyota the Beyond Zero programme is built on four aspects, topped by ‘You and the environment’ focusing on not just the energy the car needs but what it can generate.
‘You and your car’ emphasises the technology in bZ models to provide peace of mind and enjoyable driving. Then ‘You and others’ emphasises a specious, quiet environment that occupants can share and interact with each other.
Finally ‘You and Society’ considers the car’s impact on others and the environment.