Locally-assembled Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid & Corolla Cross 1.8 launched


Although UMW Toyota Motor (UMWT) has been promoting hybrids a lot in the past few months, Toyota hybrids are not new to the Malaysian market. While the first model, the Prius which was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid car, was not marketed here, it did make a brief appearance in 2000 to introduce the hybrid electric technology to government officials. However, it would only be 10 years later that the government’s exemption of all duties for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) would see UMWT selling many HEVS. It imported the Prius, by then in its third generation as well as the smaller Prius c and also the Lexus Ct200h. Without the high duties imposed, the models were attractively priced and sold well. However, when the duty-exemption was withdrawn a few years later, prices shot up again and sales fell to zero. Although the government had hoped that the car companies would follow up after the duty-free period to assemble HEVs locally, only one company chose to do so while the others did not bother. The government instead focussed on encouraging the local assembly of ‘energy efficient vehicles’ (EEVs) for which incentives would be given to offset production costs and lower retail prices. Last year, UMWT decided that it would move forward with a view towards electrification of its range, in line with the aim of Toyota Motor Corporation to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. However, the company’s strategy does not entirely focus on electrification of its products to the extent that future models will no longer be powered by combustion engines in the near-term. Instead, it has a multi-pronged approach which will be determined by various factors in each country and region. The more advanced countries have an extensive network of charging stations to support BEVs but in Malaysia, this is still something that is under development. To date, there are only around 500 charging stations in the whole country, mostly in urban areas and mainly in the Klang Valley. In Toyota’s view, that’s not a suitable situation to be introducing BEVs at this time, so it has chosen to start its electrification journey in Malaysia with HEVs. This is more practical as hybrid powertrains are not reliant on a charging infrastructure since they can recharge their battery packs on the move, and the technology cost of HEVs is lower than BEVs so they are within reach of a greater number of customers. This led to the decision to invest RM270 million in the assembly plant and related expenditures to assemble HEVs locally. It’s the first time that a Toyota HEV is being assembled locally and though this may seem like it was prompted by the government’s efforts to promote greater electrification of motor vehicles as announced in the Budget last October, UMWT made their announcement last July, many months before the government’s announcement. In any case, the incentives are only for BEVs and HEVs will continue to receive the EEV incentives which will still help offset production costs. Tonight, the launch of the Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid represents the culmination of the project to assemble HEVs locally and it would be the first of a range of HEVs to come. As can be seen from the price, it is attractive enough, unlike BEVs which, even with full tax exemption, are starting from RM150,000. Since the Corolla Cross Hybrid is being assembled, UMWT has also decided to include the Corolla Cross with a 1.8-litre petrol engine as well and this is available in two variants. As mentioned earlier, HEVs are not reliant on external charging so a customer can buy and use one just like any other car with a combustion engine. Hybrid electric technology, which has matured after 25 years, is a ‘transparent’ technology in that the driver doesn’t really see the difference (although the feel might be different). It’s just like the introduction of multivalve engines and EFI in the 1980s and turbochargers becoming common in the 2000s. For those who may not be entirely familiar with hybrid electric technology, here’s a quick explanation. As the term suggests, the powertrain is a combination of two power sources – a petrol engine and an electric motor (actually the Toyota system has two motors). In some systems, they may work independently but Toyota’s system, now in its fourth generation, is designed to work in a collaborative manner. Running conditions and the amount of energy in the battery pack determine how the collaboration works but basically, the car will move off with only electric power and as the speed increases, the engine will provide the additional power needed to go faster. While cruising, the system will be varying the use from each power source so at times, the electric motor may be doing all the work, which means no fuel is used and that helps in fuel-saving. It can be quite significant as we discovered on a drive from the Klang Valley to Penang where the average consumption was 6.4 litres/100 kms or 15.6 kms/litre. Other members of the media were able to get even better figures. The motor relies on electricity supplied by the lithium-ion battery pack so what happens when there is no more? That should not happen as the amount of energy will be constantly replenished while the car is moving. This is done by regenerative braking (where energy lost during braking is converted into energy for electricity) or the generator (the second motor) charges the battery pack. In the event that there is heavy usage of electricity, then the engine will be used more as the recharging takes place. This self-charging capability takes away the ‘range anxiety’ that users of BEVs may have. This relates to the concern about running out of electricity on a long journey. With a HEV like the Corolla Cross Hybrid, you can still move using the engine and can refuel at one of 3,700 stations all over the country. But with a BEV, you might be stranded by the side of the highway or along some remote country road. It will be a long, long time before BEV technology is so advanced that you can recharge with a portable powerbank like you do now for your mobilephone. Battery technology has been constantly advancing since the first Prius. In the early days, the battery pack was big and heavy and did not hold a lot of electricity. Since then, the battery packs have become smaller and yet more energy-dense while using more efficient processes like lithium-ion interaction. Their cost has also come down while reliability and durability have improved. For owners’ peace of mind, UMWT offers an 8-year warranty on the battery pack and this warranty, unlike others, includes some hybrid-related systems as well. There’s also an option to extend the warranty to 10 years, but the general vehicle warranty is 5 years with unlimited mileage. The powertrain for the Corolla Cross Hybrid has a 1.8-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine which is the same as the one in the Corolla Cross 1.8V and 1.8G. It produces 98 ps/142 Nm while the primary electric motor contributes 53 kW (equal to 72 ps) and 163 Nm of torque. Power delivery is via an E-CVT specially engineered for use in HEVs. There are 4 modes – NORMAL | SPORT | ECO | EV – which the driver can select at the touch of a button while on the move to suit driving preferences or to maximize fuel-saving. The EV mode is a unique mode which gives an experience similar to driving a fully electric vehicle. In this mode, only the electric motor is used so there are zero emissions and the vehicle moves around noiselessly. The distance can be several hundred metres (depending on battery condition and driving speed) and would be ideal when moving around a carpark looking for a space. The air-conditioning system in the Corolla Cross Hybrid is also unique, specially designed for HEVs. Unlike conventional air-conditioning systems which use an engine-driven compressor to pump the refrigerant around, the system is electrically powered. It can therefore run even when the engine is off, drawing its power from the battery pack. Should the battery pack capacity be low, the engine will restart to recharge it as it continues to power the air-conditioner’s electric compressor. [Click here for a video of our first driving impressions of the Corolla Cross Hybrid] Appearance-wise, the Corolla Cross Hybrid is not exactly new on Malaysian roads as the non-hybrid model was introduced last April, imported from Thailand. However, due to the long period of shutdown in the middle of the year and some supply issues caused by the microchip shortage, the number on the roads is limited. Now, as a locally-assembled model, you should start to see more of them. Where is the past, a variant bodystyle of the Corolla would still have some common elements with the sedan (usually the front end), the Corolla Cross Hybrid looks like a different model altogether. Toyota could have raised a Corolla Hatchback and ‘ruggedized’ its looks (as some manufacturers do to create a ‘SUV’) but they instead came out with a new SUV design and placed the model in the family of the all-time bestselling car in the world.  » Read More