Toyota leads the charge on cleaner, greener diesel

 

Toyota has a new, very clean, very green diesel engine that is set to go into the Avensis model range next year. The presentation - at a company-organised European environmental seminar at a test track near Paris - came with discussion, charts, graphs, and even a driving experience, writes Andrew Hamilton

Much more telling, perhaps, was the white handkerchief test. Journalists were invited to hold a white hanky behind the exhaust of the current Avensis and then repeat the exercise with another white hanky behind the exhaust of the new Avensis.

It was all a bit reminiscent of those washing powder commercials. The results predictably showed a modest soot deposit on one, while the other was pristine clean - and ready for proper use in the nose-blowing department.

Johannes Thammer, vice-president for product and sales planning at Toyota Motor Europe, told us Toyota aims to encourage greater use of diesel engines, because they are at least 30 per cent more fuel efficient than petrol units. The downside remains emissions.

"Although the emissions performance of diesel vehicles is improving," he said, "they still produce high levels of both oxides of nitrogen, which we commonly refer to as NOx, and particulate matter, or PM, compared to petrol vehicles."

Toyota calls the new engine D-CAT. Its main feature is a single catalyst which reduces both particulate matter and NOx. The Avensis with a D-CAT that we drove was one of 60 in a monitoring exercise in various parts of Europe since March.

For all its green and clean credentials, there was no sacrifice in driving performance. At all times, the car was also impressively quiet: even the usual diesel start-up clatter was missing.

Toyota's diesel efforts recently won commendation from BMW. The 1.4 direct-injection unit in the Yaris will provide the diesel power for the MINI. It too, will benefit from D-CAT. "D-CAT means that in the near future we will be able to bring out, one by one, diesel models that are among the most competitive in the world in terms of power, fuel efficiency and cleanliness," added Thammer.

THE ambassador of Toyota's green and clean motoring philosophy is, of course, the hybrid Prius, using both petrol and electric power and a combination of both. It's on sale on the Irish market but with an ex-works price of €30,440, numbers on roads here are small.

Toyota sees a big future for hybrid cars such as the Prius, maintaining that they aren't just a temporary solution until hydrogen fuel cell technology arrives. The future, it says, will see the diesel engine taking a bigger influence in future hybrid arrangements, meaning even better fuel consumption.

Prius was the world's first mass-produced hybrid, and together with other models in the Toyota fold, the Crown and the Estima, over 100,000 hybrid cars have been produced. According to Johannes Thammer: "we are currently promoting further development to expand the model line-up and the aim is for annual production of 300,000 by 2005. Hybrid technology, especially with our clean, fuel-efficient diesel, is set to have a bright future and it's going to be a lot more affordable too."