9/15/1999 | 9 MINUTE READ

This Could Be the Start of Something New

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There are two new cars from Toyota. One can be thought of as a vehicle for the pragmatic. The other can be considered a car for those who like to put the pedal to the metal (and actually, the pedals for one trim level actually are metal: aluminum). Both, however, are designed and built for appeal to the youth market, the consumers that Toyota hopes will be with it for the long haul. Here are looks at the all-new ECHO and the seventh-generation Celica.


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"The ECHO project was enjoyable, because in my profession, it is rare to be given an assignment to develop an entirely new concept."—Yasuhiko Ishihashi, chief engineer, Toyota ECHO.

The concept that Ishihashi is referring to is one that Donald V. Esmond, group vp and general manager, Toyota Div., Toyota Motor Sales, describes as "a new benchmark in value."

The concept is for a vehicle that is eminently affordable—as in a package that includes AC, power steering, six-speaker sound system, intermittent wipers, and sports body kit for an MSRP of approximately $12,500—and yet a vehicle that has the high-quality, high-reliability attributes that are associated with Toyota.

ECHO is part of a Toyota initiative called "New Basic Car." The objective of this program is to develop highly efficient vehicles that will appeal to young people. There are two predecessors to the ECHO: the Vitz hatchback in Japan and the Yaris in Europe. Those cars have 1.0-liter engines. To avoid being characterized as an "econobox"—even though it is economical and has a three-box architecture—the ECHO is equipped with a 1.5-liter, DOHC, four-cylinder engine that produces 108 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 105 lb/ft torque @ 4,200 rpm.

Beyond the Target

One of the practices that some companies are embracing is to develop vehicles to specific cost targets. In effect, a cost is picked, then the vehicle is designed and processed so that it will meet that cost target.

Instrument cluster
One interesting feature of the ECHO is that its instrument cluster isn't just beyond the steering wheel, but actually mounted at the center of the IP. Althought this is certainly different, it isn't different for the sake of difference. Rather, from an ergonomic perspective it is located just 17 degrees off the normal sight line; when you look down to see a normally positioned cluster, your eyes must move 22 degrees.

But Ishihashi says that they didn't take that approach. He explains, "If you set a 5% cost reduction as your target, then you'll never get 6% savings." Instead, Toyota and its suppliers for the ECHO were asked to generate new ideas so that they could exceed the target that would ordinarily be reached.

Box With a Reason

The ECHO design—even though it has a coefficient of drag of just 0.29, which is best in subcompact class—is more flat than some other vehicles. This is all part of a manufacturing strategy. As Ishihashi explains, by having a simple shape, bending, not extrusion is required. This means that pressworking operations are simplified. Which helps reduce manufacturing costs.

Efficiency of Materials & Design

Ishihashi and his colleagues were acutely conscious of the need to make the ECHO light (it has a curb weight of, depending on configuration and equipment, from 2,020 to 2,080 lb). This helps contribute to its fuel efficiency, which is projected to be a combined city/highway rate of 43 mpg.

The engine has an aluminum block with steel cylinder liners. There's a plastic intake manifold.

Through the use of computer-aided engineering (CAE) it was determined that by having a crank offset of 12 mm, there's reduced side force on the cylinders at maximum cylinder pressure. The bores are snugged up close to one another, with 8 mm between them.

Accessories are directly mounted to the block, thereby eliminating bracketry and its associated weight.

Materials Making the Box

Because there was an objective to create an economical, lightweight vehicle, Ishihashi notes that it was necessary to use steel for body construction, not aluminum. High-strength steel and galvanized steel are used extensively for the body.

variable valve timing
The Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) system used for the ECHO is similar to that used on Lexus models.

Materials Redux

Because there is an effort to make the ECHO a vehicle with environmental sensitivities, many of the materials used are recycled or recyclable. For example, instead of using asphalt felt sheets for the silencer pads fitted under the dash and on the floor panels, there is a recycled sound-proofing material. The sound proofing and lining material used under the hood and in the truck is made with recycled polypropylene. The bumper covers and grille, interior door panels, interior pillar garnish, and optional exterior sport trim are produced with the recyclable proprietary Toyota Super-Olefin Polymer. Thermoplastic olefin (TPO) is used instead of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for trim components.

Use It If You've Got It

One interesting aspect of the ECHO is that although it was developed from a clean sheet (with the objectives being [a] to create an economical vehicle and [b] providing a template from which other vehicles will emerge), Toyota engineers availed themselves of Lexus technology to make this an uncommon vehicle for its class.

Two examples:

  1. It is using a rotary-style variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) system that enhances performance while helping reduce NOx emissions, a system that's similar to the ones used in the 98-1/2 Lexus RX300 and ES300 (as well as that used on the new Celica).
  2. There's what's called Uphill Shift Logic. The actual acceleration rate is compared to the predicted acceleration rate (i.e., based on throttle angle) so that the engine control module (ECM) prevents the transmission from making unnecessary upshifts in conditions such as hill climbing. This type of logic was first used on the 1998 Lexus LS400 and GS300/400, and the 1999 RX300—but those vehicles have downhill shift logic, too.

The Numbers

With all those pickups and sport utes spinning around, buyers had to move from other categories of vehicles to get into them. One area that has shown significant decline is that of the "sporty subcompact." According to Don Esmond, group vp and general manager, Toyota Div., Toyota Motor Sales, in 1980, that segment accounted for 14% of total car sales. This year—and for the next three—it is predicted to be 5%.

2000 Celica
The 2000 Celica was designed at Toyota's California design studio, Calty Design & Research. As Tadashi Nagakawa, chief engineer for the vehicle puts it, "Celica's styling needed revolution, not evolution." There is no question of the validity of that statement.

This fact might make one wonder why Toyota developed an all-new, seventh-generation Celica, why it started with a clean sheet and didn't pen something else in that space.

The answer is that Celica, along with the ECHO, is part of a strategy that Toyota is executing. Esmond notes, "In the late `60s and early `70s, the Corona, Corolla and Celica laid the foundation for Toyota's phenomenal success in North America." The customers, by and large, were the Baby Boomers. As the Boomers aged, Toyota began to provide vehicles that are in keeping with their needs, like the Sienna minivan and the Camry (the best-selling car in America). Esmond admits, "The Boom generation fueled Toyota's success. It has been the core of its most loyal repeat customers...and remains its most important buyer group."

But there is a new customer group that Toyota has its collective eye on. Last year the automaker even established a group to assist in marketing and product planning for the post-Boomers (generations X and Y and the Net-Gen), the "genesis group" (that's right: no capitals—they do things differently). According to genesis research, the Boomers represent 29% of the U.S. population. The post-Boomers represent 51%.

Which brings us back to the sporty subcompact category. Esmond says that about half of the segment's buyers are under age 35; more than a third are under 30. So while the sporty subcompact segment will account for just 415,000 units in a 7.6-million unit '99 sales year, Toyota executives understand that even though they'll sell just about 10% of the total in the first year of 2000 Celica sales (they're thinking a build of 40,000 units), "For a company like Toyota, looking to re-establish its connection with younger buyers, the sporty subcompact segment is fertile ground," says Esmond.

Build what they'll buy.


Tadashi Nagakawa, chief engineer, Celica: "I have an American friend who tells me that you know you are getting old when you have never heard of the musical guest or the guest host on `Saturday Night Live.'

"I think many young people look at the old Celica and see Steve Martin introducing Paul Simon. I hope they look at the new Celica and see Sarah Michelle Gellar introducing the Chemical Brothers."

Materials Under the Hood

1.8-liter, four-cylinder, DOHC all-aluminum engine
Looking to prove a strong performer for the Celica GT-S model, Toyota worked with Yamaha to develop this all-new 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, DOHC all-aluminum engine that provides 180 hp at 7,600 rpm and 133 lb/ft torque at 6,800 rpm. It can be mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

There are two engines available for the Celica; both are 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, twin cam, 16-valve power plants with an aluminum block and aluminum alloy head. (Lightness is key for Celica.) The GT-S version produces 180 hp @ 7,600 rpm and 133 lb/ft of torque at 6,800 rpm; the GT version produces 140 hp and 125 lb/ft of torque @ 6,400 rpm. Both engines were designed so that the weight and friction characteristics of each moving part were tailored so that they'd contribute to improved fuel economy and reductions in emissions, vibration, noise...and weight.

The GT-S version features intake and exhaust systems and a cylinder head co-developed by Toyota with a company that knows more than a little about light-weight, high-performance engines: Yamaha (think of motorcycle and outboard marine engines). This engine features high-strength steel crank and rods. The camshaft is a hollow steel tube with sintered steel lobes.

The aluminum pistons are iron- and tin-plated. The cylinder liners are produced with a metal-matrix composite: boron carbide or aluminum oxide fibers are suspended in aluminum, providing stiffness strength...and light weight. This type of liner material is said to be an industry first.

Shrink-fit valve seats are the norm in engine manufacture. The Celica engines utilize laser-clad valve seats. Essentially, high-strength steel is clad into the aluminum head casting then machined in place. The result is that larger valve faces are permitted, which optimizes airflow, and because there is a thinner amount of material around the seat (compared with the shrink-fit types), there's improved heat transfer from the exhaust valve seat into the coolant jacket.

Materials: The Hood & Elsewhere

The exterior body panels are made with galvanized steel. Anti-chip paint or undercoating is used on the doors, hood and rocker panels. The plastic structural exterior (and interior) panels are made with a proprietary Toyota plastic: Toyota Super Olefin Polymer. The non-structural interior plastic parts and trunk trim are made with polypropylene (recycling is a key part of why this material was selected).

Another claimed first for the Celica: a painted resin panel is used for the outer-sliding moon roof.

Beneath the interior trim there are strategically located thin-wall soft aluminum tubes and deformable plastic ribs; these are used to absorb energy from secondary impacts. Also in the safety category: high-strength steel is used for the front bumper, side members, front and center floor cross members, and side door impact beams.

laser-clad valve seats
The Celica features what is said to be a first-ever application: the use of laser-clad valve seates (left) rather than shrink-fit valve seats (right). High strength steel is laser deposited onto the aluminum head castings, then machined. Note the mass difference between the two approaches.

Materials: The Scales

Judicious use of materials has paid off in a lighter car. The previous-generation Celica with a manual transmission weights 2,590 lb; with an automatic it tips the scales at 2,650 lb. The 2000 Celica weighs 2,500 lb in a manual setup; 2,580 lb. for the automatic. Of the savings, 22 lb are directly related to the steel unibody.

Brain vs. Brawn

Tadashi Nakagawa, chief engineer, Vehicle Development Center II, Toyota Motor Corp., has been in charge of developing both the Celica and MR2 since February 1990.

Asked to name one of the important goals of the development of the 2000 Celica, Nakagawa answers: weight reduction.

Aluminum? Composites? High-strength steel?

All are used in the Celica.

Which of them is, in his estimation, the most important?

None of them, Nakagawa replies, as he taps the side of his forehead with an index finger: "This."

Gray matter is the most important material used to lighten up the seventh-generation Celica.


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