Toyota AE86 Hydrogen and Electric Concepts: build video and driving impressions

Toyota’s twin AE86 concepts, one powered by hydrogen fuel and one powered by electrons, were unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Salon earlier this year. Toyota has released some additional materials about the cars, including the images you see here, as well as a video, now translated and subtitled in English, about the builds and driving impressions for the cars.

The video starts out with a real yank at the heartstrings. Automobiles are one if the few industrial products that elicit emotions from their owners. There’s even a term in Japanese, aisha, which means “beloved car”. But with gasoline engines — and in some regions, possibly the legal use of gasoline itself — coming to an end, what’s an enthusiast of classic aisha to do?

That was the impetus to send these AE86s, two of Toyota’s most beloved models, to technicians for their alternative power conversions. It’s amazing 1.) how many of Toyota employees have owned AE86s (in addition to the fellow in the video, so has test driver Masahiro Sasaki, and soon-to-be-CEO Koji Sato), and 2.) how many of them were only children at the debut of the AE86, a 40-year-old car now.

After the builds, Sasaki takes both cars on the track. He complements the H2 Trueno for the way it drives like a gasoline-powered AE86. However, he doesn’t really hoon it like he does with the EV Levin. On that car, he says that power feels less than a gasoline Hachiroku’s, but there’s a lot more torque. He even gets it sideways. Bunta would be proud.

Does the video change our minds about the conversions? Not particularly. The hydrogen fuel technology, which allows the AE86 to retain most of its 4AG engine, will probably have the purest feel (only fuel injectors, fuel delivery system, and fuel tank were modified). Hopefully it can be driven harder than what Sasaki attempted.

The EV doesn’t have a full interior, since the rear seats and cargo area had to be gutted for the battery pack. We wouldn’t want to rip out the back half for this conversion. Presumably if Toyota offers a closer-to-production version the battery will be shaped differently. It does, however, have the electric vehicle manual transmission that Toyota has been developing for its Lexus sports car. There’s even matching engine noises piped into the cabin.

But at least Toyota is trying, which is more than what most automakers are doing. Porsche and Mazda are working on sustainably generated synthetic fuels, but that’s about it.

It also should be noted that since this video was produced, two of its project leaders will be promoted to key positions. After Akio Toyoda announced his retirement, Gazoo Racing and Lexus head Koji Sato is taking over the top spot this April. The Gazoo Racing vacancy will be filled by Tomoya Takahashi, leader of the H2 Trueno project. Takeshi Watanabe, who oversaw the EV Levin, will become the new head of Lexus. Hopefully that means the future of Toyota will be in good hands.

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