1 of 2
By Kap Maceda Aguila
IN TOKYO, we quickly performed our coverage of the Japan Mobility Show, were hustled onto a bus, and made our merry way in a southwestwardly path to the Fuji Speedway Hotel. After resting our bones — waking up to the glorious sight of Fuji-san as we drew the curtains open — we headed further away from the din of Tokyo Big Sight to the top-secret Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama.
Located in Aichi prefecture, nestléd in Honshu Island, it is one of the car maker’s 21 research and development centers spread out in various continents. We are told that Honsha is the OG tech center for Toyota, while the Shibetsu facility features a high-speed track (and lends itself most nicely for cold-weather testing because it’s in Hokkaido); advanced R&D happens at the Higashi-Fuji Technical Center.
Then there’s Shimoyama, which is said to support the Honsha R&D work. A scant half hour from the Toyota City head office, Shimoyama arguably takes a special place owing to its key role in developing future offerings in the Toyota and Lexus portfolios. Its first major appearance on the radar happened with the development of the all-new Lexus IS. Engineers and designers had the facility at their disposal — particularly the sprawling center’s test tracks. We were also told at a media briefing that Shimoyama will be the Lexus headquarters once construction work on its offices is done.
No doubt, these comprise the centerpiece of the facility — particularly the so-called No.3 Test Course (also known as the Country Road). Toyota truly took advantage of its 1,600-acre property in this mountainous region to purposefully recreate Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife (or North Loop) — that most iconic of proving grounds for many a car brand. Its torturous, undulating surface lends itself naturally as a gauntlet not just of speed but maneuverability, the ability to hug curves, and keeping a car unperturbed under duress.
Shimoyama’s Country Road stretches 5.3 kilometers, and features 75-meter elevation change. Curves and cambers are also said to simulate a variety of roads as well. You may not find that odd pothole that appears on EDSA after sustained rainfall, but I digress. The test course is said to be “tough on the vehicle (yet) friendly to nature,” something that we saw first-hand hurtling through the circuit on various vehicles. In my case, it was a Lexus LC 500 that hugged the curves and took the high-speed abuse like a champ. The robust performance, courtesy of a powerful 5.0-liter V8, was corralled most impressively by the Japanese driver who showcased the salient areas of the course, such as the up-and-down section (yes, I held my arms up when he took it at speed) and special uneven portions.
Fencing and such also help protect the endemic wildlife from intruding upon the course, and Toyota also makes sure that noise emission from tested vehicles are kept to a minimum. Since Shimoyama was opened in 2007, Toyota has also increased the portion it chose to preserve untouched from 40% to 60%. Construction activities have also been very respectful and conscious about environmental impact; no outside soil or earth was utilized in order to minimize effects on the ecosystem. And like a dutiful citizen, Toyota has been engaging with the neighboring community to meet its corporate social responsibility.
Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Akio Toyoda had said that “a road builds the car and people,” and the Shimoyama is surely about the company equipping itself with more in-house capacity to weave the future of mobility. More on that in coming articles.