The Truth About Cars » Lexus LFA http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lexus LFA http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Remember This Top Secret Facility? You Have Been There http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/remember-this-top-secret-facility-you-have-been-there/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/remember-this-top-secret-facility-you-have-been-there/#comments Sat, 16 Feb 2013 17:11:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477827

After Toyota ended production of the Lexus LFA and closed a chapter of supercar history, National Geographic aired its documentary as part of its Megafactories series. “Up until now, no television cameras have ever been allowed inside this top secret facility,” says the film. The words were carefully chosen. You, the TTAC readers, had been there long before the film went on air.

TTAC readers will find many familiar scenes and faces in the National Geographic documentary about the “top secret megafactory” at the Motomachi plant. As the first reporters to receive full access to the running production of the LFA, TTAC published a five part report about the making of the LFA in July of 2012.

Who are the masked men?

On December 15 2012, the last of 500 LFA, a white Nürburg Ring Edition, left the assembly plant in Motomachi. After that, the plant was shut down. Most of its 170 workers were assigned to other tasks at Motomachi. A small team is taking care of the 500 LFA customers.

This is the man whose insistence and persistence had made the TTAC story possible: LFA Deputy Chief Engineer Chiharu Tamura. Here, we catch him in a private moment at the Bridgestone booth of the Tokyo Auto Salon. The lifelong chassis man says good-bye to his work and the street-spec Bridgestone Potenza tire fitted to the LFA. Chief Engineer Tanahashi and Tamura had insisted on using the standard tire during the LFA’s attempt on the Nordschleife in September 2011. They refused to fudge with racing slicks. With seven minutes, 14.64 seconds, the LFA clocked the fastest Ring time among the bona-fide production models. A week later, the record was ruined by a Dodge Viper ACR . Its alleged slicks and splitter keep discussion forums buzzing to this day. Don’t worry, the LFA won’t be back.

Domo arigato gozaimasu, Tamura-san.

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Sayonara, LFA http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/sayonara-lfa/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/sayonara-lfa/#comments Mon, 17 Dec 2012 10:58:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=470441

LFA Chief Engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi says good-bye

As intimated last week, Toyota’s production of its LFA supercar is coming to an end. On Friday, LFA #500 left the assembly line at the secretive LFA Works in Toyota’s Motomachi plant. After a week of testing, the car will be delivered to its undisclosed owner.

The 500th and last LFA

The owner is most likely Japanese, because the color of the 500th LFD is whitest white, the LFA’s most popular color, especially en vogue with Japanese customers. It is also the LFA’s trickiest paint job: The base coat is covered with a layer that shines in blue and white under fluorescent light, on top of that comes an enamel coat that in turn is covered by a clear coat.

The owner of the 500thLFA also has ample cash, or at least he did before he paid the bill. His LFA is a Nürburgring Edition (as evidenced by the winglet), $70,000 more bought 11 extra horses and a nice silver-colored oil filter instead of the regulation champagne-colored part.

The autoclave. A giant pressure cooker that limits the Lexus LFA production to one per day

The LFA, went into production at the LFA Works in December 2010 on a make-to-order basis. Mainly limited by the through-put of the autoclave, where pre-preg  CFRP parts had to cure for eight hours, only one LFA per day could be produced .

One of two circular looms on the planet. 12 layers of seamless carbon fiber are woven into what will be part T3-3RH, part A-pillar, part roof support

Sadly, it will be getting very quiet at LFA Kobo, as the  LFA Works are called internally. The LFA does not have a successor, nor is anything planned “at the moment,” as we hear from Toyota’s Tokyo spokesperson Shino Yamada.

Fender being fitted to the non-monocoque LFA

Most of the 170 workers are assigned to other tasks at Motomachi. Clean room, presses, and the monster autoclave will be used to make parts to supply the 500 LFA in use, and possibly to go into new cars made by Toyota elsewhere. Last we heard, the team did bid to make the roof of car to be built in the Toyota empire. Decision unknown.

This reporter is being vacuumed to protect the LFA’s carbon fiber from filth and grime

TTAC is proud of having received unprecedented access to the LFA works. I was the first reporter who was given free roam of the facilities during series production, camera in hand.You could get into the halls of the LFA if you bought one, but your photographic equipment had to be kept outside. Automotive News’s Tokyo Correspondent Hans Greimel was, according to our knowledge, the only other reporter who was let in. He visited the LFA Works in the final months of production and is still writing his story. Look forward to it.

Different types of CFRP are used for different loads

Apart from making 500 LFA supercars, the facility gained Toyota many years of precious experience with CRFP production. Carbon fiber composite production is the new frontier of car making, and the LFA is one of the few cars with a body made mostly from CFRP, and with most of the body made from hand-laid pre-preg, the most expensive and laborious  kind of CFRP.

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Coming Soon: Not Your Father’s Third Wife’s Lexus SC430 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/coming-soon-not-your-fathers-third-wifes-lexus-sc430/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/coming-soon-not-your-fathers-third-wifes-lexus-sc430/#comments Mon, 16 Jul 2012 13:24:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452913

Back in November at the launch of the Lexus GS, a product planner who shall remain nameless turned the tables on me; when I started asking him questions about future products, like the possibility of a Lexus GS-F, he began to grill me about competitive product.

One car that seemed to have captured his interest was the Audi S5. We spoke about how beautiful it was and how even if it wasn’t as fast or dynamic as a BMW M3, it still managed to capture the attention of enthusiasts and the general public. I asked him point-blank whether Lexus was going in this direction, but he only said that the absence of the SC430 left a void in the Lexus lineup.

The SC430, of course, was better at carrying golf clubs and tall lattes than doing any kind of real driving. The new coupe will apparently resemble the LF-LC concept coupe revealed earlier this year, and use a 2+2 seating configuration with a hybrid powertrain. According to a report by Automotive News, pricing and positioning would be closer to the Porsche 911 Turbo and Aston Martin Vantage – a potentially tough feat for the brand, given that it’s never sought such lofty heights before (notwithstanding the LFA).

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The Last Word On LFA Sales. Or: How To Cure OCD With One Phone Call http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-last-word-on-lfa-sales-or-how-to-cure-ocd-with-one-phone-call/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-last-word-on-lfa-sales-or-how-to-cure-ocd-with-one-phone-call/#comments Fri, 13 Jul 2012 15:43:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452618

I’m looking at you …

Obsessions are a menace. The daughter of a friend had a shower obsession. “I have an obsessive compulsive disorder,” she would readily admit, only to continue: “I’ll be right back, I need to take a shower.” Such a pretty girl. And she always smelled so good.

A prime obsession of the auto blogosphere are the sales of the Lexus LFA. Is it sold out? Is it not?

(To avoid killing you with the suspense: It is. Has been since April 2010 when Lexus had its 500 orders long before production started in December of that year. Not interesting? I don’t blame you. Stop reading. There is plenty of other content.)

I encountered this manifestation of automotive OCD during the writing of the story about the LFA production. Before the series could even start, I was taken to task over the claim that all 500 LFA are spoken for.  Somewhat shrill comments stated they aren’t.  Proof presented ranged from eBay links to the counting of LFAs at carshows.

Further research revealed that there is a veritable epidemic of this disorder.

In May last year, Motor Authority, “the luxury and performance leader” of the High Gear family, complained that “only 90 LFAs have been built to date for worldwide sales.” Motor Authority needed to be reminded by Lexus that there had been something called an earthquake and a tsunami (it had brought production of all cars in Japan to a multi-month halt, and turned the Japanese car market into the worst since decades). Like an obstreperous child, Motor Authority continued to write that the LFA “is barely selling at all.”

A month ago, the Detroit Bureau delivered a dissenting view, writing that the LFA is “sold out – almost.” That piece of investigative journalism was picked up eagerly by other automotive media who’s idea of investigative journalism starts with Ctrl-C and ends with Ctrl-V.

To this day, the disorder is keeping discussion pages at Motortrend going. One commenter cited the fact that this discussion only has 12 pages as proof of the underwhelming success of the LFA. After all, “a year ago, a troll thread with LFA in the title would be over 100 pages or locked by now.” (This is your brain on Facebook and Twitter.)

There is one sure-fire cure for this particular kind of OCD: Call and ask.

Don’t call someone at Toyota Motor Sales in the U.S.  They will only know their numbers. You need to invest a few dollars into 011-81 and call Toyota HQ in Japan if you want the global view.

After they had done a few days of research, I was told officially and in writing that the LFA was sold out before production started in late 2010. The 500-unit order limit was reached in April 2010, “there even was a waiting list,” says Lexus International head spokesman Hideaki Homma.

The LFA is built to order, something a customer in Europe or Japan will readily understand: You place an order, they build it for you. In the color and with any special wishes you have specified. This may sound alien to someone who picks a car from a dealer lot, this may sound super alien to someone who orders his supercars from Pimp My Supercar V2, but it is what it is.

Armed with that nugget of wisdom, it becomes clear that all 500 can be spoken for, even if some are still being made. Sometimes, it takes a certain degree of maturity to appreciate the fact that “signed, sealed, delivered” can be many months apart.

And what about the handful of LFAs that pop up on eBay?  This is something Lexus is not eager to talk about. Not because it reflects badly on them. From placing an order in early 2010 to today is a long time, and a few former high-flyers have fallen on tough times. If people default on mansions, not picking up your supercar when it has arrived is conceivable.

That, however, is a sad and boring story, and why let a phone call get in the way of intrigue and innuendo?

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The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar: An Inside Report, Chapter 5: Exam Week. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-5-exam-week/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-5-exam-week/#comments Fri, 13 Jul 2012 15:08:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452354

On the LFA’s in-house test track. Each car gets tested for some 50 miles

In this week-long report, we followed the Lexus LFA from raw fiber to bodypaint, and assembly. In this final chapter, we take it on the test track in Motomachi. 

Each and every LFA that rolls off the line is checked like no other car. 7,000 items of the LFA, all previously checked, counter-signed, eternalized in evidence sheets, are checked again. Each check again is eternalized in evidence sheets. When I said it takes 8 days to make an LFA, I lied. It takes 8 days to make one, and then it takes a full additional week to check it.

LFA test driver Nobuaki Amano

Nobuaki Amano has “one of the coolest jobs in the world,” at least according to Lexus-internal propaganda. Amano is the test driver. No LFA leaves the LFA Works without Amano having driven it up and down and up and down the test track that is nestled into an approximately mile long stretch along the eastern fence line of Motomachi. That track is good for 130 mph, if we want faster, we would have to go to Toyota’s Higashi Fuji proving grounds.

This is work?

I was in an LFA a year ago, that was in city traffic in Yokohama, hardly the place to put it through its paces.  Going up and down along that two lane track is different. I hear the engine sing all the way into the soprano octaves while Amano paddle-shifts through the LFA’s sequential gears. Some likened the sound to “the roar of an angel”, some to “an F1-inspired tune.” Lesser poets could compare it to the sound of a circular saw.

25 times up, 25 times down the road

I leave Amano to his testing business. He travels 25 times up and 25 times down that fence line in each LFA, conducting a set test regimen of 54 items, and taking copious notes over 4 hours. The logs become part of the evidence sheet collection.

These tires will be used to avoid wear and tear of the customer’s rubbers

Before Amano takes the car out on a test run, it gets a set of tires that is reserved for that purpose, sparing the customer wear, tear and cuffs. The odometer will have Amano’s 50 or so miles on it. They come with a note explaining that this is part of the Lexus LFA build process.

Much prettier visitors have been here

Miss Universe.

It is late in the afternoon when we get back to the spartan meeting room in the LFA Works. We spent a full day trying to cover the two weeks it takes to build and test an LFA. In a corner is a cut out figure of Akio Toyoda in racing gear, the figure even shorter than the real life Toyoda. On the wall is a memento from a previous and much prettier visitor to the LFA Works, Miss Universe 2007, Riyo Mori, her autograph is obscured by a less romantic sample of a forged aluminum gas pedal and a magnesium paddle shifter.

Take a number

In the morning, we saw LFA number 369 in its early stages, two weeks more, and it will be on its way to its owner. By the end of the year, the limit of 500 LFA will be reached, and the limit will not be extended. All are spoken for, try to order one now, and you will be turned down, with many apologies, but nonetheless firmly. As a matter of fact, the LFA was sold before production started in late 2010. The 500-unit quota was reached in April 2010, those who wanted could try their luck on a waiting list. For two years, the people at the LFA Kobo worked through their order book, one car per day.

Tanahashi shows his diary

I only have two more questions for Tanahashi:

Why?

And what’s next?

Reason why.

Even before the LFA production had started, Toyota made it known that there would be no profit on the LFA. Know just a little about cars, and this will be immediately obvious. The price tag for the development of a regular car is said to be in the neighborhood of a billion dollars. Now imagine how much it costs to develop one that was 10 years in the making, that shares only five parts with other cars of the mothership, a car for which a completely new production technology had to be invented. My walk through the factory sealed my impression of a giant money sink. The 500 people who are lucky to get an LFA are even luckier: They get a deal. The true cost of that handmade carbon fiber car is astronomically higher. So why make it?

I put the question to Tanahashi. He won’t comment on specific plans, but in a roundabout way, he confirms that this is a test bed for how mass market cars in a still far away future might be built. Future cars must use much less of whatever energy they will use. The key to that is weight loss.

Tanahashi’s comrade-in-arms, deputy chief engineer Chiharu Tamura (they met right out of school at Toyota, working on the front and rear end of the first front drive Celica) has a 1968 Subaru 360 at home. This car reached 66 mpg in 1968. Ever since, efficiency improvements bought with billions of research money were eaten by a ravenous monster called weight. 44 years later, the Prius c developed by Tanahashi’s colleague Satoshi Ogiso gets 53 mpg. Is that progress?

Picture-perfect

When I met Tanahashi in the morning, he said that “the ideal material for a car body is very strong and very light.” Carbon fiber is that material, but it is far from affordable. As long as people put strips of fabric into a mold by hand, as long as a part must be baked for hours, the price of this material will remain in the stratosphere. Tanahashi and his people are working on bringing this price down to earth.

Get moving.

“Pre-preg is much too slow,” says Tanahashi, referring to the method of manually putting strips of resin-saturated carbon fabric into molds, and baking it in an autoclave. “In the years to come, Resin Transfer Molding will be the mainstay of carbon fiber making.”

RTM, the making of carbon fiber in a press, cuts the time of making a part in half. Right now, this half still is 8 hours instead of 16 hours, unacceptable for production runs of several thousand per day. “With cutting-edge technology, the time can be brought down to 10-15 minutes in the press,” says Tanahashi. Much better, but still much too slow. A stamp press cycle time for metal is about six seconds, that’s ten parts per minute, not four per hour.

“I am very confident, that with some more research, CFRP will be ready for volume production,” says Tanahashi. “How quickly and when, I am not sure. We are moving in that direction and we are making progress.” The team around Tanahashi will remain busy for a long time.

Life after the LFA

Speaking of keeping busy, I ask what will come after the LFA.

Tanahashi facetiously says, “the LFB.”

When confronted with the rumor that the next car will be a million dollar supercar that is made in the homeopathic quantity of 100, Tanahashi wipes it off the table: “No, not true at all.”

So will the next car be a high-end CFRP Lexus under $100,000 at maybe 5,000 units a year? Tanahashi pauses, thinks for a few seconds, reviews where he and his team are on that road to the future, then says:

“It’s not that simple.”

What will happen to the LFA Works at the end of the year? Will Tanahashi, now 59, simply go into retirement? Will the 170 associates who make the LFA go back to making Crowns, Corollas and Camrys?

Tanahashi collects his thoughts, then says:

“CFRP is a very promising material. Even after the LFA project finishes, the carbon factory will be well utilized.”

With that thought, we bid Tanahashi and his team adieu. I am sure we will meet again. Somewhere.

Jyane!

Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.
Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.
Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. How the LFA really received its name.
Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.
Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.

Domo arigato gozaimashita

Thetruthaboutcars.com thanks all who have made this possible. We thank chief engineers Haruhiko Tanahashi and Chiharu Tamura, who, half a year ago, recklessly invited me to visit them where they work.

We thank the public affairs people in Tokyo, who, after having recovered from their heart attack, tirelessly supported the project. We thank Paul Nolasco who translated a pile of pages with dense technical Japanese content into a pile of pages with equally dense English content. We thank the anonymous man who volunteered his size 11 ½ toecaps. We thank you for reading and commenting.

Thetruthaboutcars.com extends an invitation to all automakers to make more Behind the Scenes reports possible.

 

On the LFA's in-house test track. Each car gets tested for some 50 miles LFA test driver Nobuaki Amano This is work? 25 times up, 25 times down the road These tires will be used to avoid wear and tear of the customer's rubbers Much prettier visitors have been here Take a number Tanahashi shows his diary Picture-perfect Tour of the Lexus LFA Works. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Jyane! Tour of the Lexus LFA Works. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt diary chapter 5-2 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar. An Inside Report, Chapter 4: Balance Of Power http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-4-balance-of-power/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-4-balance-of-power/#comments Thu, 12 Jul 2012 15:00:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452209

In the preceding chapters, we followed the Lexus LFA from raw fiber to body, paint, and assembly. Today, the LFA gets its engine. Tomorrow, we’ll test it, and then, we’ll say good-bye to the LFA Workshop in Motomachi. 

On its slow road to completion, the LFA travels down a main line, where it is met by components that come from smaller sidelines. One such subassembly is the LFA’s V10 engine. Covered by a thick sheet of plastic, it comes from Yamaha where it was built and assembled. The engine was a balancing act, in more ways than one.

Slowly, the LFA nears final completion

The engine sits behind the front wheels. The transmission, or rather transaxle, sits in the rear, balancing out to an ideal 48:52 front/rear weight distribution. Engine and transaxle are connected by a torque tube for a balance of lightness and durability.

The engine arrives pre-assembled from Yamaha

Through generous use of aluminum, titanium, magnesium and brain matter, the LFA’s engine is light. How light? I am unsuccessful in prying the engine’s weight out of the otherwise very forthcoming engineers. It will remain a secret until someone weighs the thing.

Mating ritual

“It makes no sense to save all that weight with composites, only to waste it on a heavy engine,” says Tanahashi. The LFA’s V10 is as small as a traditional V8, it is as light as a conventional V6, and yet delivers the power of a V12. The engine is light, but at 560 hp and 480 Nm (354 lb ft) of torque it certainly is no lightweight.

Here comes the power

The torque band of some engines is so peaky that it can do double duty as a Jayne Mansfield look-alike. Dyno the LFA, and it will draw a diagram as flat as a Japanese beauty: 90 percent of the LFA’s peak torque is available from 3,700 rpm all the way to the rev limiter. In this case, flat definitely is the sexier choice.

Chain of custody.

Speaking of the dyno, every LFA goes on one, not just to check the engine or the brakes, but even for such prosaic exercises as checking the accuracy of the speedometer.

How much torque?

One instrument appears to be banned from the LFA’s philharmonic symphony. There is no staccato sound of the pneumatic torque wrench. It would be too imprecise, I hear. Instead, each bolt is torqued with a digital, however manual torque wrench. After each bolt, the worker stops and makes notation on a sheet.

Mountain of evidence

To my bafflement, I learn that the torque for every bolt in the LFA is recorded on what is called an “evidence sheet.” Not just the torque of every bolt. Everything that is touched, assembled, hand-laid, bonded, adjusted, or checked in each and every LFA made receives an entry in an evidence sheet. The sheet is signed by the person that enters the data, and then it is signed again by a foreman.

50 years from now, the evidence will still be there: Miyoshi and Tanahashi are checking the files

Whenever one of the each of the 500 LFAs leaves Motomachi, administrator Mami Murofushi puts four heavy file boxes, filled with a collection of thousands of evidence sheets, on a shelf in an archive room a few steps away from the LFA Works. Aligned by build number, the file boxes will sit there at least for the next 50 years.

FRP is forever.

Why will the evidence be kept for more than 50 years? For one thing, because the LFA likely will last longer than that. Honestly, Tanahashi does not know how long the LFA will last.

“I feel the material could live permanently,” says Tanahashi. “To be safe, let’s say semi-permanently.” Looking at a semi-eternal service life, Tanahashi is not worried about end of life issues. Some people are. They paint a picture of rust-resistant carbon fiber bodies that will pile up on landfills half a century after they can be made in an affordable way. Tanahashi has thought of that as well and says that if and when the time comes, the carbon fiber LFA can be “crushed and the material can be used for building reinforcement.”

A week’s work, lined up for inspection

7:14.64

With that in mind, we travel to another hall at the northeastern end of the Motomachi complex. This is where cars receive a very intrusive physical before they get delivered. A full week’s worth of LFA production, all seven of them, are lined up for inspection.

One of the LFAs awaiting a physical is a Nürburgring Package version. The package is a $70,000 extra, and only 50 are being sold. I would not have noticed it, would Tanahashi not have pointed it out. It is the white one on the right.

Insert $70,000 right here

Those $70,000 buy you 11 additional horses. “That is the main difference,” says Tanahashi. The suspension has a different adjustment. There are little winglets on the side, and “slight changes inside of the engine room,” I hear.

Asked what those changes are, Tanahashi grins, he pops the hood and shows a silver oil filter, and a red-on black plaque that says “Handbuilt by Lexus LFA Works” instead of the regulation champagne-colored oil filter and plaque. If I had to ask …

Oil filter, special Nurburgring edition

“It is expensive, but it shaved 8 seconds off our Nürburgring lap time,” says Tanahashi, referring to the 7:14.64 Nordschleife lap time achieved on August 31, 2011.

Ignoring the lap times of three cars of dubious provenance, the LFA on regulation Bridgestone tires was the fastest production, street-legal car around the ring. For two weeks, it was. On September 14, a Dodge Viper ACR on Michelin Pilot Cup slicks came in two and a half seconds faster, and this is where things stand ever since.

I ask Tanahashi whether he will try again. He does not answer, and looks the other way.

Stay tuned for the final installment of The Making Of The Lexus LFA:

Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.
Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.
Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. How the LFA really got its name.
Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.
Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.

Tour of the Lexus LFA Works. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Slowly, the LFA nears final completion The engine arrives pre-assembled from Yamaha Mating ritual Here comes the power How much torque? Mountain of evidence 50 years from now, the evidence will still be there Tour of the Lexus LFA Works. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt A week's work Insert $70,000 right here Oilcooler, special Nurburgring edition Tanahashi's diary Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar. An Inside Report, Chapter 3: Call Me Names http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-3-call-me-names/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-3-call-me-names/#comments Wed, 11 Jul 2012 17:15:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452054  

LFA carbon fiber body

After a general introduction in the first chapter, the last chapter of this inside report showed us  how the body-in-white of the LFA is hand-made layer by layer, and that it is actually a body-in-black. When finished, the body goes on a transfer cart and travels one third of a mile to the second stage of the LFA production, painting and final assembly. We take a bus.

Tanahashi and entourage on their way to the assembly hall

In the bus, we talk about the name of the LFA. There are all kinds of apocryphal stories of how the name came about and what it stands for, that it means “Lexus Future Advance”, or whatever. Tanahashi say it is all nonsense, and as I listen to him talk, I know that I am finally hearing the true story.

Bodysnatcher

“Like all cars, the LFA started as an internal project, code 680,” Tanahashi says. Now you know what the 680 means in Tanahashi’s  diary.

At the Detroit Motor Show 2005, we showed a concept. We needed a name. At Lexus, concept cars for the motor show follow a strict name regime. LF for ‘Lexus future’, then a dash, followed by two letters. I racked my brain for a good two letter combination. I could not find one, and settled on A.”

The concept was shown as  LF-A.  Four years later, Tanahashi gave the name equally short shrift:

“In 2009, we announced the car at the Tokyo motor show, and we needed a real name. Again, I had a hard time. I thought, why not simply remove the hyphen? The LFA was born.”

Many decisions in the car industry happen that way. Rich and deep symbolism often is an after-the-fact addition born from an insatiable quest for meaning.

New meets old

The titanium muffler.

We are back at the LFA’s assembly building. Painting and assembly is a place where Toyota’s past meets Toyota’s future. This was an old press shop before the LFA moved in. The trusses and riveted girders of this 10,000 sqm hall remind more of the Brooklyn Bridge than of a breeding ground for yet to come car architectures. A large overhead crane, now retired, could, if reactivated, travel the full length of the hall. During the LFA’s prototype phase, birds had entered the building and left their signatures on cars and workers. Now, piano wires invite the birds to sit elsewhere.

A quarter of the hall is walled-off to house the LFA’s paint and assembly shop. Most of the LFA’s body, 65 percent to be exact, is made out of carbon fiber reinforced polymer, or CFRP, the remainder is made out of aluminum. Attempting to apply my newfound knowledge, I point at a shiny metal object, and am told that it is a muffler.

Titanium muffler

“It is made from titanium,” says Tanahashi.

The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane ($ 33 million MSRP) was made largely from titanium, the LFA uses the metal for a muffler. Titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metals. Titanium is strong as steel, at approximately half the weight. The only heavy part of titanium is its heavy price: Titanium costs approximately 20 times as much as steel. To replace that muffler – not that you would ever have to, titanium is extremely corrosion resistant – would cost the price of a Corolla, I am told.

When the bonded body-in-black rolls into the assembly hall, it already has fasteners in place to which other parts are mounted. Lighter parts, such as wire harnesses, are attached with fasteners that are bonded to the surface of the CFRP body.

While we are discussing fasteners, Tanahashi brings a cutaway piece of foam-cored carbon fiber. What he shows is testament to the compulsive attention to the minutest detail. In the LFA, through-fasteners don’t simply go through holes that are cut into the shell. They use special aluminum inserts that prevent the carbon fiber from being weakened by the pressure of a lug nut, or the chafing of a thread.

Fender being fitted to the non-monocoque LFA

“Definitely not a monocoque.”

At this point, a discussion ensues. I call the body of the LFA a monocoque, because this is what everybody seems to call it. Tanahashi and Tamura disagree. In a monocoque, the external skin supports the load of an object, I am told. An egg is a monocoque. The hen is not. In the LFA, the car’s structure is delivered by a rigid center cell with attached front and rear subframes. To that, removable body panels are applied, and I watch how they do it.

These panels act like a skin, for internal protection and outward beauty, but not for bearing the LFA’s load. When we discuss the architecture, Chief Engineer Tanahashi declares with deep conviction and utmost finality that this is “definitely not a monocoque.”

Panels being fitted to the non-monocoque LFA

Asked what it is, Tanahashi describes it as a “body-kokkaku” which can loosely be translated as “body frame structure.” After a long discussion, we come to the conclusion that “space frame” probably comes closest, but not close enough for a tough Tanahashi, who thinks it is an old-fashioned term, “suitable for the birdcage of, say, a Maserati Tipo 61.” Once again, the LFA defies definition.

Japanese laquerware.

Painting takes place in another cleanroom. The body panels are first wet-sanded and sealed with a gelcoat. Next comes a middle coat in one of four colors, depending on the final color. Then comes the top coat in the requested color, and finally, a clear coat. The layers are dried at 90 C for 20 minutes. Every coat is inspected under special bright lights.

Check of the paint

The LFA can be had in 30 colors. Strangely, the simplest ones, matte black and whitest white are the most difficult. Matte black cannot be polished and is tricky to handle. The paint specialists are glad that this much talked-about color is in low demand. Only 12 out of 500 LFA have been ordered in matte black.

Still checking

The by far most popular color is whitest white. Its base coat is covered with a layer that shines in blue and white under fluorescent light, on top of that comes an enamel coat that in turn is covered by a clear coat. “Regular” pearl white is the second-most requested color, followed by regular black and red.

Whitest white is highly popular with the paint booth staff also. That color is so complex, “it creates overtime,” says Tanahashi.

It’s a roof side rail garnish. (We asked.)

The Natural.

Assembly of the LFA takes four days, the second half of the supercar’s eight day metamorphosis from space-age twine to blissful bolide. In those four days, the car crawls down a slow, but deliberate assembly line. It is manual work, but it is the manual work of a symphony orchestra. Each grip, each part, each turn of a wrench has its set time and purpose. The orchestra has its sheet music: Placards at every station list what needs to be done when. One can feel the rhythm, even hear the distinct melody of the line.

The coach

The LFA’s 170 piece orchestra of course has its conductor. His name is Shigeru Yamanaka, and he cuts an imposing figure. Before he managed the LFA Works, Yamanaka was the coach of Toyota’s corporate baseball team.

Yamanaka will disappoint you if you are fishing for a story of him selecting only the very best and most highly skilled workers that are run through some astronaut-type selection process.

Instead, Yamanaka surprises us with refreshing honesty.

100% dedication

Asked how he picks his team members, Yamanaka replies: “I request them from Human Resources.”

“I look for passion,” says Yamanaka. “I look for people who want to make special things. Skills I can train. Enthusiasm you are born with.”

Indeed, I see only two types of facial expressions as I walk down the line: Smiling faces. Or deeply concentrated ones. The LFA is made 65 percent from CFRP, 35 percent from aluminum alloy, and 100 percent from dedication.

Assembly hall

PS: With all the innuendo and supposition about the Tiffany blue LFA, how could anyone miss the fact that the original project code was 680, the same number 680 that was on the license plate of the blue LFA?

It’s good they did. “It was one of those coincidences,” I am told.

 Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment of The Making Of The Lexus LFA. How long do you think this car will last?

Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.
Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.
Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. How the LFA really received its name.
Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.
Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.

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The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar. An Inside Report, Chapter 2: In The Clean Room. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-2-in-the-clean-room/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-chapter-2-in-the-clean-room/#comments Tue, 10 Jul 2012 15:45:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451950

One of two circular looms on the planet. 12 layers of seamless carbon fiber are woven into what will be part T3-3RH, part A-pillar, part roof support

Yesterday, we heard how the LFA really was born (in a bar, where many good ideas are born and pitched,) and why it is made from carbon fiber. Now, we are in front of the cleanroom, and while our little group is suiting up, let’s use the time for a quick course on CFRP. 

The basic principle of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer, CFRP for short, is not new. It dates farther back than metal. CFRP is a composite, made from two completely different materials that are joined together to give a much stronger material. Straw and clay was such an early composite. Concrete is a more recent one. In the case of CFRP, carbon fibers are combined with epoxy, the polymer. Sometimes, the material is also called “carbon fiber reinforced plastic,” but the end product is far removed from what usually comes to mind when we think of plastic.

Chief engineer Tanahashi shows a pre-pregged carbon fiber mat

CFRP has an unsurpassed strength-to-stiffness-to-weight ratio. CFRP also comes at unsurpassed cost. It entered car making with race cars, where money is no object. As we enter the cleanroom through an air lock, it becomes evident why the stuff is so expensive.

Basically, there are three different ways of making CFRP: Pre-preg, Resin Transfer Molding,  (RTM), and  Sheet Molding Compound (SMC), listed in the order of strength and expense. The LFA uses all three methods, depending on the required characteristics of the CFRP parts.

This reporter is being vacuumed to protect the LFA’s carbon fiber from filth and grime

The strongest parts of the LFA are made in a clean room. Our hair is covered. We wear long white coveralls. Booties go over our shoes. Someone vacuums me from top to bottom.

Cleansed, we enter the cleanroom

We enter the cleanroom through an airlock, and we are in pre-preg central.

Pre-preg is the method to make the strongest type of carbon fiber available. “It is also the most expensive,” says Masahito Miyoshi, who leads me through a maze of machinery. Miyoshi -san is in charge of a by-product of the LFA, a mountain of paperwork. He also has the honorary title of the LFA’s ambassador.

Working in the cleanroom is choice duty: The room is not just dust free. The temperature is kept at 22 degrees centigrade (72 F), the humidity at a constant 60 percent. A cool paradise compared to the hot and humid Japanese summer.

Pre-preg is not what some may think it is. Carbon fiber mats that were pre-impregnated with resin begin a metamorphosis into the LFA’s most critical parts.

A plotter/cutter divides the pre-pregged carbon fiber into hundreds of parts

The carbon fiber mats are bought from a supplier and wait in a giant freezer until they are used. The mats have two layers of carbon fabric, the threads of the fabric layers are oriented at distinct angles.

The pre-pregged mats come to rest on a large cutting table the size of a small Japanese apartment. Vacuum sucks the mats into place. A computer-controlled plotter first draws parts numbers on the sheets. Then, the plotter withdraws its pen, brandishes a rotary cutter and in 20 minutes, the mat is dissected into a giant puzzle that will soon do duty in LFA number 424.

The dash starts with this mold

A few steps down the air-conditioned cleanroom, workers produce a dashboard. Under the hawk-like eyes of a foreman and by gloved hand, the workers layer 335 pieces of pre-pregged puzzle into a mold the size of a, well, dashboard. Sometimes, they use an industrial-strength hairdryer to form the puzzle-piece into its desired shape, and to avoid any air bubbles between layers.

335 pieces are assembled into a dashboard, a full day’s work

Like a colossal wedding cake, 13 layers of pre-preg are methodically assembled into what will be the dash panel. The layers are mated with urethane core. The cores have threaded aluminum inserts, later, they will be the counterparts for bolts.

Each piece of backing foil is accounted for

Each of the 335 pieces of the dash is checked off from an evidence sheet. The sheet gets signed by the foreman, and then signed again by a quality controller with wasp-like yellow stripes on his hat. The backing foil of the puzzle-pieces gets pulled off and is discarded, but not without being recorded on the evidence sheet.

“If they forget the backing foil, nobody would see and notice,” explains Miyoshi. “Until perhaps in an accident.” Every piece of backing foil is immortalized on the evidence sheet before it is thrown away.

One works, four watch

It takes eight hours to hand-layer this dashboard. Once done, the finished wedding cake dash is covered with a special vacuum foil and baked for another eight hours.

With pressure and heat, parts cure in the autoclave for eight hours

The baking happens in the autoclave next door. Picture it as a garage-sized pressure cooker. Pieces in the autoclave are covered with foil, then vacuum is applied that presses the layered piece into its mold. Two bars of pressure is applied to the autoclave, and at a constant temperature of 150 C, the parts are cooked to perfection.

The autoclave works two shifts per day

That autoclave is in high demand, and it is the only station in the genesis of the LFA where two shifts are working. During the day, a dashboard and other parts cure in the pressure vessel. At night, the side members of the LFA are being baked. This limits the production speed to one LFA per day, and the profitability of the venture is limited to forget about it. In the same time one CFRP dash is completed, a conventional machine spits out more than 1,000 plastic dash panels, far less rigid, far more weighty, but far less costly than the LFA part. Perfection has its price.

Crazy like a loom.

This time, it’s for our protection

Barely out of our white garments, we don masks again. This time, it is for our protection. Breathing microscopic carbon fibers could be hazardous to my health, I am told, as we approach a wondrous machine. It reminds me of the circular loom that was invented at Toyota in 1906, and became part of the foundation of Toyota’s later fortunes.  The new circular loom weaves carbon fiber and could become an important part of Toyota’s future.

Tanahashi explains how the loom works

The new loom is called a three-dimensional braider. Only two exist on this planet, I am told, the location of the other one remains undisclosed.

Myoshi and Tamura inspect the (black) carbon sock over a (white) wax core

What looks like a long black sock goes back and forth six times while carbon fiber is spooled off 144 bobbins and braided over a core of wax that rests in a vacuum-sealed ABS pouch. Layer upon layer of carbon fiber is woven until the core is covered with 12 coats of fiber.

Tanahashi holds one of the world’s thinnest and strongest A-pillars

The finished sock-over-wax goes into a press between two molds, resin is added, heat and pressure are applied. Eight hours later, the wax is molten, and Chief Engineer Tanahashi can inspect part T3-3RH that will be part A-pillar, part roof support. The 12-layer seamless sock  becomes an embodiment of supreme strength and luxurious lightness. It is one of the thinnest and yet strongest A-pillars in the business.

 

The 3D weaver makes a seamless mat of carbon fiber …

Bumper and grind.

Next door is another marvelous machine. Normally, weaving is a two-dimensional affair. This machine weaves into the third dimension. It interlaces 32 layers of carbon fabric, with the layers on top of each other at varying angles, into a thick mat. Carbon fibers have been reinforced before by sewing them like a quilt. However, this can also weaken the quilt along its threads where the fabric is pierced by the sewing needle. The machine avoids this by weaving into the third dimension.

… which ends up as this crashbox

With the addition of resin, the carbon quilt is transformed into a part that is held here by the LFA’s Deputy Chief Engineer, Chiharu Tamura.

“It is used for the front bumper stay,” says Tamura, who hopes that the part will never have to prove its true characteristics. “It is a crash box. The vertical fiber gives it its superb energy absorption characteristics during a crash.”

A crash box is amongst the most important automotive parts for crash energy absorption. Situated at the front of the car’s frame, a crash box waits to be hit during a crash. After impact, it is the job of the crash box to absorb and to dissipate crash energy before other body parts of machine or man are impacted.

 

High speed camera picture of the crashbox in action. The inset shows its location

A conventional crash box crumples as if soda cans are squeezed by a giant hand. The LFA’s 3D woven crash box does not crumple. It crumbles. A black and white picture, shot by a high speed camera during a crash test, shows how the material behaves during a crash. The crash box fragments into millions of small particles, each particle requiring energy for its separation. This box can effectively bleed-off the energy of a crash until the force falls harmlessly to the ground as millions of black crumbs.

These days, a lot of the crash testing is performed in computers, and then, to be sure, it is performed again in reality. Modeling the behavior of metals is fairly straightforward. With CFRP, the engineer is overwhelmed by a multitude of constants that are the product of fiber quality, fiber orientation, fiber density, the resin used, the number of layers, the angles of layers, the manufacturing method, and many more. In their research, the LFA team first made small samples of materials, tested them, and then used their properties for the larger test. Nevertheless, “much more crash tests were performed with the LFA than with a regular car,” Tamura said. How many, he would not disclose.

Different types of CFRP are used for different loads

 Not all carbon fiber is created equal.

The pillar/roof support that comes out of the circular loom, the crash box, and many other CFRP parts of the LFA are made by another process called Resin Transfer Molding or RTM. With RTM, dry fiber is laid into a mold, liquid resin is fed into the dry fiber, 130 centigrade of heat and 3 bar of pressure are applied, prompting the part to cure. The cured parts are then machined to perfection using ultrahigh-pressure abrasive water-jet cutters, thankfully, away from our eyes.

RTM is one step closer towards mass production, but it still is a long way removed. RTM saves the cumbersome hand lay-up of pre-preg. There is no massive autoclave. However, the part still has to remain in the mold for eight hours until the resin is hardened. Eight hours saved, but still eight hours to go.

There is a third process called Sheet Molding Compound or SMC, but Tanahashi and Tamura give it short shrift as we walk through the LFA Works. With SMC, chopped pieces of carbon fiber, each about one inch short, are mixed with resin to create a high-tech version of paper mache. This mix is applied to a sheet, it goes into a mold, where it is cured under heat and pressure. This is the lowest grade of CFRP used in the production of the LFA. It is used for parts that do not require a large amount of strength, such as side panels, fenders, or parts of the rear area of the LFA. These are the only CFRP parts that are entrusted to outside suppliers.

 

A robot applies a rectangular bead of glue

A bond for life.

We follow Chief Engineer Tanahashi down a long corridor until we are faced by an unexpected apparatus: A robot.

Usually, most of the heavy work in car building is performed by robots. With the LFA, the robot has the job as a glue dispenser. Fed by a long hose, the robot applies carefully measured uniform amounts of epoxy resin adhesive to the many CFRP parts that make up the passenger cell of the LFA. The adhesive is not applied like the rounded bead we all know, but rather as a flat strip with square edges.

In a jig, the parts are fitted together for a one piece passenger cell. This jig is the only part that is kept from your eyes, I am not allowed to photograph it. Bonded together, the different parts of the passenger cell effectively become one, extremely light, but yet superbly stiff and strong.

Building the body of one LFA takes four days, we race through it in three hours. On the fourth day, there is what is called a body-in-white in the car making industry. Except that in the case of the LFA, it is a body-in-black. In a shiny, glossy black that we usually associate with carbon fiber.

When it is done, the people in the CFRP shop stick a picture of an LFA with a number to a whiteboard. 424 done, 76 to go.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment of The Making Of The Lexus LFA, where we will follow the body to painting and assembly. 

Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.
Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.
Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. How the LFA really received its name.
Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.
Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.

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The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar: Who, What, Where And Most Of All Why. An Inside The Industry Report, Chapter 1: From A Bar To Bar None http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-who-what-where-and-most-of-all-why-an-inside-report-chapter-1-from-a-bar-to-bar-none/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-who-what-where-and-most-of-all-why-an-inside-report-chapter-1-from-a-bar-to-bar-none/#comments Mon, 09 Jul 2012 17:15:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451770

The autoclave. A giant pressure cooker that limits the Lexus LFA production to one per day

Behind a nondescript garage door in the Motomachi plant in Toyota City is LFA Kobo, the LFA Works. Here, 170 men and women chase the holy grail of car making. Their mission: How to make a car super fast, super light, super safe, and affordable. They have mastered the first three. On the affordable they are still working. The holy grail is being chased in a supercar, the $375,000 Lexus LFA.

LFA Chief Engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi

Until today, this door was closed to the media. One magazine, Japan’s Car Graphic, was lucky to be invited in 2010 when the workshop still geared up for work. After series production started in December of that year, access to the LFA Works was limited to a privileged few. To be admitted, serious amounts of money had to change hands. The buyer of a $375,000 LFA was offered a tour of the premises – strictly without camera. Today, this veil is about to lift. In a five day series, we will show how the LFA is made, who makes it, and most of all, why.

At the door, I am greeted by Haruhiko Tanahashi. Tanahashi is Chief Engineer of Toyota Motor Corporation’s Lexus Division, and he is the proud father of the LFA. Ever the proud father, he likes to talk about the birth of his child.

It started in a bar.

The Lexus LFA was born where many great ideas come to life:

In a bar.

“My boss and I sat in a bar in Hokkaido,” remembers Tanahashi, “and I told my boss about the dream I had. I wanted to make the ultimate sports car.” At this point, bosses usually call for the check, or the submitter’s personnel file. Tetsuo Hattori, at the time the top vehicle engineer at TMC, replied “why not” – and ordered another round in celebration.

“February 10, 2000. – In Shibetsu, Hattori approves study of a real sports car.” So reads the first entry in Tanahashi’s diary that until this day chronicles the development of the LFA. In sparing sentences, kept on an Excel spreadsheet, Tanahashi follows the incubation, birth and first steps of his life dream.

After receiving a nod from his boss, Tanahashi did not waste time and did not want to risk a change of mind at his superiors. A month after the bar visit, the diary shows the first meeting of a quickly assembled working group.

Satellite view of Shibetsu Proving Grounds

 

“Baby sports cars are bad.”

On July 6th, Tanahashi is back in Shibetsu.

Shibetsu is where Toyota has its proving ground. Up at the northern end of Japan, and only 400 miles from the shores of Siberia, Shibetsu provides long cold winters and short, temperate summers. It also is far away from prying eyes.

“July 6, 2000. Evaluation drive in Shibetsu” says the diary. “Director says baby sports cars are bad.” This will be a grown-up sports car.

A year after the decision in the Hokkaido bar, the team arrives in Shibetsu with a first prototype for winter testing. The prototype is made from aluminum alloy, and aluminum alloy remains the chosen material all the way through 2005. Many more sports cars were driven across many tracks. First contact with a carbon-fiber monocoque car was made when the team tests a McLaren F1, but Tanahashi decides to stick with the aluminum he knows than to go with the carbon fiber he doesn’t.

First concept of the LFA

In 2005, Tanahashi’s project was still under a tight cover. It also was a favorite target to be killed.

Every year, the project had a near-death experience. “Each fall, there is a big company review at TMC,” says Tanahashi and polishes his wire-rimmed glasses in thought. “Each year, we were about to be kicked off the cliff. Our sports car featured prominently on the list of projects to be killed.”

Hugely expensive and with no promise for profits, it was an inviting target no controller could resist.

The LFA remained alive because it always found a savior amongst Toyota’s top brass. “The timing was right,” says Tanahashi, “Toyota was on a steady rise and very successful.” A few years later, the project would have been stillborn.

Workers fit carbon fiber fender to LFA


The carbon decision.

In the spring of 2005, Tanahashi was agonizing over a tough decision. The LF-A had been shown as a concept at the Detroit Motor Show where it had caused dropped jaws. The car had been on the Nürburgring in Germany with good results – and of course it was caught by paparazzi. In 2005, the car was not too far from final.

However, the car was made from aluminum alloy. To this day, carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) is used only sparingly, even on the world’s most expensive cars. The Bugatti Veyron comes standard with carbon fiber disc brakes, a few one-offs have carbon fiber body panels. A BMW M3 may have a carbon fiber roof, an Aston Martin DBS may sport a few carbon fiber parts. Tanahashi was not averse to using some CFRP for body panels, or maybe for the LF-A’s bathtub, but he wanted to otherwise stick with aluminum alloy.

Then, Tanahashi hit a wall. The benchmark for the LF-A was the Nürburgring Nordschleife, that part of the Eifel racetrack in Germany that separates real sports cars from also-rans and dragsters. To get the car around the track faster, it had to shed weight, but Tanahashi was out of options. Making most of the car from CFRP promised a weight savings of 220 lbs, but CFRP was insanely expensive, and the change would have thrown the development of the car back by years. Most of all, CFRP was an unknown quantity.

In 2003, a development team at Toyota had begun research on CFRP. First results looked promising, but not much more. Trading the known entity of aluminum alloy for promises was a gamble Tanahashi was not willing to take. Then, something horrifying happened.

“Okamoto-san tapped me on the shoulder, and said, get over it, just go with carbon fiber,” Tanahashi recalls.

The LFA consists of 65 percent carbon fiber and 35 percent aluminum

Kazuo Okamoto was R&D Chief at Toyota. He had another shock in store for Tanahashi:

“He did not just say to make most of the car out of CFRP. He said I should bring the whole CFRP production in-house.”

Toyota does the opposite of many global companies. At Toyota, the mantra is insourcing. “Our company culture is to bring all important functions in-house,” explains Tanahashi.

This worried him a lot. CFRP is a young art and science. Some of it literally is black art. Know-how is scarce. Specialist companies are bought just to get to that know-how. Yet, Tanahashi was told to develop it all in house, and yesterday.

His dream of a sports car was to be ready in a few years, and Toyota had barely done two years of research into CFRP. Tanahashi was not just back to square one. He found himself back to a square somewhere in minus 10 territory.

Tanahashi shows the different grades of carbon fiber used in the LFA

Time is money.

Tanahashi did cast around for help. He discussed his predicament with engineers of Fuji Heavy Industries, and they basically told him that the plan was insane. “That engineer would normally budget 10 years just for the research,” reminisces Tanahashi. “We did it all in one year.”

“The ideal material for a car body is very strong and very light,” says Tanahashi, “but usually, these parameters are at odds with each other. If you want both strong and light, if you need high rigidity and low weight at the same time, then you have no other choice than CFRP.”

However, when you think you have the strength and weight conundrum solved by using carbon fiber to build your car, you quickly run into an especially nasty problem:

Money.

Carbon fiber composites are some of the most expensive materials used in car making. Not because the ingredients used in CFRP are particularly dear. It is because CFRP parts take an inordinately long time to produce. A stamping machine can produce a metal car part in seconds. A similar part made from CFRP can take a day. The autoclave, a giant pressure cooker in the LFA Works, is the only machine there that runs day and night, and nevertheless, it only has the capacity for one car per day.

The orange hood protects the oil cooler during assembly.

Time is money, and CFRP uses way too much time. Even a moderately sized car factory can churn out 1,000 cars per day. The factory does not have the time to wait all day for a part to be ready. Running 1,000 giant autoclaves and 1,000 expensive sets of dies and molds in parallel is likewise out of the question.

Suiting up for the cleanroom

This becomes quickly obvious as we enter the heart of the CFRP manufacturing process. We stand in front of a clean room that is used to build the strongest parts of the LFA. Brain surgeons suit up in a more casual manner than our small group. We don coveralls, shoe booties, hats. This is not for our protection. The intricate parts that are produced behind the airtight doors are being protected from us. We get vacuumed for dust. While our small group suits up, let us use the time for a quick course on CFRP.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment of The Making Of The Lexus LFA:

Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.
Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.
Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. How the LFA really received its name.
Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.
Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.

The autoclave. A giant pressure cooker that limits the Lexus LFA production to one per day LFA Chief Engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi Excerpts from Tanahashi's diary Satellite view of Shibetsu Proving Grounds First concept of the LFA Workers fit carbon fiber fender to LFA The LFA consists of 65 percent carbon fiber and 35 percent aluminum Tanahashi shows the different grades of carbon fiber used in the LFA The orange hood protects the oil cooler during assembly. Suiting up for the cleanroom Tanahashi inspects carbon fiber body of the LFA Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar. An Inside Report In 5 Chapters http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-in-5-chapters/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-making-of-the-lexus-lfa-supercar-an-inside-report-in-5-chapters/#comments Sun, 08 Jul 2012 18:21:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452645

One of two circular looms on the planet. 12 layers of seamless carbon fiber are woven into what will be part T3-3RH, part A-pillar, part roof support

This 5 chapter series gives you unprecedented access to the LFA Works in Motomachi. Here, 500 LFA supercars are being handmade by 170 people, and you can watch how they do it.

The baking happens in the autoclave next door. Picture it as a garage-sized pressure cooker. Pieces in the autoclave are covered with foil, then vacuum is applied that presses the layered piece into its mold. Two bars of pressure is applied to the autoclave, and at a constant temperature of 150 C, the parts are cooked to perfection.””

Chapter One: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.

The strongest parts of the LFA are made in a clean room. Our hair is covered. We wear long white coveralls. Booties go over our shoes. Someone vacuums me from top to bottom.””

Chapter Two: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.

Building the body of one LFA takes four days, we race through it in three hours. On the fourth day, there is what is called a body-in-white in the car making industry. Except that in the case of the LFA, it is a body-in-black. In a shiny, glossy black that we usually associate with carbon fiber.””

Chapter Three: Call Me Names. How the LFA really received its name.

Some likened the sound to “the roar of an angel”, some to “an F1-inspired tune.” Lesser poets could compare it to the sound of a circular saw.””

Chapter Four Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.

What will happen to the LFA Works at the end of the year? Will Tanahashi, now 59, simply go into retirement? Will the 170 associates who make the LFA go back to making Crowns, Corollas and Camrys?
Tanahashi collects his thoughts, then says:””

Chapter Five: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.

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TTAC Celebrates Lexus LFA Week, And You Go Behind The Scenes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ttac-celebrates-lexus-lfa-week-and-you-go-behind-the-scenes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ttac-celebrates-lexus-lfa-week-and-you-go-behind-the-scenes/#comments Sun, 08 Jul 2012 16:22:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451707  

This coming week is LFA Week. From Monday, July 9 through Friday, July 13, TTAC will run a five-part series documenting the production of the Lexus LFA. Readers of TTAC will receive unprecedented access to the LFA Works in Motomachi. You will receive a behind-the-scene look, exclusive, never before published proprietary pictures, and a glimpse into the future. Here is a preview:

This is not one of those “sponsored content” promotions. It would be silly: The production of the LFA is limited to 500, all are spoken for. Even if you would pay the $375,000 the car costs, you would be turned down. (There’s always eBay.) When this year ends, the production of the LFA will end with it.

During LFA Week, LFA Chief Engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi and his deputy Chiharu Tamura will show you how the LFA is made, from the first strips of carbon fiber to the test drive. You will see the mysterious circular loom up-close, and you will see what is made in that loom.  You will get a peek into Tanahashi’s diary. You will go on the track with test driver Nobuaki Amano.

Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA really was born, how it got is name, and how Tanahashi nearly had a heart attack when he was told to make it out of carbon fiber.

Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. We don protective clothing, we get vacuumed from top to bottom and  enter the clean room where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.

Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. During a short bus ride, Chief Engineer Tanahashi tells how the LFA really got its name and what LFA really means. Also: What the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and the Lexus LFA have in common (a muffler.)

Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA, we hear about balance, and we show you how 50 years from now, the history of each of the 500 LFAs can be traced to two little rooms in Motomachi.

Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We go on the test track with test driver Nobuaki Amano. And we examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future car, and what will come after the LFA.

TTAC Lexus LFA Week. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt TTAC Lexus LFA Week. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt TTAC Lexus LFA Week. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt TTAC Lexus LFA Week. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt TTAC Lexus LFA Week. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt TTAC Lexus LFA Week. Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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The Secret Of The Tiffany-Blue LFA, Or How Those Auto Spy Stories Are Written http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/the-secret-of-the-tiffany-blue-lfa-or-how-those-auto-spy-stories-are-written/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/the-secret-of-the-tiffany-blue-lfa-or-how-those-auto-spy-stories-are-written/#comments Fri, 29 Jun 2012 12:14:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450653

A mysterious Lexus LFA that went from Motomachi to (the green) hell is fueling the fantasy of bloggers. Some say the Tiffany-blue bolide belongs to the Sheikh of Qatar, who just happens to like his cars in Tiffany blue. Others say it is the LFA going out with a bang, attacking the elusive Nordschleife ring record one last time “with an engine over 600 bhp.” They all made it up.

This is not a story about the LFA. This is a story about bloggers sucking stories out of their thumbs.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy Autoblog.com

Most of the blogs that expect to gain traffic from the topic make you feel like they are camped out on the Ring, ready to snap the latest and fastest Erlkönig. They aren’t, and I don’t blame them. Having spent much too many rainy days at the abominable Lindner Congress Hotel, I can assure you that there are better things to do with your time. Except for specialty site BridgeToGantry.com, nobody covers the Ring 24/7, most of the writers don’t even know the difference between Nurburgring and Nurnberg. BridgeToGantry covers the Ring, because its editor Dale Lomas works there. At rent4ring, he rents out track day cars, from a Suzuki Swift Stage 1 all the way to a Caterham R300 (pray it won’t rain.)

All good websites get their pictures from SB-Medien, the not so good ones steal them from the websites that got their pics from SB-Medien. SB-Medien is Europe’s leading purveyor of Erlkönig imagery. SB is said to have a mutually beneficial relationship with automakers. Automakers can create buzz at just the right time. SB can position a photographer at just the right time and place. Everybody wins. Nobody wastes time and money.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy Gmotors.co.uk

And this is how the Tiffany blue LFA story got started. A few days ago, SB sent out a set of baby blue LFA pictures to its subscribers. One of the first if not the first to publish was GMotors.co.uk, but only because they “spent only 20 minutes to put the so-called spy photos up,” as editor Andrus Kiisküla refreshingly admits. Those 20 minutes were spent splashing a giant “Gmotors.co.uk” onto the image, and writing a 173 word ditty.

Gmotors’ ditty was restrained. They said that “Lexus is very likely going to introduce a new special edition of their LFA supercar, and that Gmotors “wouldn’t be surprised if this new model has over 600bhp.” Fair enough.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy Autoguide.com

Put yourself in the shoes of a poor, underpaid (or pro bono) writer who stares at a set of blue pictures, and there is nothing else to go on. Your choices are: Copypaste. Make it up. All of the above. A protracted game of telephone begins …

At Autoevolution.com, the baby blue car turns into an “LFA Tokyo Edition.”

Our friends at Carbuzz remember how they “almost made a mess in our pants” when they had seen the Nurburgring Edition LFA, and that “Lexus is apparently planning a new version of their LFA supercar.”

Motortrend takes a quick toke and writes: “Our automotive paparazzo on Europe recently caught this modified teal blue Lexus LFA lapping the Green Hell.” You don’t have an automotive paparazzo in Europe, motortrend. You have SB-Medien like everybody else has.

Autoblog gives the car “a fair bit more than the 552 horsepower found in the standard LFA.”

Once the story hits Motorauthority, the car has received an engine that is “pumping out significantly more than the 552-horsepower 4.8-liter V-10 found in the regular LFA.” Also, it has received a transmission that “is likely to have been reprogrammed for faster shifts.”

And on and on it goes as the story ricochets around the blogosphere.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy Autoblog.com

The definitely last word in supposition and innuendo is written by the Kaizen Factor. Half serious, half tongue-in-cheek, the site lists every rumor the Tiffany blue car triggered, from the meaning of the AD-A letters on the side, and the “DAU 0680” on the LFA’s red ”Überführungsnummer”, to the credible theory that the Qatari House of Thani wants to enlarge its already sizable collection of baby blue cars. Shame on Qatar (if the baby blue rumor is true): They own chunks of Volkswagen and Porsche, and now they fraternize with Toyota?

Nobody bothers to do the obvious: Check the story. None except BridgeToGanrty. Dale Lomas grabs his camera, walks over from his office to the Ring and shoots a video of a blue LFA that is still making the rounds during what seems to be Touristenfahrten times. However, Dale can only add moving pictures, again, there is no hard information.

With all options exhausted, it’s time for the absolutely last resort in news-gathering: Pick up the phone, call Toyota. When I call them, they have never heard of the baby blue LFA. I send them a few links, now they have.

They promise to ask around, and an hour later, Toyota spokesman Joichi Tachikawa says that “this test was part of the many research activities” Lexus conducts, never mind the fact that the LFA production is going into its home stretch and won’t extend beyond 2012, there still remains work to be done.

That means that at least the House of Thani theory is debunked. The rest of the fantastic prose is debunked also, as my contact convincingly claims that no detail was ever released. Therefore, all that was written in the sundry blogs is without basis.

As far as the LFA is concerned, I am sorry that I leave you as smart as before. However, you have learned one thing: How not to write supercar stories.

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