Toyota creates plenty of buzz at Los Angeles Auto Show

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There has been a lot of buzz recently about the Los Angeles Auto Show and what new hybrid vehicles would be revealed. When it finally came time to take a look, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid was the big hit, but it wasn’t the only noteworthy reveal from Toyota.

The latest Highlander won’t hit dealerships until February 2014, but the three-row crossover, which seats seven, has the same muscular look in the front as its non-hybrid brother, but retains a sleekness on its side body. Size-wise, the car is about 3 inches longer and a half-inch wider this year than last.

The AWD vehicle pairs an electric motor with the same 3.5-liter V-6 as the previous model. Toyota claims the Highlander is good for 280 Horsepower and that its continuously variable automatic transmission is the sole transmission. Like last year’s vehicle, you’ll be able to cruise at low speeds on electric power only and still get the excellent gas mileage the hybrid boasts.

While the Highlander warranted much of the attention is got from critics at the LA show, it wasn’t the only stir Toyota was causing. The automaker also revealed its Driver Awareness Research Vehicle, which purports to help eliminate accidents altogether by reducing distractions to the driver.

“At Toyota, our focus is not only on protecting people in case of an accident, but also on preventing that accident from happening in the first place,” said Chuck Gulash, Director of Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center.  “While the auto industry will never eliminate every potential driver distraction, we can develop new ways to keep driver attention and awareness where it needs to be, (which is) on the road ahead.”

Gulash pointed out the more things drivers are putting in their vehicles to make driving easier (think a GPS system or other navigation screen), the easier it will be for them to become distracted. By partnering with Microsoft Research, Gulash believes Toyota can help reduce driver distractions before the key is even in the ignition. Using a system like Kinect, the car can put specific, highly personalized information for the driver on the side window when the driver approaches the car.

Then, by using a combination of gesture control, voice and key fobs, drivers can navigate through all kinds of information before they even get underway, the idea being that they’ll be able to put more attention on the road instead of on what the weather is going to like on their route.

“We need to start thinking of the car and the driver as teammates, sharing the common goal of saving lives,” said Gulash.  “The best teammates learn from each other.  They watch, listen and remember.  They adapt.  They communicate.  And they assist, as needed.  In doing so, over time, a foundation of trust is built.  Together, the teammates are building a common situational awareness of their driving environment.”

Where Toyota takes this information they find, and if cars will be equipped with such potentially life-saving information any time soon, remains to be seen, but at least you can purchase their latest hybrid, which is already earning raves, in just four short months.

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