- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h is assembled in a unique Toyota factory in Japan that is dedicated exclusively to the production of hybrid vehicles.

The Kokura factory opened last year to build the hybrids, and engineers have devised a sterile environment worthy of an operating room to prevent dirt from contaminating delicate hybrid electric motors and other electronics components.

To create a particle-free environment in the plant, air pressure inside is kept higher than ambient pressure outside. Factory air is constantly being forced outside. This acts as a barrier to keep outside air from rushing in with any type of dirt or soot.

To optimize the atmospheric pressure control, interior pressures are raised as the vehicle travels down the assembly line toward completion. Thus air flows one way toward the end of the assembly line.

Components are taken one way through the plant, while airflow is directed in the opposite direction to again help minimize airborne particles, keeping them from settling on parts.

Production engineers designed the Kokura plant with ceilings lower than those in conventional factories. This helps to reduce the amount of airflow in the plant. Sensors constantly measure temperature and humidity to keep conditions inside consistent all year.

To further reduce dirt particles from floating around in the factory air, engineers installed a 3-meter waterfall that is claimed to reduce dust by 90 percent as it is trapped by the falling flow of water.

When a finished 250h rolls off the last stop on the assembly line, it is directed to an enclosed loading dock through an air lock that prevents particles from entering the plant. The entrance and exit of the loading dock are never open at the same time.

The HS 250h combines a 40-horsepower electric motor and a 147-horsepower gasoline engine for a combined total system output of 187 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission is mated to the motors. There is also a speed-reduction planetary gear system to create high power output in a relatively small package. Gear selection is accomplished with a shift-by-wire system that does away with shift cables.

The HS 250h gets an estimated 35 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. However, drivers can use the Eco mode in conjunction with a new hybrid system monitor and eco-driving indicator to improve on these numbers in certain conditions.

The HS 250h goes on sale later this summer with a base price of $34,200. Lexus is launching an unusual marketing effort to match the unique manufacturing of the vehicle: It has invited customers to post profiles for a chance to win a one-year lease.

The profile that received the most votes at DriveHS.com will also receive a weekend at a Fairmont resort and a Lexus hybrid living gift package. Every person who votes will be entered into a raffle drawing to win the use of a 2010 HS 250h for a year. For more information on the contest, consult the Web site.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009

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