Hot Stuff: Toyota’s Arizona Proving Ground (TAPG) Intro & Presentation

Odometer (Legend):  563,505

It’s a little ironic that a vehicle tested and developed almost exclusively at the one of the hottest places in the desert came to be painted in a color called “Windchill Pearl.”  That’s exactly what happened with the 2019 Toyota Avalon that was on display for the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) journalist group last night at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Now in its fifth generation, the Avalon continues to raise the bar ever-higher as Toyota’s flagship sedan.  Cory Tafoya, Principal Engineer from the Vehicle Performance Development team, walked PAPA members through a slideshow illustrating how Arizona’s test track has become such an important venue for not only the Avalon project, but for every Toyota model from the tiny iQ microcar to the six-figure supercar Lexus LC500.

Every automaker puts its prototype and in-development models through the rigors of hot weather testing, and for good reason.  Last December I was able to make a visit to one such track (but operated by Honda) in Cantil, California where I drove the new Acura NSX at 155 miles per hour on the oval.  Toyota’s oval is even longer at 10 miles in total distance – making it, in fact, the longest oval track in the world.

Located about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix, desert ground was broken for the new Toyota Arizona Proving Ground (or TAPG) in a 1991 ceremony.  The facility went on to become one of the largest of its kind, with nearly 80 miles of testing facilities across 12,000 acres.  In April 2018, it celebrated 25 years of being in operation.

Look at that Camry breaking new ground – figuratively and literally.

Test track in relation to Phoenix:

Speakers in the PAPA program included a few of the roughly 40 associates who work at the proving ground, as well as Technology Communications Analyst Brian Watkins who had flown in from Ann Arbor for the presentations.  Project Manager Richard Woodroffe gave an overview of track operations and fielded questions from the group regarding “typical day” workload tasks, security / surveillance, and a little about how the innovations at the track end up being incorporated into production vehicles.

DJ Quint then shared some fun sidebar stories about extracurricular activities that take place at the track – namely, participation in a small grassroots race team that campaigns a 2013 Scion FR-S (now badged as a Toyota 86) in a series of endurance races in the western United States.  Starting with limited resources and little race experience, DJ and his colleagues have gone on to successfully compete in 27 events over the last 4 years and aspire to take part in this year’s “24 Hours of Thunderhill” event in California later this year.

As for the Avalon, it’s come a long way since its 1994 model year debut.

My grandpa is 88 years old and has two Avalons (2000 and 2006).  Avalons are among the most reliable cars on the road today.  The new direction for Avalon is to inject some performance and “sport” into a model that historically has catered only to people like my grandpa.

Cory Tafoya is proud of the work he’s been able to do to the latest iteration, including large forward advancements in suspension technology called AVS (Adaptive Variable Suspension).  The 2019 model on display at the Art Museum was eye-catching and surprisingly sporty-looking with its aggressive lines, quad outlet exhausts, and LED lighting.

Now if only its “Windchill Pearl” color had brought Phoenix a cold front along with it.


14 Responses to “Hot Stuff: Toyota’s Arizona Proving Ground (TAPG) Intro & Presentation”

  1. You know, I really like some of Toyota’s design work recently. Their mainstream cars have veered toward the bland for so long… it’s nice to see some strong design cues with the Corolla, Camry, and now the Avalon.

    Seemed like a cool event! Was there anything you saw in the Avalon that you’d like to see trickle over to the Honda/Acura world?

    • I liked the instrument panel design and to me the car “feels” like > $48k but I heard from a few people that even the high trim level that was on display will come in at under $50k. So it’s a nice bang for the buck. My roommate is supposed to get one to road test for 7 days soon so I’ll have to try it out and get back with you! Happy Friday!

  2. The front end of the Avalon is just so cringeworthy. Glad they are trying to inject more fun into their new cars though. I am curious how well that will reflect Avalon sales, part of me thinks it should stick around as the “Japanese Buick” and part of me thinks that could be left to the larger Lexus models.

    In any case, Toyota of the mid-2000s is dying off and that is a good thing!

    • That’s some good insight – does the Avalon “target market” encroach upon any Lexus model sales? I wonder what Lexus model the pricing compares with – maybe ES or IS? Either way, I am not sure what the future holds for the model, but I do know that the development team is trying to differentiate the car with a variety of trim levels. So, there’s an XL for comfy grandpa-cruisers and the XSE for sport-minded folks, etc.

      Anyway – HAPPY FRIDAY!

  3. Toyota is quickly making me a new fan

  4. That Windchill Pearl color looks pretty nice! Now that I have a black car, I’m reminded that they get way too hot in the summer sun. So it appears your ILX has made a discreet return! Are you glad to have a modern car in the fleet again?

    • A keen eye you have! But, that picture of the ILX + 2 Avalons is actually from the 2014 photo vault! Grandpa still has the two Avs though. And the ILX will indeed make a return sometime between now and November when the tags are due. A grand event it will be, haha. Now get to polishing that black BMW 🙂

  5. Chris Miller Says:

    My cousin and I usually disagree on everything car related. He thinks GM cars are superior to foreign cars and every time I have to rescue him in a Honda I have to remind him he’s wrong.
    One thing we do agree on is the Avalon was made for old people. The first few generations screamed retirement homes and Grandkid haulers, and the last car before they died. So we both coined the phrase “Avalon, for those on their way home” 😂
    Maybe this next generation won’t fit the phrase. Time will tell I suppose.

  6. I am way behind covering this story. You got it out so quick. It was great getting this team together to hear about what goes on a little behind the scenes and where the new Avalon was developed.

    • I was mostly just super anxious to post that picture of the white 1992 Camry breaking through a banner. Gets my juices flowing like nothing else!

      • I had a 92 Camry. Gutless engine, but started up like clockwork. I even was running that car with busted springs. I eventually replaced them, but only when I had the funds lol.

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