June 23 2010: a 67-year-old man died in a car crash on a German highway. The man was Hiromu Naruse and he was Toyota's chief test driver. Since 1963, he had been involved with such great cars as the 2000GT, the Supra and the MR2. The car he was driving when the crash happened was a version of the $350,000 Lexus LFA supercar.
According to reports, Naruse veered out of his lane and hit an oncoming car. This vehicle contained two test drivers working for BMW. Both were seriously injured, one is still in critical condition at the time of writing.
The area of Germany where this accident took place is centered around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a daunting 14-mile track with over 100 corners. It is used as a test facility for many car companies, especially the higher-end ones. Even Cadillac cars have been put through their paces there.
Because of the work of Naruse and others like him, we can all enjoy cars that are simultaneously a joy to drive and far safer than they used to be. A well-tuned suspension will provide grip, traction and information, and it will behave in a predictable manner at every turn.
Naruse was well respected throughout the automotive industry. Naruse was well respected throughout the automotive industry. Ferrari called him the "Nur Meister" which means "one and only master craftsman" and referred to him as "the man who knows all the world's roads."
Here's a small insight into Naruse's typical working day:
"When we raced the LFA in Nardo, Italy, I thought I might not return to Japan alive. The purpose of this 'test' was to evaluate the car's durability at 200 mph for a long period. The race was in the dark with no lights on the track, plus there were birds flying at me. And imagine if a tire burst. We created the final LFA through these kinds of test experiences."
Most of us think that being a test driver would be such a cool job, but not many people can do it well. It requires a keen analytical mind, engineering knowledge, a profound sensitivity to a car's responses, a degree of fearlessness, patience, and many other traits. And there's always the chance that, like now, something terrible might happen.
So this is just to thank Hiromu Naruse, acknowledge his work, mark his passing and send thoughts to his family, and also to the BMW drivers and their families.