The PlayStation Gran Turismo 6 Lexus, Subaru and Toyota vision concepts

GT6 Toyota

Back in 1992, Kazunori Yamauchi, along with a group of 7 other individuals, set out to develop the original Gran Turismo racing video game for the Polyphony Digital subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment. Five years later, the initial game, for the original PlayStation game console finally went on sale to favorable reviews and an adoring public.

As part of the 15th Anniversary celebration of that late-1997 original release, Yamauchi-san issued an Olympian challenge to the world’s carmakers with a single question: “Would you be willing to design your rendition of Gran Turismo for us?” The videogame’s name “Gran Turismo” (GT) refers to a 2-door sport car, known as a Grand Touring car in the English-speaking automotive world. As the official Gran Turismo 6 Vision GT page reveals, 23 car brands, 3 Italian carrozzeria (Bertone, Italdesign Giugiaro and Zagato) and even 2 sporting apparel brands (Jordan and Nike) answered the call.

Mercedes-Benz has taken it one step further and, on Wednesday 20 November 2013 at the Los Angeles Auto Show press conferences, unveiled the actual, physical Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo Concept, albeit as a 1:1-scale model with no powertrain. (In the game the 3053-lb mid-front engined coupe is powered by a 577 horsepower, twin-turbocharged V8 producing 590 lb/ft of torque).

That Mercedes is hardly expected to be the only GT6 concept to make the jump from virtual presence on a video screen to physical, palpable reality, for the rumor mill suggests that the second will be from no less than…

TOYOTA
Two weeks after the Mercedes Vision GT6 concept reveal, new Vision GT renderings from a number of carmakers, including Toyota and Subaru, were first brought to our attention via Autoblog. Toyota’s rendering, shown at the top of the story, has a silhouette that seems to foretell a much-rumored Mark V Supra. Fanning the flames of the rumormill is no less than Joe Clifford of the official Toyota United Kingdom blog, who, on Thursday 12 December 2013 wrote that

This is the only image available at the moment but any talk of Toyota and new sports cars always leads to speculation on the introduction of a spiritual successor to the Supra.

We never comment on speculation but it’s clear that there are familiar proportions in the shape of the silhouette…

Yours truly’s gut feeling and suspicion is that the Toyota press conference at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show (to be held on Monday 13 January 2014 at 8:50 AM Eastern time) will reveal a Toyota Supra Vision Gran Turismo Concept of some sort.

GT6 Subaru

SUBARU
The closest thing to a Gran Turismo coupe that Subaru has ever built for production is the Thunderbirdesque, Giugiaro-designed SVX. The Vision GT Subaru shown above, however, recalls a far more recent concept from the carmaker: the Cross Sport Design Concept that debuted at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. The bare-bones teaser blurb Subaru released 3 weeks before its unveiling hardly hinted at this cladding-bedecked BRZ shooting brake that, for this author, was probably the biggest unexpected surprise of the show. The second attempt (after the FT-86 Open concept) at expanding the BRZ / GT 86 / FR-S body style repertoire beyond the production coupe has seemingly been made sleeker and, thankfully, lost the side cladding and pseudo-SUV soft-roader styling cues from the Cross Sport Design Concept. Or are we, possibly, seeing some hints around the nose at what a mid-life facelift or even next-gen model of the Toyobaru coupe might look like?

GT6 Lexus

LEXUS
Although the big Wednesday 4 December 2013 reveal unveiled the bulk of the Vision GT teaser renderings from the participating brands, a number of them remained unseen at that point. Among them: Lexus’, which quietly appeared later in December and is shown above. A number of its design elements, such as the triangular layout of the 3-dot headlights, the roofline and the particular shade of red recall the much-praised LF-LC Concept, albeit in a super-wide-body rear quarter variant with cartoonishly large rear tires. Are exaggeratedly wide rear fenders becoming a new Lexus concept car fetish?

…and Daihatsu, too
Among the 7 Vision GT teaser renderings that, as of this writing, remain unseen is Daihatsu’s. Frankly, we can’t help but wonder what this not particularly enthusiast-oriented small car and SUV specialist – majority-owned by Toyota – is doing here. Their only loosely GT-ish model is the Copen retractable-hardtop 2-seat roadster kei microcar that went out of production last year. The colorful trio of Kopen concepts the carmaker unveiled at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show should probably provide the basis or inspiration for Daihatsu’s baby GT.

Toyota Builds New R&D Center In China While Enthusiasm Fades

方案一(外立面)
Once again, we proudly bring you a report – this time from China – by Bertel Schmitt.

Toyota today broke ground for a new R&D Center in China. The center is in the TEDA free trade zone in the port city of Tianjin, where Toyota has a factory with its Chinese joint venture partner FAW. The center alone isn’t big news, even if it triggers “giving away know-how to the Chinese” knee jerks. Most OEMs engaged in China have R&D facilities in the Middle Kingdom, GM has a few.

No3The story is interesting for another aspect. Ever since last year’s anti-Japanese riots in China and the subsequent drastic drop of market share of Japanese auto brands in China, enthusiasm of Japanese automakers for the alleged growth market China has markedly cooled off. Last year’s riots caused bigger volume losses at Japanese carmakers than the tsunami and the Thai flood. Sales are slowly clawing back to former levels, but it is a rough and costly exercise.

方案一南侧(预留为草地)With a share of around 21 percent, Japanese-branded cars dominated the foreign-branded sector in China. This has changed. Buoyed by a new wave of nationalism, and by gain in quality and comfort, Chinese brands accounted for slightly over 4 million units in the first seven months of 2013, translating into 40.41% of the market. German-branded cars now hold 19.60% of the market, Americans 15.14%, Japanese 12.33%, Koreans 9.12% and French 3.17%.

方案一北侧(预留为活动场)With Japanese-branded cars having given up nearly half of their market share in China, Japanese carmakers are quietly deemphasizing China. Toyota delayed planned investments in China and is not planning any new ones for the time being. When talking to executives of Japanese OEMs, it is hard not to notice how they suddenly talk all about South-East Asia and India, and about China only if they absolutely have to.

While Chinese exuberance definitely isn’t what it used to be, those R&D centers will be and have to be built. The world’s largest car market has its peculiarities that want to be addressed. Joint venture brands demand their share of research and development: Toyota works, not with much enthusiasm, on the “Ranz” brand for electric vehicles in China. And lastly, the Chinese government wants it that way. Every year or so, a draft regulation is floated that limits government car sales to Made-in-China cars, and to companies that spend at least 3 percent of their Chinese sales volume on R&D in China. These regulations usually fade away, or are ignored. After all, Chinese makers usually spend less than 3 percent on R&D, and taken seriously, those regs would leave Chinese functionaries without wheels.

No1

Article and Photos 2 & 5 – Bertel Schmitt
Photo renderings 1, 3 & 4 – Toyota

Lexus to offer 9 hybrid lines by 2014

williamsen-2The Center for Automotive Research (CAR), defined by Wikipedia as “a nonprofit research organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that conducts research, forecasts trends, develops new methodologies, and advises on public policy” is probably best known among industry geeks like yours truly for its annual Management Briefing Seminars, “an annual gathering of more than 900 auto industry, academic and government leaders addressing critical issues and emerging trends in an inviting atmosphere designed to build relationships” (again, per Wikipedia). Although dismissed by Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo in his Tuesday 6 August 2013 Rants as “a self-important event that provides a forum for people from the auto industry who talk too much without really having anything substantive to say (that is full of) searing hot air generated by all of the pontificating going on”, it will, on occasion, produce interesting revelations of substance. Case in point: an address during this year’s Designing for Technology session at the Management Briefing Seminars by national manager of strategic education support for Lexus International Paul Williamsen (pictured above).

If Mr. Williamsen’s name sounds familiar, it’s because it was he who provided us with definitive information (not to mention a very handy rendering) on the Aisin AZ6-derived TL70 manual transmission that graces the Subaru BRZ and its Toyota-badged stablemates back in April 2012. As reported by Christie Schweinsberg of WardsAuto, Paul Williamsen noted that

Lexus…now is planning to offer nine hybrid nameplates worldwide in 2014, rather than the eight models it said were planned during last year’s New York auto show…

Lexus already offers the hybrid ES, as well as hybrid versions of its IS, GS and LS sedans and RX cross/utility vehicle. The brand also sells the CT 200h dedicated hybrid.

Lexus offers a total of nine nameplates across its range, but it’s unlikely the GX and LX SUVs in their current form would receive hybrid variants, as such versions of competing models have not sold well.

General Motors is blaming poor sales for the phaseout of its Cadillac Escalade SUV hybrid after the ’13 model year. WardsAuto engine-installation data shows just 3% of all Escalades built for the ’12 model year were hybrids

Agreed on the 6 hybrid lines noted above and the high unlikelihood of GX and LX hybrids appearing next year (especially after the collapse of the Ford/Toyota truck hybrid collaboration), but what are the other 3 hybrid lines available by the end of calendar year 2014? Surprisingly enough, Ms. Schweinsberg, a well-regarded journalist whose review of the 2nd-gen Lexus IS won a Detroit Press Club Foundation International Wheels Award in the General Interest Magazine/Special Interest Publication Product Review category in 2006, dropped the ball here, vaguely suggesting that

Lexus’ still-to-be-named hybrids could be all-new models, such as a production version of the LF-LC concept from the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A Lexus official confirmed to WardsAuto in March the vehicle was bound for showrooms to satisfy consumer demand.

Other media reports have said the Lexus LF-CC concept is marked to become a production model, with a variation of the GS 300h hybrid’s powertrain.

Nay on the first one (we don’t see a production version of LF-LC debuting next year), yay on the second (but we know it will bear the RC moniker in production). In fact, press reports have suggested that the RC 350 and a companion RC 300h (or, possibly, RC 450h) will debut at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show in late November of this year, followed by a V8 RC F in January 2014 at the Detroit Auto Show. The eighth Lexus hybrid? The trademarked NX 300h, the RAV4-derived sub-RX Lexus crossover that is rumored to appear as an LF-NX concept predictor at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, followed by the production version debut at the March 2014 Geneva Motor Show. And the ninth and final Lexus hybrid? The not-so-new HS 250h which, although discontinued in North America, carries on in Japan, complete with spindle grill mid-life facelift.

An expanded motorsports role for Lexus?
Beyond the “guess the 9 hybrids” riddle and a recap of recent new artistic and media initiatives, what this author sees as, by far, the most significant and far-reaching comments by Mr. Williamsen are that

He also hints Lexus will be expanding its role within motorsports, citing the 2012 and 2013 entries of the IS-F in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb challenge as a good sign that racing will become a bigger part of Lexus’ future.

“In the premium luxury segment, there is a strong motivation among buyers to pay attention to performance,” Williamsen says, noting greater motorsports participation could be an important selling tool for distributors and dealers.

Amen and hallelujah to that, but what form would this initiative take? And what series to compete in? Discussing where Lexus has been in the past in motorsports and where it could go in the future sounds like an article that could easily eclipse our last major treatise on the subject, the 3743-word Toyota returns to Le Mans and World Endurance Racing! as the longest article ever to appear on Kaizen Factor. Thus, we’ll leave that discussion for another day…

Toyota Launches Hybrid Corolla, Keeps It In Japan

Longtime Kaizen Factor readers are probably well aware of our deep respect for and debt of gratitude towards Asia-based, English-writing automotive correspondents whose scoops, insights and opinions have informed a number of our stories. Chief among them are freelance journalist Peter Lyon, Automotive News’ Asia editor Hans Greimel and former editor-in-chief of The Truth About Cars Bertel Schmitt, whose personal and insightful report on the Japanese domestic market launch of the Toyota Corolla Axio Hybrid sedan and Corolla Fielder Hybrid wagon we are very pleased and privileged to bring you.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -143

Today, Toyota launched its hybrid version of the Corolla in Tokyo. It was done in the trademark frugal style of Toyota JDM car launches: A sparse meeting room in the building that houses Japan’s auto manufacturer association JAMA, a PowerPoint projector, a small bottle of water per reporter, that was it. No smoke, no dancing girls, the cars had to be viewed outside in the driveway. If you are used to the hullabaloo of American car launches, you would have been shocked. If you are part of the Tokyo press corps, you don’t know it any other way. TMC’s hefty profits have a few reasons, and cutting out of muda, elimination of the dreaded waste, is one of them.

Toyota’s 11th generation Corolla was launched onto the Japanese market in May 2012, with a spiffier and bigger U.S. model following a few months ago (this time with American aplomb). Much to the chagrin of parts of the media, no hybrid versions of the Corolla were offered. Today, with as little fanfare as possible, this was changed. At least as far as the Japanese market is concerned.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -096When the new Corolla was launched in 2012, the thinking at TMC went that 21.4 km/liter for the Axio sedan with idling stop (stop-start) was frugal enough. The Japanese customer, however, had a different opinion, and demanded a hybrid powertrain, Toyota’s deputy chief engineer Hiroshi Nakamura tells me on this hot and muggy Tokyo morning. Toyota went on a crash program. In a record one year and two months, the Corolla had a hybrid powertrain, and the demanding Japanese customer sees its wishes fulfilled.

Equipped with Toyota’s 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter THS II hybrid system with reduction gear, both the Axio sedan version and the Fielder wagon variant of the Corolla achieve a fuel efficiency of 33.0 km/liter under Japan’s (notoriously optimistic, we spare you the EPA conversions) JC08 test cycle. The results come very close to the Prius c (sold in Japan as the Aqua), which sports a 35.4 km/l rating.

TMC’s engineers shrunk the formerly bulky hybrid system down to a compact package that easily fits into a compact car without taking up precious space, leaving interior room and trunk space unimpeded by the hybrid system. Hybrid battery and fuel tank are tucked away under the rear seat. The tank lost only 6 liters (1.6 gallons) versus the all-gasoline model, and it wasn’t much of a sacrifice. The theoretical range of the hybrid Axio is 1,188 km (738 miles) on a single tank, 289 km (179 miles) more than the all-gasoline model.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -124The cost of the hybrid system has come down, but it still comes at a premium. When the regular Axio went on sale last year, it started at 1,357,000 yen. The hybrid version costs upwards from 1,925,000 yen, remaining below the psychologically important 2 million yen (US$20,000) barrier. The Hybrid G Aerotourer WxB special edition Corolla Fielder with a stylish black interior and a faux carbon fiber dash costs 2,340,000 yen.

It may have taken Toyota only a year and two months to react to the market forces, but they have been evident for a while. Toyota’s Prius has been on top of Japan’s sales charts since 2009. It recently has been toppled by its Aqua sibling, which is sold in the U,.S. as the Prius c. In the first seven months of the year, the Aqua sold 160,993 units in Japan, followed by the Prius with 155,539 units. Taken together, the Prius and the Aqua, a.k.a. Prius c, sell three times more than the 3rd-placed Nissan Note in Japan. In the much larger U.S. market, all Prii together sold 138,477 units January through July, that’s less than half of the Japanese volume. The market share of all hybrid cars wallows in the 3 percent range in the U.S.

This may be the reason why the hybrid Corolla should remain a Japanese phenomenon until further notice. Toyota’s spokesfolk said today that there are no plans to sell a hybrid Corolla outside of the country, and that the Prius is seen as carrying the hybrid flag for a while. As the example of the Corolla shows, these opinions can change with the market, and with sinking price premiums of the hybrid system.

The hybrid Corolla will be built in Toyota’s Miyagi plant, which assembles hybrid cars for the first time. 2,500 units of the monthly run rate of 8,000 JDM Corollas are expected to sell with the hybrid power-train. The car can use a little lift in Japan. The global bestseller is an also-ran at home in Nippon. On the January through July Japanese sales chart, the Corolla sits in rank 8.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -116

Article and all photos by Bertel Schmitt

The upcoming 3rd-gen Toyota Harrier: it’s NOT a preview of the 4th-gen Lexus RX

Toyota Harrier 1
A bare-bones Japanese language Toyota news release linking to a page on the Toyota Japan website promising a new Harrier crossover SUV in winter 2013 led to a stream of predictions that we were looking at the 4th-generation of the Lexus RX – minus the spindle grille – based on the historic relation between the two models. And this was no mere shadowy teaser, but included 4 clear pictures of a dark violet-blue-gray vehicle (three of which illustrate this article) with clear stylistic ties to its predecessors.

So, are they correct, or off base? OK, so the title of this article is a huge, in-your-face giveaway spoiler as to what this author thinks, but please stay with us as we justify why our opinion flies in the face of much of the Internet punditry. After all, yours truly has been down this road before – almost 9 years ago, to be precise – debunking erroneous notions that the original Toyota Mark X was the 2nd-generation Lexus IS.

First, though, a review of the historic relation between essentially similar Lexus and Toyota models is in order. In terms of origins, these fall into two broad categories:

Conceived as a Lexus, but badged as a Toyota in Japan
Born of the F1 (“Flagship One”) initiative to create a large luxury vehicle to challenge the world’s best, the original Lexus LS launched Toyota’s international luxury brand, with sales starting in the United States in September 1989. With the Lexus brand not appearing in the Japanese market until 26 July 2005, however, there was an almost 16-year period which saw an at times convoluted relationship between the international Lexus models and their Toyota-badged variants for Japan. Japanese dealers began clamoring for their version of the Lexus LS, which appeared at Toyopet Stores barely a month after its U.S. debut bearing the Toyota Celsior badge. The late 2006 debut of the XF40 4th-generation Lexus LS saw the end of Toyota Celsior badging.

A high-end luxury sedan begs for a GT coupe counterpart, right? Thus work began on the E-segment Lexus SC at Toyota’s Calty Design Research center in California, leading to a June 1991 unveiling. In Japan it appeared around the same time as the 3rd (Z30) iteration of a familiar badge: Toyota Soarer. The Soarer name carried on into the Japanese version of the 2nd-generation (Z40) Lexus SC until the July 2005 Japanese rollout of the Lexus dealer network. Then, the Toyota Soarer simply changed badges and carried on as a Lexus until its ultimate demise as a production car in July 2010 and as a Super GT racer at the end of the 2011 season.

Toyotas rebadged as Lexus for export
Toyota soon realized that a single F-segment high-end large luxury sedan such as the Lexus LS / Toyota Celsior was not enough to sustain a dealer network, and hastily adapted the V20 (2nd-generation) Toyota Vista 4-door pillared hardtop (itself a Toyota Camry variant) as the original Lexus ES 250. This 2-year stopgap was replaced by the XV10 2nd-generation Lexus ES with a new Toyota Windom equivalent. Both were launched in September 1991. The ES/Windom relation continued until the debut of the XV40 5th-generation Lexus ES in February 2007, at which point the Toyota Windom died and the Lexus ES became a model built but not sold in Japan.

After the rear-wheel-drive F-segment Lexus LS sedan and the E-segment Lexus SC coupe, an E-segment sedan seemed like a natural next step for Lexus. After Calty designer Erwin Lui’s unorthodox tactic of using plaster-filled balloons to achieve the original SC coupe’s rounded, voluptuous shapes, Toyota did something just as unexpected: hire Italy’s famed Italdesign Giugiaro to design a new Crown derivative, the Toyota Aristo, which was unveiled in Japan in October 1991. Its Lexus GS counterpart for export began production in February 1993. The twin Aristo/GS continued for a second generation, known as S160, until the introduction of the 3rd-generation (S190) Lexus GS at the January 2005 Detroit Auto Show and the Japanese introduction of the Lexus brand over 6 months later killed the Toyota Aristo.

Lexus’ first foray into the world of sports utility vehicles was with the Lexus LX line, essentially fancier, high-luxe versions of the largest Toyota Land Cruisers, starting with the 1996 model year only for export. In a notable twist, however, the 2nd-generation (J100) Lexus LX was sold in Japan as the Toyota Land Cruiser Cygnus. The Cygnus badge didn’t survive past the 2007 model year.

The increasing popularity of European-style, enthusiast-friendly D-segment sports sedans led to the creation of the iconic Toyota Altezza in October 1998. The following year, its Lexus IS-badged counterpart first appeared in Europe. Alas, the original Altezza/IS lasted but a single generation, and the Altezza badge was laid to rest in March 2005 with the advent of the 2nd-generation (XE20) Lexus IS (although we once wondered if the Altezza badge was worthy of reviving).

Yes, just about every Toyota-badged Lexus introduced before 2005 has been relegated to history, with one exception…

Toyota Harrier 2

Harrier: the last remaining Toyota-to-Lexus model
Although previewed in concept form by the Lexus-badged SLV, the world’s first D-segment luxury crossover (car-based) SUV actually first went into production as the Toyota Harrier in December 1997, 3 months before being exported as the Lexus RX. Harrier and RX were near-identical twins during their first (XU10) and second (XU30) generations, the latter having first gone on sale in February 2003. As the 3rd-generation (AL10) Lexus RX appeared in November 2008 and finally entered Japanese showrooms, Toyota chose not to discontinue the Harrier. Rather, it carried on, virtually unchanged, in the Japanese domestic market, a fact that slipped under many radars.

In a sense, the seeds for this story were sown back in December 2012, when yours truly, researching something on the Toyota Japan site, accidentally stumbled upon a now dead Harrier page. If memory serves correctly, it was then available only with a single engine offering: the 2AZ-FE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, a fact tacitly confirmed by the Batfa.com website.

Thus, Japanese consumers have, in a sense, the option of choosing between showroom-new 2nd-gen or 3rd-gen Lexus RXs, with the former bearing a Toyota badge and using a smaller, less powerful engine. Such a situation isn’t as unusual as you’d expect. Volkswagen is probably the champion in this regard, with buyers in China, Mexico and South Africa, off the top of our head, able to choose from multiple generations of Golfs, Jettas and Passats off the new car showroom floor. It isn’t unusual for European carmakers such as Opel, Fiat and Peugeot/Citroën to offer, for a period, decontented cheaper versions of soon-to-be-superseded models alongside their better-equipped, more expensive successors. And, in North America, Chevrolet has been known to continue building older versions of Malibus and Impalas for fleet and rental markets alongside the newer consumer-oriented versions.

With Toyota having chosen to continue offering the Harrier in Japan and the current version having remained virtually unchanged for over a decade, it’s no wonder we’re now looking at a successor. Just how much do we know at this point, though?

Hybrid-only or not?
Although recently down to a single 4-cylinder gasoline engine choice, the Toyota Harrier has previously offered the options of the 1MZ-FE 3-liter V6 and the gasoline-electric hybrid version of its larger 3MZ-FE 3.3-liter V6 sibling. It takes only the barest of glances to spot the prominent HYBRID badges on the front fenders of the newest Harrier, so we’re definitely seeing the return of the Harrier Hybrid. But will the Harrier go hybrid-only for the next generation? Hard to say for sure, but there’s certainly a strong case that it could. For one, the latest 7th-generation (XV50) Toyota Camry for the Japanese market has evolved into a niche Hybrid-only vehicle, the largest such front-wheel-drive model in Toyota’s domestic stable. Further, none of the Japanese domestic market’s crossover SUVs currently offer a hybrid version. The Highlander/Kluger? That hasn’t been sold in Japan since the advent of the second generation in mid-2007. The RAV4? The newest 4th-generation version has yet to go on sale there even with gasoline engines, let alone as a hybrid that the rumor mill says is an iffy proposition. And what about the other Toyotas conceptually closest to the Harrier: the American Venza and its similarly-styled smaller Japanese sibling, the Mark X Zio? Nope, no hybrids there, either.

And what powertrain would a Harrier Hybrid use? Our best guess is the 2.5-liter 2AR-FXE 4-cylinder unit from the latest Camry Hybrid.

Facelift or all-new sheetmetal? A brief styling analysis.
Looking at the new Harrier, especially the side view and greenhouse, is giving us a very strong case of déjà vu. Is this all-new sheetmetal? Or simply an extensive facelift on the existing Harrier akin to those applied to the current 4th-generation Lexus LS for 2013 or to the previous 3rd-generation Toyota Avalon for the 2011 and 2012 model years?

The fixed glass pane on the trailing edge of the rear doors is more akin to the outgoing Harrier/2nd-gen Lexus RX than to the latest RX, which replaces this glass with a thicker C-pillar. Yet, details such as the greenhouse and side window shapes, fender and lower door sill shapes and sculpturing appear closer but hardly identical to the latest Lexus RX. Thus, we’ll conclude that we’re looking at new sheet metal, albeit styled in a very familiar way.

Toyota Harrier 3Up front is where the Harrier shows the most marked departure from its predecessor. Beneath the prominent chrome brow on the leading edge of the hood is an upper grille that, to this author, looks like a translucent throwback to the late 1980s-to-mid 1990s light bars found on Mercury Sable and Pontiac Grand Prix models of the era. The shape of the large lower grille follows current Toyota styling trends, and is especially reminiscent of the latest Avalon. Pretty distant from the current Lexus spindle grille look, we’d say.

When is the 4th-gen Lexus RX due, anyway?
Writers speculating on whether we’re about to see a new Lexus RX are ignoring that model’s product cadence. The 3rd-generation went on sale in February 2009 as a 2010 model and received the larger spindle grille as part of a mid-life facelift in Spring/Summer 2012 for the 2013 model year. Thus, we’d be quite surprised if a 4th-generation RX appeared any sooner than late 2014 or during the 2015 calendar year as a 2016 model. Besides, Lexus’ current priorities are launching its 2 newest model lines, the RC coupe and the NX smaller crossover SUV.

Any hopes for a Toyota Harrier/Lexus RX reconvergence? Sorry, but that train left in early 2009, and this new Harrier, if anything, shows that its path is veering further than ever from that of its formerly near-identical twin.

Is the “Supra revival” really dead? Not so fast…

Ushiyamada-sanLast month, we commented on Mike Connor of Motor Trend‘s May 2013 print edition good news/bad news MT Confidential column. Good news because it predicts a Mercedes SLK, BMW Z4, and entry-level Porsche Boxster-rivalling small Lexus roadster. Bad news because, in Connor’s words,

News that BMW and Toyota will collaborate on a new sports car platform had the Nagoya fanboys drooling over the possibility of the return of the Supra. Not gonna happen…So why no Supra? It just doesn’t make sense…There’s a strong faction within Toyota that still regards cars like the Supra as a waste of time, given the boom-and-bust sales performance of previous editions…The other problem is where the Supra would fit into the Toyota lineup, particularly in the U.S., where the GT86 is sold as a Scion and a $45,000 Toyota sports car would be a headache for dealers…

Less than a week ago, however, Bloomberg‘s Masatsugu Horie attended a gathering of members of the Keidanren, Japan’s biggest business lobbying group and noted that

Toyota Motor Corp.’s incoming chairman said he wants the sports car the company is developing with BMW to be a mid-sized vehicle comparable to the discontinued Supra.

Takeshi Uchiyamada has been telling people that Toyota’s next sports car should be like the Supra so that it doesn’t overlap with the 86 coupe…

This was, of course, followed by disclaimers from both Uchiyamada himself

Still, such decisions are up to engineers…That’s what I want but it’s not me who makes the decision…It’s futile if we make something similar to the 86

and from Toyota spokesman Naoto Fuse, who simply stated that “nothing has been decided”.

Sure, Uchiyamada-san may be right, in typical, self-effacing Japanese teamwork fashion, not to mention that BMW is an equal partner on this sports car collaboration, but you can bet that the Toyota chairman’s preferences have to carry some extra weight in the discussions. As an aside, the “father of the Prius” physicist/engineer Takeshi Uchiyamada’s ascension to Toyota’s Chairman of the Board (made official on Friday 14 June) is definitely a good thing for us car enthusiasts, and a welcome change from his “bean counter-mentality” lawyer predecessor Fujio Cho.

Another Kaizen Factor article that appears to be particularly relevant to this discussion is our commentary on Vernon Sarne of Top Gear Philippines’ October 2012 interview with Tetsuya Tada. Tada-san (Toyota’s chief engineer for the joint Toyota/Subaru sports car project that led to the widely acclaimed Subaru BRZ and its Toyota iterations variously badged as Scion FR-S, Toyota GT 86 or, simply, Toyota 86) then noted that

…the 86 is just the first of three sports cars that Toyota is planning to roll out, and that the 86 is the middle of the two in terms of market positioning. The first is more mass-market and cheaper than the 86, and the third is more upmarket than the 86.

We went on to note that

Toyota renewed the Supra trademark on 16 July 2010. Trademarks carry a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision for a period of time after its filing. This author was always under the impression that it was 5 years, but Car and Driver‘s Justin Berkowitz swears that it is, in fact, 3 years…Given that time frame, might Toyota once again lose the Supra trademark? Not necessarily, for Toyota can either renew it or, perhaps, slap the Supra badge on a concept predictor for the eventual production car and thus safeguard it that way.

We’re betting on the latter, and 2013 just happens to be an odd-numbered year that sees major auto shows in Frankfurt, Germany (roughly 190 miles from BMW’s Munich headquarters) starting on 10 September and Tokyo, Japan starting on 20 November. The latter certainly seems to be the ideal venue for unveiling a Toyota FT-Supra V concept.

Don’t, however, expect to run to your Toyota dealer to buy a Mark V Supra any time soon. As Tada-san told Vernon Sarne,

…nothing is sure yet since (the) team is still in the process of conceptualizing the two other Toyota sports cars…it takes five years to develop a sports car from conceptualization to production, as compared with the three years it normally takes to develop a regular vehicle.

Add to that the extra complications of coordination between Munich and Toyota City, and we’d be pleasantly surprised if a reborn Supra would hit the showrooms any sooner than 2018 or 2019. Until then, we might have to settle for a stream of concepts à la Toyota FT-86 or Lexus LFA. And, speaking of the latter, we certainly hope it won’t turn into an elephantine nearly decade-long gestation period for a potential reborn Supra…

Photo of Takeshi Uchiyamada by Koichi Kamoshida of Bloomberg.

The Toy-ota goes topless

Toyota Camatte57s

Is it a given that Toyota and Lexus will unveil its production and concept vehicles at one of the major, A-list auto shows? Hardly. Of late, the carmaker has revealed new or updated vehicles in venues as diverse as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (4th-gen Lexus GS); Le Rendez-Vous Toyota showroom in Paris’ Champs-Elysées (WiWi Me.We concept); the Stagecoach Music Festival in Indio, California (mid-life facelift for the 5th-generation Toyota 4Runner); and even Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport in California (11th-generation Toyota Corolla sedan for North America). Oh, and exactly a year ago to the day, we wrote about the Camatte Sora and Camatte Daichi concepts that debuted at the 2012 Tokyo Toy Show. Now, for the 2013 iteration of said show, Toyota has prepared two new topless takes on the Toy-ota that “Even children can drive!”: the “regular” Camatte57s (shown above) and a far more aggressive and attractive-looking Customized Camatte57s Sport (shown below).

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Indeed, rather than receiving Japanese-language names that had us running to Google last year to decipher their meaning, a simple 57s denotes the new-for-2013 sportier topless Camattes. But what is the significance of that number? A homage to the iconic Bugatti Type 57S? Anything to do with Heinz 57 Sauce? No, and no. Rather, as Toyota Global, Europe and USA news releases inform us, the 57 represents the number of body parts in the “regular” Camatte57s, while the “s” stands for the Japanese word sawaru, which means to touch. Add this to Camatte’s derivation from the Japanese word for “care”, meant to signify “caring for others” and “caring for cars”, and, in Toyota’s words, “the name thus reflects the idea that people should feel more in touch with each other and with vehicles.” You certainly can’t get much more touchy-feely than that.

And there we have, other than the toplessness, the main point of departure from last year’s Camatte Sora and Camatte Daichi concepts: rather than a lesser number of largish interchangeable assemblies, 57 individual, much smaller body parts (as shown below) fasten to a spaceframe-type construction via what Jalopnik commentator Old-Busted-Hotness hilariously referred to as “a lot of nipple rings”. As Jalopnik commentators StalePhish and Patrick Frawley, as well as Autoweek‘s Graham Kozak more seriously noted, though, this is essentially Toyota’s take on the mostly unfulfilled promise of spaceframe construction with non-structural body panels, as used by Renault (in their pioneering Espace minivan) and General Motors (in the “dustbuster” minivans from the early-to-mid-1990s, the original Saturn S-series and the Pontiac Fiero). As such, the Camatte57s may well have some untoy-like relevance to Toyota’s future, but please spare us the 10 gazillion nipple rings. There must be a better way to fasten all those body parts…

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Other aspects of the latest Camatte are similar to its predecessors, including the 1+2, McLaren F1-style seating with the child driver up front in the center and the adult passengers staggered behind. Or, in Toyota’s words,

Acceleration and braking pedals and seats can be adjusted to enable operation by children, while an adult seated in the rear-right seat assists steering and braking to help develop the child’s driving skills.

While sharing the 2012 Camatte’s electric motor and 1800mm (70.9″) wheelbase, the new 57s is 300mm (11.8″) longer, 200mm (7.9″) lower and 140mm (5.5″) wider than its predecessors.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a video worth a thousand pictures? Perhaps. At any rate, Toyota has provided not one but two videos for the Camatte57s. The first, appropriately titled Infinite Possibilities, is a whimsical look at how the multicolored hood in the picture atop this story is just the start. Imagine the whole car like that, or filled with an overwhelming polka dot pattern, or… perhaps we should warn you that the soundtrack can be as cloyingly eye-rolling annoying as some of the possibilities…

The second video is a demonstration of how 2 guys and a girl can attach the 57s body parts to the space frame in 1 minute and 45 seconds…

The small Lexus roadster. Is it happening after all?

Roadster-interior-2Never mind the upcoming Lexus NX small crossover, the IS-derived RC 2+2 sports coupe or even the rumored production version of the LF-LC concept expected to carry a 6-figure price tag. Forget any notions of a 3-row crossover SUV or a GS-derived 4-door coupe or even a CT F non-hybrid, AWD manual transmission hot hatch. If yours truly were only granted a single wish for a niche expansion of the Lexus lineup, it would be for a small 2-seat roadster (a fixed roof coupe would be OK as well) to take on the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Porsche Boxster/Cayman and the new Jaguar F-Type, and suggested as much back in July 2006 and, again, in July 2008. And when in June 2012 BMW and Toyota announced an expansion of their alliance to include the joint development of a sports vehicle,

Yours truly’s first thoughts were that the long sought-after small Lexus roadster would finally see the light of day not as a Scion FR-S/Toyota GT86 derivative, but as a rebodied and re-engined next-gen BMW Z4 (a notion seconded by Glenn Brooks of just-auto)… Jack Rix of Auto Express envisioned a (rebodied, we hope) production version of Toyota’s MR2 Spider-derived, fugly and catfish-like GRMN Sports Hybrid Concept II twinned with a BMW-badged version that would sit in the ‘i’ range somewhere between the i3 and i8…

Even Georg Kacher, in his “future of BMW’s Project i” piece – written a month before the BMW/Toyota joint sports car announcement – unwittingly touches upon yet another possibility with this passage:

“What the BMW community would love instead is an affordable Z2 – think of it as BMW’s answer to the Toyota GT 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ triplets. This car could pick up what was lost when then Z3 became the Z4, but unfortunately the new compact roadster keeps being rejected by the board, primarily for pricing and positioning reasons. Even though it is now almost too late to sign off on a Z2 based on the purist rear-wheel drive 2 Series components set, the time will probably never be ripe for a front-wheel drive Z2 twinned with the next Mini Cooper S Roadster”.

What about making the BMW Z2 a reality by coupling it with a Lexus version that would compete with long-rumored production Volkswagen and Audi versions of the Concept BlueSport roadster? Sounds good awesome to us!

Alas, over time, Lexus USA officials emphatically shot down the notion of a small sports car, citing the segment’s overall dwindling sales numbers. Too small of a niche to bother with, in other words. Thus, it was a “Yessss!!! Hosanna! Hallelujah! Triumphant fist-pump, jump-up-and-down moment” when Mike Connor, in the MT Confidential column of Motor Trend‘s May 2013 print edition, wrote that

Sources in Japan say Toyota’s version (of the joint BMW/Toyota sports car) will actually underpin an all-new Lexus sports car, a suggestion that makes all the sense in the world given Akio Toyoda’s ambition to make Lexus a genuine global rival to the German lux-meisters. Whisper is the new Lexus will be positioned to compete with the Mercedes SLK, BMW Z4, and entry-level Porsche Boxster.

But wouldn’t BMW be shooting itself in the foot by aiding and abetting a competitor in creating a rival to its own Z4? Perhaps not, given that, nowadays, rival carmakers collaborate on all sorts of niche segment models from tiny Euro-centric A-segment city cars to European “large MPVs” (those approaching U.S. “minivan” size) to all manner of cargo vans. Affordable sports cars are no exception. Think not only the Subaru/Toyota collaboration that begat the BRZ/GT 86/FR-S triplets, but the fact that Mazda’s upcoming 4th-gen (ND) MX-5 Miata will be paired with an Alfa Romeo-badged variant. Motor Trend‘s Connor also echoes the issues raised by German journalist Georg Kacher 4 paragraphs above:

And why does BMW need a new sports car platform? It already has the Z4. True, but the Z4 shares a lot of hardware with the 3 Series, which is fast getting too big to be sliced and diced into a credible two-seat roadster. Sharing with Toyota allows BMW to economically decouple the Z4 platform from the 3 Series, and keep it sports car size. There’s another potential benefit: The new platform could also underpin a new 2 Series coupe as the next-gen 1 Series goes front drive. It would keep the 2 Series rear drive – vital to BMW’s sporty credentials – but, more important, also liberate it from using modified 3 Series hardware, which is getting too big, too heavy and – crucially – too expensive.

This plan, if true, would bring with it one bit of collateral damage: the death of any hopes for a revival of the Toyota Supra. As MT‘s Connor notes:

So why no Supra? It just doesn’t make sense…There’s a strong faction within Toyota that still regards cars like the Supra as a waste of time, given the boom-and-bust sales performance of previous editions… The other problem is where the Supra would fit into the Toyota lineup, particularly in the U.S., where the GT86 is sold as a Scion and a $45,000 Toyota sports car would be a headache for dealers…

Sounds like a lame excuse to us, given that Chevrolet dealers sell Corvettes that start at a bit over that and can balloon to more than twice those sticker price numbers, at which Nissan dealers will also happily sell you a GT-R. Yet, if the BMW-Toyota collaboration is to yield but a single Japanese sports car, it probably makes more sense (and profits) to badge it as a Lexus and not as a Toyota.

Dear Volvo: Toyota was first with i-ART

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Yours truly was inexplicably drawn to an Autoblog article titled Volvo promises new diesels, 8-speed auto. With a bare minimum of commentary, the “article” was, primarily, a cut-and-paste of a press release that included the following passage:

Volvo Car Group’s new engine family VEA (Volvo Engine Architecture) will be launched this autumn with world-first i-ART technology that helps to cut fuel consumption in the new diesel engines.

By featuring pressure feedback from each fuel injector instead of using a traditional single pressure sensor in the common rail, i-ART makes it possible to continuously monitor and adapt fuel injection per combustion in each of the four cylinders.

…”Each injector has a small computer on top, which monitors injection pressure. Using this information, the self-adapting i-ART system makes sure that the ideal amount of fuel is injected during each combustion cycle.”

The combination of higher injection pressure and i-ART technology gives the customer an engine with improved fuel economy, considerably lower emissions and high performance output as well as a powerful sound character.

Hmmm…i-ART? Pressure feedback from each fuel injector in a diesel? Improved fuel economy, considerably lower emissions and high performance output? This all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Indeed, it does, for we wrote about this back in October 2012, when we commented on Toyota’s 24 September 2012 TMC Announces Status of Its Environmental Technology Development, Future Plans press release.
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The i-ART (intelligent-Accuracy Refinement Technology) autonomous closed-loop diesel fuel injection control system, in fact, goes back even further than that, and was pioneered and first announced by Japanese supplier Denso (a part of the Toyota Group conglomerate) back in December 2011! Our prior article also noted that

In essence, this system equips each injector with a pressure sensor that communicates its fuel pressure to the engine ECU and, in doing so, significantly reduces exhaust emissions and increases fuel efficiency, compared with the conventional open-looped technology that does not have feedback function from the injectors. i-ART-equipped versions of the 3-liter 1KD-FTV 4-cylinder diesel debuted in the Brazilian market version of the Hilux pickup truck in April 2012.

Given this information, it strikes us as quite misleading that Volvo’s Vice President for Powertrain Engineering Derek Crabb has the gall to say that

i-ART technology…is a breakthrough comparable to when we invented the groundbreaking lambda sensor for the catalytic converter in 1976. It’s another world-first for Volvo”

Um… sure, Volvo deserves credit for the lambda sensor (and we’ll also give them credit for the illustrations and graphics that accompany this article), but i-ART is a world-second for the Swedish carmaker. Equally annoying is the fact that all the Volvo i-ART write-ups pretty much parrot the world’s-first angle, with one exception as of this writing: TheGreenCarWebsite.co.uk, whose Paul Lucas did note that i-ART was developed by Denso and that

It’s not the only time we will see the technology employed however: you can also look out for i-ART systems in Toyota’s forthcoming 3.0litre commercial diesel engines.

Well… perhaps forthcoming in Europe, but by the time i-ART Volvo diesels go on sale, Toyota will have been offering i-ART-equipped Hilux pickup trucks in, at least, Brazil for 1½ years!
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Is Spyker’s newest sports car powered by Toyota?

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On the fringes of the “top tier” of super sports car makers (think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and McLaren) that make their own engines for their much-admired creations lies another group of manufacturers that depend on larger outside carmakers for the powertrains that drive their exclusive boutique sports cars. The 1960s and 1970s saw a wealth of primarily Italian and British sports and GT cars (Iso, De Tomaso, Monteverdi, Intermeccanica and Jensen, among others, come to mind) that relied on Detroit 3 V8 power. Lotus’ sports car engines have, primarily, been tuned derivatives of Ford, Renault, General Motors and, most recently, Toyota engines. Supercars from Koenigsegg and Pagani are powered by variants of Ford and Mercedes/AMG engines. Even Aston Martin’s V12 started out as two Ford Duratec V6s mated together. And, tentatively returning from a near-death experience is Dutch-turned-British Spyker, whose multiple concepts and hyper-limited production cars (a 300+ production run over a dozen years makes even the Lexus LFA seem mass-produced by comparison) have been Audi-powered.

Spyker t_dashboard_resizedReeling from their “guppy trying to swallow a whale” attempt to buy the bankrupt Saab cars and currently down to a single C8 Aileron model, Spyker’s comeback is centered around the B6 Venator model shown throughout this story that just debuted at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. Most of the world’s automotive press simply and dutifully parroted the official Spyker news release in noting that it is propelled (pun half-intended) by a transversely-mounted, rear-mid-engined V6 delivering 375+ horsepower through a 6-speed automatic transmission of undisclosed parentage. As Motor Trend‘s Christian Seabaugh noted,

Given Spyker’s history of using Audi-sourced powertrains, we suspect the Venator is powered by Audi’s 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, which makes 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque in the S5.

Leave it to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dan Neil, however, to not only break the story in the Wall Street Journal of Spyker’s new less-expensive model, but to notice that

The Venator also bears a striking resemblance, in profile and in specification, to the Toyota-powered Lotus Evora S, though Mr. Muller declined to specify his powertrain supplier.

Spyker t_breaklight_resizedIndeed, a cursory glance at the Spyker B6 Venator reveals a number of Lotus Evora cues such as similar overall proportions, shallow doors, deep side sills, engine air intakes mounted high right behind the doors’ trailing edge, round taillights (albeit doubled up on the Spyker) and a padded rear shelf-cum-vestigial +2 rear seating. And a transversely-mounted rear mid-engine? Other than the Evora, the last time anybody attempted that in this segment was during the 1970s heyday of the Italian Ferrari Dino GT4 / Lamborghini Urraco / Maserati Merak triumvirate.

Comparing the meager numbers provided in the official Spyker Venator news release with the Lotus Evora specifications reveals close, but not spot-on wheelbase (98.4″/2500mm for the Spyker vs 101.4″/2575mm for the Lotus), overall length (171.1″/4347mm for the Spyker vs 171.2″/4350 mm for the “base” Lotus Evora and 171.7″ for the Evora S) and weight (under 3086 lbs/1400 kg for the fully carbon fiber-bodied Spyker vs 3179 lbs for a composite-bodied IPS automatic Lotus Evora S) numbers, with both carmakers using an all-aluminum platform. Autocar adds overall width numbers of 74.1″/1882mm for the Spyker vs 72.7″/1846mm for the Lotus.

Spyker t_exhaust_resizedWe use the above IPS automatic Lotus Evora S comparison advisedly, for the Spyker will seemingly be offered only with a 6-speed automatic, just like the Lotus’ optionally available IPS (Intelligent Precision Shift) transmission that is essentially the U660E 6-speed automatic transaxle used in front-wheel-drive V6 versions of the latest Toyota Avalon, Camry (including the Australian-built Aurion), Sienna and Venza, as well as Lexus’ ES 350 and RX 350. We remind you, though, that Lotus adds paddle shifters as well as sport and a full-manual mode that includes a lockup torque converter for 2nd-thru-top gear à la IS F. And the Spyker B6 Venator engine’s claimed 375+ hp is far closer to the Evora S engine (a Lotus-tweaked, 345 hp version of Toyota’s rare supercharged 2GR-FZE 3.5-liter V6 that debuted in Australia’s short-lived Aurion TRD) than to the base Evora’s naturally aspirated, 276 hp 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6.

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It should also be noted that the currently struggling Lotus Cars certainly hasn’t been averse to sharing its sports cars’ basic structure with other carmakers. The Elise/Exige fraternal twins form the foundation for vehicles as diverse as the battery electric Tesla Roadster and the “hypercar” Hennessey Venom GT, and a one-off 414E Hybrid concept version of the Evora evolved into the Infiniti Emerg-E concept that appeared at last year’s Geneva show. Thus, it certainly wouldn’t be unusual for Lotus to sell the Evora’s underpinnings to Spyker as the basis for their new B6 Venator model. But is the Evora S Toyota-sourced powertrain also included in the deal? Spyker staffers, from CEO Victor Muller on down, are keeping mum on this point. We should note, however, that a number of internet reports are stating a 3.5-liter capacity for that V6, even though the official Spyker news release doesn’t mention engine size. Add that to the web of circumstantial evidence pointing towards a Lotus Evora/Toyota connection for the B6 Venator.

Spyker t_leathertrim_resizedYet, we can’t disregard a clumsily-translated article from the 500autos.com site that suggests the Spyker B6 Venator’s roots lying not in the Lotus Evora but, instead, as a derivative of the stillborn, Henrik Fisker-penned Artega GT that was powered by a Volkswagen/Audi-sourced 3.6-liter V6, in keeping with Spyker’s affinity for Audi powerplants. Then again, Road & Track magazine’s Alex Kierstein asked Spyker chief commercial officer John Walton about the company’s larger, Audi V8-powered C8 Aileron model and got this surprising reply:

“[The Audi-sourced V8] really hasn’t got enough bang for the buck. To be honest, every supercar needs to have something that begins with a ’5′ today. That’s why we’re supercharging the car in the future, which will take it to over 500-hp.

“Our opportunity to develop that particular engine was really over. And I wanted to look at other opportunities, that weren’t necessarily always V8s.”

Does this mean it may be a forced induction V6, one of the options being considered for the yet-to-be-sourced powertrain for the Venator?…

“We’re not in any hurry to jump to the next generation. Having said that, the development work we’re doing with engine suppliers on the Venator allows us to actually look at slotting something into [the Aileron] too.”

Kierstein goes on to say that an engine supplier is not yet lined up, but it is notable that Spyker seemingly isn’t as wedded to Audi power, even in the larger C8 Aileron, as we once thought, a notion seconded by Car and Driver‘s Jens Meiners. Hopefully, Kierstein’s upcoming interview with Spyker CEO Victor Muller will shed some light on the subject, while Jalopnik‘s Máté Petrány suggests that “we will know more in a month’s time”. In the meantime, we will say that, quirky as the B6 Venator is from some angles, it’s definitely more compelling than another super-limited production, Toyota V6-powered rear-mid-engined luxury GT 2-seater, the Mitsuoka Orochi

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