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…

Is Spyker’s newest sports car powered by Toyota?

Spyker img-header04

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.

Spyker img-header01

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

Spyker img-header06

Should Toyota be considering a Yaris-derived, sub-RAV4 crossover SUV?

toyota-urban-cruiser-concept-photo-125459-s-1280x782

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, Toyota almost singlehandedly created 2 vehicle segments which would go on to become of pivotal importance in the automotive universe and spawn a plethora of imitators and competitors. The first of these is the compact crossover SUV, by definition a mix of sport utility vehicle (tall, station wagon or hatchback body with high ground clearance and all-wheel-drive at least optional) and car (unibody construction and car-like handling and fuel economy) attributes in a roughly C-segment size (4250mm-4600mm/167″-181″ overall length), pioneered by the Toyota RAV4 that made its debut in Japan and Europe in 1994, and began sales in North America in 1996. The following year, Toyota’s upmarket brand Lexus took the concept almost to the next-up D-segment size, added the marque’s typical luxury touches and meticulous construction and created the RX.

Successful as these models were, its creators in a sense rested on their laurels and, as the RAV4 and RX grew ever-larger with each successive generation, their many rivals saw opportunity in going smaller. After many years of hopes and rumors, Lexus finally saw the light and green-lighted the upcoming sub-RX, RAV4-derived NX 200t and NX 300h models to tackle the Acura RDX, Audi Q3, BMW X1 and upcoming Mercedes-Benz BLK. The Toyota brand itself, on the other hand, is seemingly oblivious to the fact that the RAV4′s upsizing march (the original 4-door, at 4150 mm/163.4″ overall length, was at the upper end of the mini/subcompact crossover segment, while the just-introduced 4th-generation version, at 4570mm/179.9″, is almost mid-sized and barely smaller than the Highlander) has opened the door for many of its competitors to plan the upcoming release of mini/subcompact crossovers derived from B-segment (think Toyota Yaris) models.

Among those leading the charge, curiously enough, is General Motors, with the Korean and Chinese-built Buick Encore due out next month, this being essentially a rebodied Chevrolet Sonic/Aveo for North America and China. Lest you think the Buick badge is too upmarket, Europe will see this as the Opel or Vauxhall Mokka, and its least expensive variant, the Chevrolet Trax will be sold in Mexico and Canada, but, notably, not in the United States. Ford has sold the “baby Escape” EcoSport in Latin America since 2003, and with the just-launched 2nd-generation version, the EcoSport joins the “One Ford” global initiative and branches out beyond Latin America and into India, for starters. Chrysler, meanwhile, is rumored to be planning a Fiat Panda-derived, Italian-built Jeep for the mini/subcompact SUV segment, perhaps replacing the Fiat Sedici (itself a rebadged Suzuki SX4) overseas.

Japan, too, has seen its share of rumblings and rumors. Honda has confirmed the appearance of a compact “Urban SUV Concept” vehicle at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. Given Honda’s penchant for so-called “concept vehicles” that are just thinly-disguised upcoming production models, this is widely predicted to be a peek at an upcoming sub-CR-V, Fit-derived mini crossover to be built in Mexico for the 2014 model year. Per Auto Express, Mazda is rumored to be working on a Mazda2-derived CX-3. And Nissan? Many pundits (including Wikipedia) figure it’s already there with the unexpectedly successful oddball mini SUV/rally car/hot hatch mashup Juke.

From Europe, the most prominent entry in this segment is, arguably, the MINI Countryman. Too much of a stretch from the original MINI ethos? This author certainly thinks so, yet it at least shows more effort than what often passes for a B-segment crossover SUV in Europe and Brazil: take a regular hatchback, raise the ride height, add black bodyside cladding and fender flares, throw in some faux skid plates front and rear, and you have Volkswagen’s current entry in this segment: the CrossPolo. Yet, VW seems to realize that it will eventually need a dedicated crossover SUV in this segment, as attested by the Taigun concept that debuted at Brazil’s São Paulo Motor Show.

And Toyota? Does it currently have anything to offer in this segment? Yes and no. At the March 2006 Geneva Auto Show, Toyota introduced a reportedly Yaris-based Urban Cruiser concept (shown at the top of this story). Once this admittedly clever model name (a play on the seminal Land Cruiser) saw production 2 years later, however, it was applied to a 2nd-generation Toyota ist (Scion xD in North America) with raised ride height and a bare minimum of pseudo-SUV styling cues. Granted, an all-wheel-drive diesel option gives it some added “SUV cred”, but its sales in Europe have been less than stellar, and a number of markets there (such as Spain and Great Britain) have declined to offer the Urban Cruiser altogether.

Oddly enough, Wikipedia considers the shorter 2-door versions of honest-to-God, truck-based, body-on-frame SUVs such as the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Land Cruiser 150 Series/Prado to be mini-SUVs, but this author doesn’t altogether agree, citing their heavier and beefier construction, and larger engines which makes them a class or two removed from lighter-duty, more economical car-based crossovers such as those we’ve mentioned earlier. Going even smaller, Toyota affiliate Daihatsu offers the Terios (or Be‣go) rear-wheel-drive-centric SUVs, with rebadged Toyota Rush versions available in a handful of countries. Again, these run counter to current preferences for front-wheel-drive-centric crossover SUV platforms, but we love the fact that their RWD underpinnings have led to fun Tokyo Auto Salon projects like the Gazoo Racing/MN FR Hot hatch and the TES Concept T-Sports.

By serendipitous coincidence, as this author was well along writing this piece, and planning to end with a plea to Toyota to “wake up and smell the coffee” and not continue to ignore this growing segment, came word, through an Automotive News via Autoweek article that the company was planning to do just that. It cites Toyota Division Group Vice President and General Manager William D. Fay as saying that

Toyota has no plans to add a crossover below the RAV4.

“The RAV is as small as we want to get,” he said. “I am confident with where Toyota is with that. It meets all or most of our customer needs in that segment. We’re fine.”

We’re not so sure, but perhaps Toyota figures the mini/subcompact crossover segment is still in its infancy in North America, and that it’s wiser to sit back and see how things go for its rivals first. Quite a change from 15-20 years ago, when Toyota and Lexus were unafraid to lead and create new vehicle categories.

Japan’s exterior and interior color selections for the facelifted Lexus RX

In what is but the latest in a streak of prematurely leaked Toyota and Lexus press brochures and dealer training materials, what appears to be the latter for Lexus’ upcoming 2013 RX mid-term refresh was scanned and found its way from Minkara’s carview.co.jp to Carscoop to Lexus Enthusiast and beyond. The greater news, of course, is confirmation of an F Sport version for Lexus’ pioneering luxury crossover, bestowed with the most aggressive iteration yet of Lexus’ new spindle grille, as its chrome mustache grows from handlebar to full-on Fu Manchu or horseshoe.

The articles linked above and their included photos cover the broad essence of the leaked brochure but, detail obsessives that we are here at Kaizen Factor, we decided that some deep-dive analysis of the exterior and interior color selections photo was called for, and figure out which color options would remain the same, and which would change for 2013 versus 2012. Bear in mind, though, that the Japanese Domestic Market’s options tend to be broader than North America’s (to name but one example, Lexus IS models sold in Japan offer a dark amethyst/gray-violet shade bearing the 9AL color code that is unavailable here). Thus, everything you see below may not cross the Pacific.

Exterior Colors
Carried over from 2012 into 2013 are 077 Starfire Pearl, 1H9 Nebula Gray Pearl, 212 Obsidian, 217 Stargazer Black and 4U7 Satin Cashmere Metallic. New for the RX line for 2013 but previously available on other Lexus models are 4V3 Fire Agate Pearl and 8V3 Deep Sea Mica. Still available in Japan is 078 Aurora White Pearl, which was only offered in the U.S. on the 2010 RX 450h. Finally, we have two new mystery colors: a 1J4 silver (perhaps resembling the 2013 Lexus GS’s 1J2 Liquid Platinum) and a 3S0 red (perhaps resembling the 2013 Lexus GS’s 3S8 Riviera Red). Apparently, 078, 4U7 and 4V3 are not available on the F Sport model.

Interior Colors and Materials
Non F Sport RX models for 2013 in Japan offer a quintet of interior leather seating colors: the current Light Gray, Black and Parchment, plus what appears to be the 2013 GS F Sport’s Cabernet and the IS C’s Saddle. F Sport RXs, meanwhile, are, in true Henry Ford fashion, available in any interior color as long as it’s black, seemingly in full leather as opposed to the IS F Sport’s leather/microfiber combo. Wood trim options for Non F Sport RX models appear to be Bird’s-Eye Maple in Espresso or Dark Gray, plus an unidentified black-and-gray streaky-striped material that we suspect will remain in Japan. F Sport RXs will, of course, used brushed aluminum or silver metallic trim.

Coming to Geneva: Toyota’s FT-Bh concept and more…

Just as the 2012 Chicago Auto Show (whose Toyota-centic highlights were the U.S. debut of the facelifted Land Cruiser that is becoming ever more redundant versus the Lexus LX 570; pricing for the new Prius c; plans to bring all Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid production to Princeton, Indiana in time for the expected 3rd-generation’s late 2013 debut; a speech by Toyota Motor North America President & COO Yoshi Inaba; and a Monopoly board game-inspired Hybrid Ride Experience) opens to the public, Toyota and Lexus’ European arms are looking forward to the next major stop on the international auto show calendar: Geneva.

The centerpiece (and, to date, only unexpected surprise) of the show for the Toyota brand revolves around the enigmatic sketch you see at the top of the story: a teaser for the FT-Bh concept. This author, quite frankly, is still grappling with the disconnect between the long, sleek lines of the teaser sketch that recall the recent NS4 and FCV-R concepts (pictured at upper right and lower right, respectively) that will make their European debuts at Geneva and a Toyota Europe press release that describes FT-Bh as

demonstrating a total vehicle approach to reducing emissions for an affordable compact city car (and) is an ultra-lightweight, full hybrid vehicle study, designed to achieve low emissions within an economically viable production framework. The techniques and thought processes demonstrated in the concept avoid the use of exotic and expensive materials or complex procedures, using only those already commonplace in the automotive industry.

The “B” in the concept car’s name suggests a B-segment (think Toyota Yaris) vehicle, while AutoGuide‘s Colum Wood notes that the “compact city car” description might make it even smaller, say, Toyota/Scion iQ size. FT-Bh’s avoidance of exotic and expensive materials in favor of the commonplace implies a realistic, rather than pie-in-the-sky concept, oddball sketch notwithstanding.

Speaking of Yaris, the second Toyota world debut at Geneva 2012 besides the FT-Bh concept is the Yaris Hybrid shown at left. The European market’s counterpart to Japan’s Toyota Aqua and North America’s Prius c combines the slightly shorter 4-door 3rd-generation Yaris body with Aqua/Prius c‘s powertrain (a reworked version of the 2nd-gen Prius’ 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter 4 cylinder engine) and space saving (and center of gravity-lowering) batteries and gas tank that reside under the rear seat. Combating the strong yen/weak euro exchange rate that is slaughtering Toyota’s profits, the Yaris Hybrid (or Yaris HSD) will be built alongside its non-hybrid sibling in Valenciennes, France with hybrid components brought in from Deeside, Wales in the United Kingdom.

Completing Toyota’s European debuts are the enigmatic Fun-Vii from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show now renamed Toyota diji, and the highly acclaimed GT 86 sports coupe going on sale in Europe this summer. The Toyota press conference will be held on Tuesday 6 March at 10:15 AM Central European Time (which works out to 4:15 AM Eastern Time / 1:15 AM Pacific Time).

…and what about Lexus?
Judging by Lexus Europe’s media site, the 2012 Geneva Motor Show appears to be almost as quiet as Chicago for Toyota’s luxury marque. There’s the European debut of the LF-LC concept, and a reminder that the newest GS 450h which already had its world and European debut at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show in September goes on sale this summer. Yet, the press release also mentions an “Expanded F SPORT Model Range” including two new vehicles to be launched in 2012. In our recent Informed Speculation: the 19 new Toyota, Lexus and Scion models to launch during 2012 article, we noted Lexus USA comments of three new F Sport models, with GS being the first. Might this be a hint that a facelifted 3rd-gen RX and RX Hybrid, including a much-rumored new F Sport variant will be unveiled in Geneva? We’ll know for sure right after the Toyota press conference, when Lexus Europe Vice President Andy Pfeiffenberger ends the suspense and speculation at 10:30 AM Central European Time / 4:30 AM Eastern Time / 1:30 AM Pacific Time.

Toyota Prius c / Aqua illustration and info leaks from Japan

In the Internet age of automotive journalism, it has become something of a cottage industry to scan and post press brochures and internal training and information material ahead of their official release. This author certainly recalls the pivotal role played by World Car Fans in leaking the Lexus CT 200h press brochure a week ahead of the car’s 2 March 2010 world debut at the Geneva Auto Show. Now Carscoop has similarly obtained, via tipster i-Ryuji, 33 pages’ worth of scans of what appears to be illustrations and specifications of Toyota’s upcoming Aqua a.k.a Prius c, some of which also appear in this article.

Curiously, none of the otherwise detailed illustrations nor any of the Japanese text show any sort of badge or model name for this clearly hybrid Toyota, but there’s a 90+% likelihood that it’s Prius c / Aqua we’re looking at. Accurately described by Sebastián Blanco of AutoblogGreen as looking like a Toyota Prius / Nissan Leaf mashup with the barest hint of the original Prius c concept, the newest Toyota hybrid is attractive enough for a B-segment 5-door hatchback (except for the overwrought taillights), if lacking the absolute aero hybrid look of its big brother Prius.

Among the more intriguing bits to emerge is the trio of trim levels (G, S and L, from most basic to best-appointed) for the Japanese domestic market and a selection of exterior colors that includes new shades of white (082), red-orange (4V7), and a light aqua bearing either the 3V7 or 8V7 color code, plus the 2009-10 Yaris sedan’s 8T7 Blue Streak Metallic and the eye-popping 5A3 High Voltage yellow from the current Scion tC Release Series 7.0 (are you listening, ToyotaReference?)

Yet another image reveals specifications that include a 2550mm (100.4″) wheelbase that matches the outgoing Toyota Yaris sedan’s (as opposed to the 3rd-gen Yaris hatchback’s 2510 mm/98.8″), a 3995mm (157.3″) overall length, 1695mm (66.7″) width and 1,445mm (56.9″) height. Mention of a 1496cc 4-cylinder engine could be a tacit confirmation of this author’s earlier prediction that Prius c / Aqua would use the 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter 4-cylinder powertrain from the 2nd-generation Toyota Prius, itself a hybridized version of the 1NZ-FE engine used on all past and current Toyota Yaris models sold in North America. Unless, of course, Toyota’s North America operations decide on a zippier Prius c powered by the current larger Prii / Lexus CT 200h’s 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE powertrain.

As to the Prius c / Aqua’s debut, Carscoop is predicting a world debut at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show this coming December (where it threatens to get lost amidst the expected FR-S / BRZ hoopla) an on-sale date of January 2012 and a North American debut in Detroit (a possible world debut for the Prius c-badged version) that same month. In an unexpected 180-degree turn from their January 2011 prediction, Autocar now believes that Prius c stands a chance of being sold in Europe alongside the expected Yaris HSD, and predicts a European debut at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show in March. Curious, given the potential for cannibalization from the cheaper (yet, probably, more profitable in Europe) hybrid Yaris.

The full Carscoop gallery includes more goodies such as interior shots, alternate wheel styles and even a couple of accessory body kits (perhaps to be sold as Modellista, TRD or G Sports items in Japan, and as a Prius PLUS body kit in North America)

Are we done yet with the FT-86 / FR-S / BRZ preview concepts? Maybe not…

The buildup to the launch and reveal of the final production versions of the Toyota/Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ sports coupes (the so-called “Toyobaru twins”) has been one long, drawn-out, sometimes agonizing striptease or string of teasers and concept cars. On the Toyota side alone we had the original FT-86 Concept that debuted at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show in October of that year, followed by the January 2010 appearance of its tuner-modded FT-86 G Sports Concept iteration at the Tokyo Auto Salon, and the 2011 triple play of the black FT-86 II Concept (unveiled in March at the Geneva Motor Show), the Scion FR-S Concept the following month in New York and the red/orange with Brembo brakes FT-86 II Concept revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show just over a week ago.

Meanwhile, Subaru revealed two awkwardly-named variants on the same clear Lucite-bodied theme: the Rear-Wheel Drive Sports Car Technology Concept (shown above) unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show, and the BRZ Prologue Boxer Sports Car Architecture II (shown below) following 5½ months later at the Frankfurt Motor Show. At a glance, it appears that the two are the same except for changing the accent/border tinting from blue to gold. Some pundits insist, however, that the Subaru BRZ Prologue contains more whole mechanical parts and less cutaways than its predecessor. At any rate, an ft86club thread contains many excellent close-up pictures of its mechanical innards in all their metallic glory.

While most of were convinced that the next stage of the seemingly never-ending saga would be the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show reveal of the final production versions, Car and Driver‘s Erik Johnson begs to differ. He informs us that

Subaru finally will show a version of its new BRZ sports car—with sheetmetal!—at November’s Los Angeles auto show. It won’t look like the final product, however, and neither do Toyota’s two FT-86 concepts: The companies have an agreement not to show a single production body panel until the cars debut at Tokyo in December… Expect a crazy body treatment to apply to this new Subaru concept, too, as there’s a chance it will wear the brand’s high-performance STI badge. (Whether the actual car will get an STI version is still unknown, but this seems like a good sign.)

So, what will Subaru name this purported final BRZ concept? BRZ Preface? BRZ Preamble? BRZ Prelude? Forget the last one, if Honda has anything to say about it…