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?

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

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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…

Lotus in transition: As Elise and Exige “Final Editions” roll out, new Evora variants come in

Back in 17 September 2010, at the British Embassy in Tokyo, an event rife with symbolism took place: Lotus Cars CEO Dany Bahar gave Toyota president Akio Toyoda a white Lotus Elise R powered by Toyota’s last Yamaha-designed 1.8-liter 2ZZ-GE VVTL-i 4-cylinder engine. The event was a Lotus/Toyota mutual admiration lovefest, as reported by Autoblog, AutoWeek and an entry on the Automotive News Blogs (the latter subsequently taken down or relegated to their subscriber-only archives). Bahar said:

“The presentation of Toyota’s last 2ZZ engine in the Elise is a symbolic gesture of our continued respect and deep appreciation for our partner not only acknowledging our past but also looking forward to our future together. There is no one superior to Toyota in terms of reliability.”

Toyoda added:

“A Toyota engine in a Lotus car creates a completely unique drive feeling – a special blend featuring the best of Lotus and Toyota that we hope many car lovers continue to experience and enjoy…The Lotus test course can be considered the start of my driving career…I want all my executives to drive this Elise and experience it for themselves.”

Toyoda then fondly recalled his first exposure to the brand roughly 30 years ago during a visit to Lotus’ testing grounds. He took a car for a spin around the track and toured Lotus’ underground workshop, a visit he likened to “descending into a James Bond 007 world.” and added that he considers the Lotus Elise the very embodiment of fun-to-drive. Vividly proving this, as Toyoda sat behind the wheel of his new toy, he stomped on the gas, drove through a line of startled reporters and revved the engine in an impromptu spin around the embassy grounds.

Roughly two weeks later came the Paris Auto Show press conferences, and, for this author, the most memorable was Lotus’ orgasmic explosion of five new-generation concept sports cars that denoted the carmaker’s inexorable march upmarket, plus a sixth Lotus City Car Concept tucked away in a corner (more on this later). Yet, ambitious as this future Lotus roadmap is, we couldn’t help but wonder about the present and the immediate future, and what would happen to the Lotus Elise. Would it die abruptly, at least in North America and other export markets? Seeking clarity, we sought out the spokespersons at the show’s Lotus stand, one of which informed us that the whole “Akio Toyoda getting the very last 2ZZ-powered Lotus Elise ceremony” was, in fact, symbolic, and that the carmaker had stockpiled enough of the engines to last until the end of the 2011 model year, roughly in August of this year. The end, however, came a bit sooner than that, for the Golden Gate Lotus Club’s Chapman Report Online, via Autoblog reported on Saturday 16 April 2011 that a trio of Elise and Exige “Final Editions” would be built between now and July 2011, for arrival in the US and Canada between June and August 2011. Here are the basics on each of them:

Lotus Elise SC Final Edition
Perhaps Akio Toyoda did get the very last Elise R (powered by a naturally-aspirated 189 hp 2ZZ-GE engine), but, in a sense, he was cheated, as North America’s Final Edition is a supercharged Elise SC. This boosted (albeit non-intercooled) iteration of the 2ZZ engine produces 218 hp@8000 rpm and 156 lb/ft of torque@5000 rpm. Lotus will only make 15 copies, priced at US$57,500 plus destination charge. Four exterior colors are available (Ardent Red, Aspen White, Chrome Orange and Carbon Grey) are available, and include the Touring Package with sport seats trimmed in black Alcantara; Bilstein sport pack dampers with Eibach springs; Torsen (Torque-sensing) Limited Slip Differential; black 5 Y- spoke forged wheels with Yokohama ADVAN A048 tires; black rear diffuser; matte black painted hard top, roll bar cover, transom panel and door mirrors; and a special numbered plaque. The sole available option is the $995 StarShield, which is clear protection film applied to the car’s nose, rocker panels, exterior mirrors and lower rear panels, applied at the port for U.S.-bound cars only. Although no pictures have been released, we expect it to look very similar to the Elise SC RGB shown above left.

Lotus Exige S260 Final Edition
Half as exclusive as the Elise SC Final Edition (with 30 units to be built as opposed to the Elise’s 15), the Exige S260 Final Edition uses an Eaton M62 supercharger (versus the Elise SC’s smaller M45 unit) plus an intercooler to produce 257 hp@8000 rpm and 174 lb/ft of torque@6000 rpm. While also featuring the Touring Package, Torsen Limited Slip Differential and black Y-spoke forged wheels with Yokohama ADVAN A048 tires from the Elise SC Final Edition, the Final Exige is available in Lotus’ full suite of interior and exterior color options. This includes a no-cost choice of black, red, magnolia or biscuit leather inside and solid or metallic exterior colors. More importantly, the suspension is the full-fledged Track Package with double adjustable Ohlins dampers. Priced at US$67,500 plus destination charges, the option list includes Lifestyle and Premium exterior colors and StarShield protection.

Lotus Exige S260 Final Edition – Matte Black
At the pared-down 2009 Tokyo Motor Show, the sole foreign-carmaker world debut was the Lotus Exige Stealth shown at left, which bore the Lotus Exige Scura moniker outside Japan. This murdered-out matte black-with-gloss black stripes-and black interior model was a 35-car limited edition sold only in Europe, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) and select Asian markets. Better late than never, North America gets its own limited run of 25 Lotus Exige S260 Final Edition – Matte Black cars. Sharing its specification with the regular Exige S260 Final Edition save for a dedicated set of black 5-spoke ultra lightweight forged wheels, it sells for US$69,900 plus destination charge, essentially a $2400 premium for the matte paint. No options are offered, and the only interior seating available is black Alcantara. It remains unclear if the beautifully contrasting gloss black stripes from the Scura/Stealth will make their way to the Matte Black Final Edition, but this author certainly hopes so.

Where do the Lotus Elise and Exige go from here?
A number of factors converged to force the Lotus Elise and Exige’s exodus from the North American market. The aging 2ZZ-GE engine’s last appearance in a North American-market Toyota was in the 2006 Matrix XRS, while in European-market Toyotas it died with the 7th-generation Celica and failed to make the Corolla-to-Auris transition. The engine’s lack of compliance with stricter Euro 5 emissions standards currently in effect further doomed it. The current Elise will carry on in Europe, however, in its base model, which is powered by Toyota’s 1.6-liter 1ZR-FAE 4-cylinder engine, tweaked by Lotus to produce 134 hp@6800 rpm and 118 lb/ft of torque@4400 rpm. Actually, that tweak is only good for a 4 hp boost and unchanged torque ratings versus its more mundane applications in Toyota’s European-built Auris, Avensis and Verso models.

With the 1ZR-FAE not homologated for U.S. and Canadian emission standards, perhaps its similarly-powered non-Valvematic 1.8-liter sibling, the 2ZR-FE that powers our Corolla, base Matrix and Scion xD could’ve fit the bill, but Lotus justifiably felt that such a sharp drop in power wouldn’t fly in North America. The final death knell for Elise in North America, however, is the 2006 U.S. law requiring “smart” airbags with varying deployment force according to the size of the passenger. A hardship for low-volume carmakers such as Lotus, the company’s original exemption from the law was granted a single extension that expires in August 2011.

Less clear is what happens to the Lotus Exige going forward. Its two current models, the Exige S and Exige Cup 260 are powered by differently-tuned supercharged variants of the soon-to-be-extinct 2ZZ engine, and there have been no indications that it would be down-powered in the manner of its Elise. And, quite notably, the Exige did not receive the Elise’s 2011 Evora-esque facelift, shown at right. Further, the official Lotus Cars site’s Car Configurator page currently only allows for Elise and Evora configuration. So is the Exige on its way out everywhere? Or will it return, as some rumors have it, powered by the Evora’s Toyota-sourced 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6? We asked two different Lotus spokesmen at the New York Auto Show press conferences about the latter possibility, but they would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.

Lotus Evora with IPS (Intelligent Precision Shift)
With the number of Elise and Exige variants in decline, a growing Evora model range will carry Lotus forward until the marque’s planned ascension upmarket continues with a reborn Esprit. The Evora itself is notable for being the first rear-mid-engined 2+2 since the 1970s heyday of the Italian Ferrari Dino GT4 / Lamborghini Urraco / Maserati Merak triumvirate. After debuting in July 2008 and going on sale a year later in a single model powered by Toyota’s ubiquitous 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6 driven through the Aisin EA60 six-speed manual transaxle from the European Toyota Avensis diesel, additional Evora IPS and Evora S models were unveiled at the 2010 Paris Auto Show.

The Lotus Evora with IPS (Intelligent Precision Shift) is simply Lotusspeak for the 6-speed automatic transaxle option. To be more precise, this is essentially the U660E 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. In fact, Lotus even leaves the individual gear ratios unchanged. That does not mean, however, that Lotus has left the automatic untouched. As shown above, paddle shifters as well as sport and full-manual modes have been added, with the latter, according to Lotus spokesmen, including a lockup torque converter for 2nd-thru-top gear à la IS F. Per official Lotus specifications, the Evora with IPS gains 117 lbs and is 0.4 seconds slower in 0-60 mph acceleration versus its manual counterpart.

And that, quite frankly, is just about all we know at this point, for Lotus has yet to offer the world’s automotive press a chance to sample the Evora IPS. Road & Track‘s Mike Monticello, however, quotes Lotus CEO Dany Bahar as stating that, “It’s been a long time since Lotus created an automatic and we’ve spent a great deal of time refining this one to make sure that it perfectly complements the Evora drive experience.” Indeed, for those of you that would expect Lotus founder Colin Chapman to be spinning in his grave at an F1-like 18,000 rpm at the notion of an automatic transmission Lotus, we should remind you that, during his lifetime, the Elite II (Types 75 & 83), Eclat and Excel 2+2s offered an optional 4-speed ZF slushbox. If, in fact, Mr. Chapman is spinning in his grave over anything, it’s bound to be over the fact that the Evora weighs more than 3000 lbs., and let’s not even discuss the planned retractable-hardtop Elite or the 4-door Eterne…

Lotus Evora S
Of far more interest to the hardcore enthusiast is the other new Evora variant, the “S” model. Available only with a 6-speed manual transaxle, the “S” stands for supercharger. Adding an Eaton TVS (twin vortices series) blower to the standard Evora’s 2GR-FE 3.5-liter Toyota engine boosts the horsepower level from 276 to 345 hp, and bumps up the torque by around 35 lb/ft, peaking at 295 lb/ft at 4500rpm.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because this is precisely what Toyota Australia did to create the short-lived Toyota Aurion TRD model. For the uninitiated, the Aurion is the badge that the current V6 Camry wears Down Under, where Camrys are 4-cylinder only. To compete against the plethora of local GM Holden and Ford Falcon performance versions, the Aurion was fitted with the world’s first production application of the aforementioned Eaton TVS supercharger for a 323 hp rating and 300 lb/ft of torque. Optimistically launched in August 2007 with a target of 50-70 units per month, the Aurion TRD never met even that modest target, likely because the performance promise of the engine was undermined by its being offered only with front-wheel-drive. On 31 March 2009 Toyota shut down its TRD Australia division and, with it, production of the Aurion TRD and TRD Hilux pickup.

As evidenced from the numbers above, Lotus managed to extract an extra 22 hp over what Toyota managed for the supercharged 3.5-liter V6 that bears the 2GR-FZE moniker. Although Lotus spokesmen we spoke to at the 2011 New York Auto Show swear that they “started from scratch” in their own pairing of the Toyota V6 and the Eaton TVS supercharger, the fact that both Evo and Top Gear first drives of the Evora S mention Australian firm Harrop in conjunction with the engineering of the supercharger installation, just like the Aurion TRD makes that claim a bit suspect.

Will the Evora be the last Toyota-engined Lotus?
At the 2010 Paris Motor Show unveiling of Lotus’ 5 future concepts, conventional wisdom combined with the specifications released by the company pointed towards Esprit, Elite and Eterne models powered by a boosted version of the Lexus IS F’s 2UR-GSE 5-liter V8, an Elan powered by a boosted version of the current Toyota 4Runner and FJ Cruiser’s 1GR-FE 4-liter V6 (or, perhaps, a yet-to-be-unveiled direct+port-injected 1GR-FSE variant thereof) and a next-generation Elise powered by a boosted 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, likely a derivative of the 3ZR-FAE engine used in Europe’s current Avensis and RAV4, as well as a number of Japanese Domestic Market models.

Yet, barely a month later, rumors started that Lotus honchos felt that, in order to properly compete against the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini, Lotus needed to develop its own dedicated, clean-sheet, from-scratch engines. Of course, other rivals such as Spyker (with its Audi V8-powered lineup), Pagani (which uses Mercedes-AMG engines) and Koenigsegg (whose engines are heavily modified 4.7-liter 4-valve DOHC versions of the Ford Modular V8) will agree to disagree. And, conversely, Lotus is perfectly capable of coming up with its own engine, as it did with its 900-series 4-cylinder range that debuted in 1972 as the first modern DOHC, 16-valve production engine.

Lotus is still seemingly grappling with the issue and sending ridiculously mixed signals, though. On Wednesday 20 April, on the eve of the Lotus press conference, a company spokesman was candid enough to admit that they were still debating whether to launch their first post-Evora model, the Esprit (shown below), with a barely-modified Lexus IS F V8, with a more heavily-modified version of that engine or to roll out a dedicated, totally Lotus-designed lightweight, high-revving V8. The indecision has pushed back the Esprit launch from its original Spring 2013 target to the end of the 2013 calendar year. Weighing heavily on the decision, though, is a heartfelt belief by Lotus’ leadership that, at the Esprit’s expected $180,000 selling price, its clientele demands an engine that is not a Toyota hand-me-down. And, indeed, at the Lotus press conference the next day, Lotus’ Chief Technical Officer Wolf Zimmerman (formerly the Managing Director of Engineering & Production and Chief Engineer of Technical Strategy at Mercedes-AMG) was almost defiantly quoted as reaffirming that the Esprit would use a new, all-Lotus V8.

That still leaves open the question of what will power the rest of the Lotus line. As reality sets in that the Paris Auto Show launch may have been akin to mental masturbation comes word that a more realistic plan will focus on the already-delayed Esprit, Elite retractable-hardtop convertible and next-generation Elise. The 4-door Eterne would be jettisoned (it was an interiorless quasi-afterthought, anyway) and the V6 2+2 Elan was essentially a premature Evora successor. If what Lotus refers to as the 2015 Elise is to compete in roughly its current segment, it’ll probably be more profitable for Lotus to stick to Toyota engine sourcing. Then again, if Lotus develops a 4 to 5-liter V8, half of it could conceivably form the basis of a 2 to 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine.

So, what’s the point of the Lotus City Car Concept?
All this grandiose talk of Lotus moving up to challenge Ferrari and Porsche makes the sixth Lotus unveiled in Paris, the City Car Concept (shown at left), all the more baffling at first glance. Yet, upon further reflection, it makes all the sense in the world. With upscale carmakers particularly challenged by meeting the double whammy of ever-tightening U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and European CO2 emissions laws, we should nevertheless note that such revered marques as Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Bugatti and (probably within a year or so) Porsche are all owned by larger carmakers offering a multitude of super-economy models against which to weigh or average their more ravenous emissions and appetites for fuel. Then we have the situation of Aston Martin, whose spinoff from its Ford parent left it without mass-market fuel sippers against which to average its CO2 emissions. The solution was either a stroke of genius or the world’s biggest April Fools’ joke that really isn’t, depending on your perspective: take the Toyota iQ microcar, give it a bespoke, upmarket interior, facelift the exterior and call it an Aston Martin Cygnet.

Lotus’ situation falls somewhere between these two extremes. The company has since 2003 been fully owned by Proton, Malaysia’s manufacturer of weapon packs for Ghostbusters second-largest carmaker behind Daihatsu licensee Perodua. Over the past 25 years, Proton’s model range has consisted of an unremarkable range of front-wheel-drive cars, vans and pickup trucks including a hodgepodge of rebadged Mitsubishi Mirage / Colt / Lancer models built under license and unique models powered by Renault or the Lotus-designed Campro engine. Of some interest or relevance here, however, is the trio of Proton EMAS concepts unveiled at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show. An acronym for “Eco Mobility Advance Solution”, emas is also the word for “gold” in the Bahasa Malaysian language.

The trio of EMAS concepts (a 3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback and Country SUV-wannabe) were among Italdesign Giugiaro’s last independent designs before being bought out by Volkswagen. More crucial, however, is what lurks beneath the Italian designer sheetmetal: a series plug-in hybrid powertrain with Lotus’ 1.2 litre, 3 cylinder Range Extender engine with flex-fuel (methanol, ethanol and gasoline) capabilities. Yet another surprise lies beneath, as Auto Express‘ first drive of the 5-door Proton/Lotus EMAS concept reveals that “under the skin are the remnants of a Toyota iQ”!

The Lotus City Car Concept, then, is a clear descendant of the Proton EMAS family, albeit designed by Lotus’ current design guru Donato Coco, who earlier reached similar positions at Citroën and then at Ferrari. The apparent plan is for this A-segment vehicle to eventually reach production in Proton and Lotus variants, as well as an undisclosed third Asian badge (rumored to be – are you sitting down? – Detroit Electric, in a venture that has nothing to do with the Motor City and everything with China buying the rights to a brand that has been defunct for over 70 years!)

This author couldn’t help but ask a Lotus spokesman at this year’s New York Auto Show if it wasn’t oddly ironic that currently Toyota-powered Lotus was planning to compete so directly with the Toyota-derived Aston Martin Cygnet. “Well”, he replied, “who do you think did much of the engineering work for the VH architecture that underpins Aston Martin’s entire current lineup?”

The Prius wagon in Japan

The 2011 auto show season has brought us Toyota’s somewhat unexpected two-pronged approach to the first additional member of the “Prius family”: the 5-passenger Prius v with a nickel-metal hydride battery hybrid system for North America, and the identically-bodied 7-passenger Prius+ with a lithium-ion battery hybrid system for Europe.

We were left to wonder, however, just what approach Toyota would take for the Japanese Domestic Market. Now, a Nikkei story via Reuters informs us that both versions will be available there. More importantly, the article contains the first pricing predictions we’ve seen for the newest Toyota. While the least expensive current Prius “fastback” in Japan is the Prius “L” with a base price of 2,050,000 yen (just over $24,785 at today’s exchange rate of 82.7 yen per U.S. dollar), they expect the 5-passenger Prius wagon with NiMH batteries to start at 2,350,000 yen ($28,405) and the 7-passenger Prius wagon with Li-ion batteries to start at 3,000,000 yen ($36,255). It is probably that almost $8000 jump in pricing for the third seat and the concominant lithium-ion battery pack that is making Toyota USA hesitate in offering the Prius+ here.

An official English-language Press Release from Toyota Japan also notes that the Prius wagon will go on sale there in late April 2011, ahead of the late summer 2011 U.S. release of Prius v and the “first half of 2012″ on-sale date for Prius+ in Europe. Left undisclosed at this point, though, is what name(s) the new Prii will wear in Japan.

2011 Geneva: FT-86, Hybrids and more!

The 2011 Geneva Auto Show is home to key Toyota models that have been unveiled for the world to see. The FT-86 II Concept, Yaris HSD Concept, the Prius+ (aka Prius V for North America) and the EV Prototype (which is an electrified version of the Toyota/Scion iQ). Toyota’s global vision is to bring back fun and exciting cars to their line up as well as their commitment to saving the earth’s resources by expanding their hybrid and electric vehicle offerings.


FT-86 II Concept

9vpzv.jpgThe highly anticipated unveiling of the Toyota sports car finally came to the Geneva Auto show. Toyota Europe tweeted another teaser pic of the FT86 II just prior to the Toyota press conference today.

Scheduled to go on sale in Europe (and the rest of the world) in 2012, the Toyota FT-86 II Concept gives us a much more exciting preview of whats to come. This newest interpretation of the long awaited “Toyota Sports Car” gives us a very good idea of what the next Corolla AE86 successor will be like. Key ingredients include a 6 speed manual gearbox which helps translate power to the rear wheels from a free revving petrol engine, sharp steering feel, agile handling thanks to a low center a gravity and a sexy 2 door liftback which equate to a fun-to-drive experience. The new FT-86 II Concept retains many of the sleek attributes of the first FT-86 concept car. The rumor out there is that the FT-86 is a baby version of the Lexus LFA super car.  So far the lines on this new concept are impressive. We hope the final version will not be watered down from this new concept. This new sports car is long overdue since the last fun-to-drive and exciting Toyota ceased over 13 years ago. It was the legendary MKIV Supra that made its mark in the history books as one of the most desired Toyota in the world. It’s still unclear if this will be a future Scion model for the North American, but rumors are leaning to this being a fifth Scion model.

Here are some photos of the FT-86 II Concept unveiled just recently at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show:

More photos of the FT-86 II can be found HERE and on FT86Club.com’s discussion thread.

Official Video: FT-86 II Concept – “the next Toyota sports car”

Yaris HSD Concept

First it was the Prius, then the Auris, now its Yaris! As part of Toyota’s Global Hybrid strategy, the Yaris HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive) Concept debuts in Geneva as the first full hybrid for the volume selling B-segment in Europe. It is without a doubt that Toyota plans to release a total of 10 Toyota hybrid models  in the coming years. Now will this pretty cool and aggressive looking Yaris make its way to the USA? The Toyota FT-CH concept version II was unveiled earlier this year in Detroit. It appears that the Yaris HSD Concept shares the same overall size and shape as the FT-CH. If Toyota gives this car good handling characteristics, high efficiency and a great price point, this should become a hit worldwide.

More photos of the Yaris HSD can be found HERE.

Official Video: Yaris HSD – “the full hybrid roll-out continues”

Prius +

The Prius has become the one of the world’s most iconic vehicle. For those looking to save the earth or make a statement, you buy this. When you think “hybrid”, the Prius is the first car to come to mind. It’s been just over a decade since the introduction of the Prius into the world. Now that Prius has become a household name, Toyota plans to offer a vehicle in a more versatile format. Introduced as the Prius V (V for Versatility) at the 2011 North American International Auto Show, the “V” will be known as the “+” for the Euro market. The Prius + will be the first non-plug in hybrid to offer a compact lithium ion battery pack. And due to the compact packaging of the new Li-ion battery, it will allow Prius + to gain a 3rd row seat expanding seating to 7 passengers.  The Prius V for the North American market will not have this feature as it will still carry the bulkier Ni-MH battery pack. This is totally unfair considering the North American market always gets jipped for the best new stuff coming from Japan.

More photos of the Prius+ can be found HERE.

Official Video: Prius + “the first full hybrid seven seater”


EV Prototype

Based on the popular Toyota iQ in Europe and soon to be Scion iQ in North America, the EV Prototype is an all-electric version of the ultra compact 4 seater. The EV Prototype will be powered by a 47 kW permanent magnet motor and a 270V Li-ion battery pack tucked neatly under the seats. Space is not compromised as the battery packs are flat and compact. The EV Proto will have a range of up to 105 km and have a top speed of 125 km/h. Charging the EV Proto’s batteries can be fully charged by AC or very fast DC quick charge station in a blazing 15 minutes. Re-gen brakes allow the EV Proto’s battery to recover power during deceleration or braking. The EV Proto will be roaming the streets of Europe, Japan and of course here in the U.S. this year.

Images & Video : Toyota Europe