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’s Tokyo Motor Show lineup

Toyota FV2 Concept

Toyota FV2 Concept

Japanese carmakers will reveal their latest cars-to-come at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show which will open to the media on November 20, and which will stay open to the public through December 1.

Here is what you will see at Toyota’s booth in Tokyo – unless you prefer to go to the LA Autoshow, that is. Continue reading

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…

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.

7 or 9? The other 2 new Toyota…er…Lexus models for 2014

AddSlipsBack in 17 November 2010, a Toyota RAV4 press release concluded by informing us, in an almost throwaway fashion, that “by the end of 2012, Toyota will add seven all new (not next-generation) hybrid models to its portfolio”. We scrambled to figure out what they were, and 2 days later, the first of our Informed Speculation stories was posted. Right about that same time, our co-editor Flipside909 stumbled upon a Yahoo News/AFP story stating that Toyota would, in fact, release 11 new hybrids by the end of calendar year 2012. This was confirmed by Automotive News‘ Hans Greimel on 22 November 2010, and, the next day, our sequel Informed Speculation story appeared.

Flash forward just over 2 years, and history repeats, in a manner of speaking. On 11 September 2012, a Toyota USA news release announcing a new ad and communications tagline cited Toyota Division group vice president and general manager Bill Fay’s prediction that “seven, exciting all-new or updated Toyota and Scion vehicles (will be unveiled) in 2013. We deliberately waited to comment on this until after the November/December 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show (the last major show of the 2012 calendar year), and the resulting story was our first for 2013. Two days later, another Toyota USA Newsroom press release, the December 2012 and Year-End Sales Conference Call Notes, revised this to

Nine all-new or significantly updated models…Beginning this month with RAV4, followed later this year by the Lexus IS and Scion tC, just to name a few

in the words of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Lentz.

So, what are the two extra models? Jim Lentz made it crystal-clear that one of them is the new, 3rd-generation Lexus IS, which will debut in a little over a week. Rather than get into particulars here, we refer you to the Front Page of the my.IS website, where yours truly has been writing, and will continue to do so, on what we know so far in advance of the 15 January 2013 reveal. The other is, we predict, the Lexus GX mid-life facelift, given that the brand’s mid-range SUV usually marches in lockstep with its Toyota 4Runner sibling, and that one is widely believed to receive its own refresh later this year. That GX facelift should make it the latest Lexus to receive the trademark spindle grille.

And what about Lexus’ upcoming compact crossover NX line? While it is believed to see the light of day at one or more of the major 2013 fall auto shows, namely Frankfurt (press days Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 September), Tokyo and Los Angeles (both with press days Wednesday 20 and Thursday 21 November), its more-than-likely 2014 calendar year on-sale date has us pushing it back to the next round of Toyota and Lexus debuts.

We’re rather perplexed, though, by Jim Lentz’s mention of the Scion tC among the 9 models to be revised this year. The audio version of his remarks clearly mention the tC. The current, 2nd-generation tC made its public debut at the 2010 New York Auto Show, and appeared in U.S. dealerships the following October. Thus, the 2013 New York Auto Show (long a favored venue for Scion reveals) could bring a mid-life facelift for the brand’s front-wheel-drive coupe, which, sales-wise, has held up better than this author expected in the face of the far superior and sportier FR-S. Did Lentz, in fact, misspeak when he mentioned the tC, or should we cast aside our beliefs and hopes for at least one, if not two all-new Scion models this year?

The BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 transmissions and driveline: what we know so far

Although the Toyota GT 86 (or, simply, 86) / Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ triplets have finally been revealed, there still remain a number of half-answered or unanswered questions, such as North America pricing and precise curb weights, Scion equipment levels and detailed driveline information, such as which Aisin manual and automatic transmissions and Torsen limited-slip differential the sports coupes will use.

First, though, some background on Aisin, which has been widely acknowledged as the production FT-86 variants’ transmission supplier. Aisin, which is over 30% owned by Toyota, is an integral part of the carmaker’s vertically-integrated keiretsu group of companies with interlocking business relationships and shareholdings. Indeed, a vast majority of Toyota vehicles use an Aisin transmission or transaxle, even including the mighty Lexus LFA. Quite notably, the parent Aisin Seiki Company has separate divisions (and even individual websites) for manual transmissions (Aisin AI) and automatic transmissions (Aisin AW). In spite of Toyota’s historic dominant role in Aisin transmission usage, however, the latter has grown and branched out to supply virtually every major carmaker on the planet. This makes for some mighty unexpected transmission-sharing bedfellows, as you’ll read further on.

The manual transmission: Aisin’s AZ6
Since the demise of the 1st-generation Lexus IS manual transmissions in 2005, Toyota’s sole remaining shift-it-yourself tranny for longitudinal rear-wheel-drive and RWD-centric all-wheel-drive applications for cars and light trucks has been the 6-speed Aisin AY6, which, in Toyotaspeak, is the RA60 series of transmissions. It actually exists in a plethora of versions, with varying individual and differential gear ratios. The RA60 proper is used on current 2-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma pickups, the beefed-up RA60F for 4-wheel-drive Tacomas, RA61F for 4-wheel-drive FJ Cruiser, RA62 for the Lexus IS 250 and RA63 for Europe’s Lexus IS 200d and IS 220d diesels. The Aisin AY6 is also used by General Motors in V6 manual versions of the Cadillac CTS, reborn Chevrolet Camaro and Australia’s Holden Commodore. With the AY6 receiving generally tepid reviews for its vague and rubbery shifter feel in both its Toyota/Lexus and GM applications (including yours truly’s thoughts on the Lexus IS 250C Manual), this author dreaded the possibility that this might be the leading row-your-own contender for putting the power down to the rear wheels of the FT-86 family of coupes.

Fortunately, Aisin also makes a far more appealing manual option: the AZ6 6-speed. Notably absent from the Aisin AI website’s FR (front engine, rear-wheel drive) transmission page, Internet research (including Wikipedia) reveals a veritable cornucopia of vehicles that use the AZ6: Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8, 2nd-gen (NB) Mazda MX-5 Miata, the final S15 Nissan Silvia Spec-R… and the Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS 200!

So, which Aisin 6-speed manual would BRZ, FR-S and (GT) 86 use? AY6 or AZ6? This author certainly wasn’t alone in wondering. Members of ft86club were asking this very question as far back as March 2010! A stroll through the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show produced the “smoking gun” you see above, brought to us courtesy of the response.jp website.

Bear in mind, however, that the Aisin AZ6 is but the basic “framework” or “structure” for the transmission. Each carmaker is able to tweak and tune such parameters as individual gear ratios, transmission cases, internal architecture, drive shaft coupling, clutch actuation and even shift “feel”. The fiercely independent, go-it-alone Honda, in particular, is understood to have widely modified its take on AZ6 for its S2000 sports car. The carmaker, which develops its own widely-praised transaxles, saw the need to swallow its pride and turn to archrival Toyota’s keiretsu for its first front engine/rear-wheel-drive transmission in decades in order to meet S2000′s cost targets.

Toyota and Subaru enginers also tweaked the AZ6 for the “Toyobaru” sports coupe, shown above, with Christie Schweinsberg of WardsAuto reporting that “The (manual) is 80% changed…to maximize shift feel”. Club4AG webmaster, administrator and events coordinator Motohide Miwa was fortunate enough to drive one of the Scion FR-S pre-production prototypes, and shared these impressions on the Club Lexus forums:

The shell case and most of the mechanical elements seem similar to the Altezza, S15 transmission, however clearly there are guides and larger gear teeth than the previous units. From what I felt in the short drive in the FR-S, though, is that the issue of 3rd gear being slightly sloppy to throw in quickly has been eliminated and that the new transmission feels firm and smooth into each gear when nice and warm. I have high expectations for this gearbox as well as the all-new Torsen LSD equipped differential box. (at least from comparison with AE86, everything is much bigger and smoother…and it looks to handle whatever duty cycle a tuner has for this light car…)

I see nice deep splines on the output shaft too…

IS/Altezza feels similar, I suppose, but it always felt a but clumsy going into 3rd when warm, but overall it was great.

This FR-S unit feels quicker to shift, throw is very short and positive, and just feels like it wants to run through each gear on a raceway… (I haven’t done that yet, but I will let you know if I ever get a chance. So far everyone who DID drive says it’s glass smooth and precise, easy to operate.)

Perhaps what I wanted to say is that it feels like the best attributes of all Toyota RWD transmissions converged to make this one feel better than ever.

For those of you who are looking forward to turbo or supercharge your BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 via the aftermarket, however, we must remind you of a crucial caveat that appears on the second photo of this article: “Medium Torque Capacity RWD 6-Speed Manual transmission (AZ6)”. A cursory glance at all the vehicles that have used the Aisin AZ6 reveals that the torquiest of the lot is the S15 Nissan Silvia Spec-R, producing 202 lb/ft. All other AZ6 users produced somewhere between 124 and 163 lb/ft of torque, with stock BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 rated at 151 lb/ft. Notably, when the North American market demanded a manual transmission option for the Lexus IS 300 and its 2JZ-GE 3-liter inline 6′s 218 lb/ft of torque, the Aisin AZ6 (or J160 in Toyotaspeak) was deemed to be too weak. Instead, a W55 variant of the W58 5-speed manual from the naturally-aspirated Toyota Supra and Lexus SC 300 was used. Thus, it’ll be quite interesting to see what Subaru and Toyota engineers would do for a possible future manual supercharged or turbocharged FT-86 variant. Further modifying the existing AZ6? Or doing so with the higher-capacity AY6 (which can reportedly handle over 345 lb/ft of torque)? Or reach out to Getrag as Toyota did for the 233/V160 when it needed a stout yet sporting 6-speed manual for the Mk4 Supra Twin Turbo?

Also of interest is what designation Toyota will give to the Aisin AZ6 manual as applied to the Toyota (GT) 86 and Scion FR-S. We concur with Jeff Lange’s suggestion of J161.

The automatic transmission: a trio of Aisin possibilities, with one the likeliest
In stark contrast to the manual transmission situation, answers are more nebulous and speculative when it comes to determining which precise Aisin 6-speed automatic is used by the BRZ / FR-S / GT-86 triplets. And three is indeed the operative number here, for a trio of possibilities emerge in this author’s eye.

Most reports claim that “a 6-speed version of the IS F automatic” would be used in 2-pedal versions of the Toyobaru sports coupes. This would be a Toyota AA80E (or Aisin TL-80SN) 8-speed automatic morphed into an AA60E / TL-60SN 6-speed. These reports claim as evidence Part 2 of the 27 November 2011 Presentation by TMC Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada and the translator’s comment around the 1:40 mark. This would mean that the GT 86 / FR-S / BRZ automatic would be one of the most responsive automatics in the world, with a lock-up torque converter in 2nd thru top gears and downshift rev-matching. Fantastic as that would be, color this author deeply skeptical, for the AA80E-to-AA60E changeover is not just a matter of removing 7th and 8th gears. Merely doing so would leave a top direct 1:000 6th gear, with no overdrive top gear for more relaxed highway cruising and better fuel economy, and would fly in the face of current Toyota/Lexus practice of a direct 1:000 4th gear and overdrive 5th and 6th gears for its 6-speed automatics. Thus, all individual gear ratios would have to be revised. Would Toyota go to all this trouble when it already offers a couple of more viable and less expensive Aisin automatic alternatives in other Lexus models? We think not.

For the 4th-generation Lexus GS 350 just reaching U.S. dealer showrooms, the A760E high torque capacity 6-speed automatic has received a number of welcome tweaks versus the previous GS and current IS 350, such as earlier torque converter lockup, faster upshift and downshift times and throttle blips accompanying downshifts, thus going a long way towards granting this author’s wish list from 2009.

But why use the A760E when the less powerful and less torquey rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 250′s A960E 6-speed automatic is roughly 40 lbs lighter? And this, precisely, is what Toyota and Subaru seem to have done, for a comparison of Toyota Japan’s official 86 site’s Spec page and the Lexus IS 250/350 Product Information PDF document from the Lexus USA Newsroom reveals that 86 and IS 250 automatics share identical individual gear ratios of 1st 3.538 / 2nd 2.060 / 3rd 1.404 / 4th 1.000 / 5th 0.713 / 6th 0.582 / Reverse 3.168. Not a “smoking gun” in the manner of the Aisin AZ6 manual photo you saw earlier, perhaps, but very strong circumstantial evidence, nonetheless. Notably, though, the differential (or final drive) ratio for Japan’s Toyota 86 is the lower (numerically higher) 4.100 from all-wheel-drive Lexus IS variants (presumably for better low-end acceleration), as opposed to the RWD IS 250 Automatic’s 3.909. Best of all, numerous reports and early reviews suggest that the upgrades to the beefier A760E (earlier torque converter lockup, faster upshift and downshift times and throttle blips accompanying downshifts) have also found their way to the lighter A960E as applied to GT 86, FR-S and BRZ.

The limited-slip differential: Torsen’s T-2/Type B
Although a number of automotive suppliers, such as OS Giken, Eaton and Quaife offer limited-slip differentials, the name most associated with this valuable handling and performance helper is Torsen. Based on Vernon Gleasman’s pioneering work on the Dual-Drive Differential he invented in 1958, this Torque-Sensing (hence the name) limited-slip differential’s manufacturer has changed hands and corporate overlords a few times. The official Torsen site’s home page’s History Brief section summarizes the boardroom gyrations, but it was this passage that caught our eye:

Toyoda Machine Works Ltd., in 2003, purchased the worldwide Torsen division from Robert Bosch / Zexel Corporation. Zexel Torsen, Inc. was then renamed Toyoda-Koki Automotive Torsen North America Inc. to reflect this change. The company name change became effective on September 1, 2003.

Koyo Bearing Corporation merged with Toyoda Machine Works and formed JTEKT.

Thus, Torsen, like Aisin, is an integral part of Toyota’s keiretsu group of companies with interlocking shareholdings. Given this fact, it’s mildly surprising that the carmaker has made relatively little use of Torsen’s limited-slip differential in production Toyota, Lexus and Scion models. For one thing, none of the company’s numerous front-wheel-drive offerings have followed Alfa Romeo, Ford, Honda and Nissan’s lead in using LSD with FWD in their performance models from the factory, even though TRD does offer a FWD-compatible unit in its accessory catalog. (What performance FWD models does Toyota offer, anyway, many will rightly ask?) In fact, Torsen’s OEM Applications – Worldwide PDF document only lists recent all-wheel-drive Lexus (GX, LX and AWD versions of LS, GS and, presumably, IS) and Toyota (4Runner, FJ Cruiser and sundry Land Cruiser variants) models as using a T-3 (Type C) planetary type differential; and Lexus’ LFA supercar and post-2010 IS F as using a more rear-wheel-drive appropriate T-2 (Type B) unit. The contemporary Torsen applications listed there, however, ignore not only the upcoming Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S and Toyota (GT) 86, but historical enthusiast models such as Toyota Altezza/1st-generation Lexus IS, Mk III and IV iterations of Toyota Supra and numerous Japanese Domestic market platform-mates of these much-beloved vehicles.

The T-2 (or Type 2 or Type B) denomination, however, simply informs us, in broad terms, that the Toyobaru triplets use a rear limited-slip differential with a parallel gear arrangement. Beyond that, a number of variables come into play, such as the differential gear ratio, the number of teeth in the drive pinion and ring gear, and the ring gear size. As we learn from an overseas 1st-generation Lexus IS Differential information page from a technical/training manual, these emerge as notable differences between the IS 200′s F19TX limited-slip differential and the torquier IS 300′s F20TX unit. While both use a 43-tooth ring gear, the F20TX gains an extra pinion tooth (12 versus 11) and, most crucially, the ring gear size is 190mm (7.48″) for the F19TX and 205mm (8.07″) for the F20TX. A third possibility (again?!) is the 2010-and-newer Lexus IS F’s FD21AT unit, but we’d rule that one out quickly, given that it would probably be overkill for a car with half the power.

Further informed, intelligent discussion on this subject comes to us from an ft86club thread titled Confirmed Torsen Differential.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Official Toyota Japan 86 site
Photo 2:
Response.jp
Photos 3-5 and 7: Keishin Tamashiro
Photo 6: Scion USA Newsroom

Informed Speculation: the 19 new Toyota, Lexus and Scion models to launch during 2012

Ahhh… Pavlov and the conditioned reflex. For those of you that stayed awake during high school science or psychology classes, this was the famous experiment where Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov would ring a bell at the same time as offering a dog food, with the latter making the dog salivate in anticipation. Eventually, the dog was conditioned to salivate simply upon hearing the bell ring, even before the food was actually presented.

Here at Kaizen Factor, however, the conditioned reflex works a bit differently. All it takes is for a senior Toyota official to declare something like, “during (insert year or period of time) Toyota will introduce (insert number) new or updated (possibly having a certain common characteristic) models” for this author to indulge in educated guesswork to figure out what, precisely, those vehicles will be. Indeed, our Informed Speculation series of articles have, in the past, built upon Executive Vice President in charge of Research & Development Takeshi Uchiyamada’s claim that Toyota would release 7 all-new and 4 next-generation versions of existing Toyota and Lexus hybrids by the end of 2012.

Concurrent with the Detroit Auto Show in early January, trade publication Automotive News holds its World Congress get-together of car industry executives. On 10 January 2012, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.’s Group Vice President and Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter’s speech included this tidbit:

With the improving car market…along with a barrage of 19 new or updated Toyota, Scion and Lexus products…we expect 2012 to be a banner year for Toyota.

Yes, you heard right. We’re going to introduce one new or updated car every 19 days on average this year!

That’s unprecedented in Toyota’s history.

As this author…um…salivates at the prospect of guessing what, precisely those 19 models are, we need to put forth a trio of ground rules. The first is that, given that this particular pronouncement was made by Toyota U.S.A.‘s Bob Carter, we won’t consider models for other markets, such as the Euro-centric Toyota Avensis and Aygo mid-life facelifts or the upcoming made-in-France Yaris Hybrid that have already been revealed.

Second, we’re interpreting this to mean new or updated models launched during calendar year 2012, not necessarily model year 2012. Thus, new 2012 models that went on sale during the late 2011 calendar year such as Toyota’s Camry, Camry Hybrid, Prius v, Yaris and refreshed Tacoma, as well as the new-to-North America Scion iQ are specifically excluded from our listing, logic that is tacitly supported in the 7th paragraph of an article by David E. Zoia of WardsAuto.

Finally, we should note that, given Toyota and Lexus’ penchant for considering hybrid and non-hybrid versions of any given model as two separate versions, they’re probably using that logic in arriving at their 19 model count.

Although not contained in the Toyota USA Newsroom’s draft of Bob Carter’s speech, word soon got out that 9 out of the 19 new or updated models would wear the Lexus badge, at first via the aforementioned David E. Zoia of WardsAuto and the Hans Greimel / Mark Rechtin team from Automotive News, and then officially admitted by Lexus in their first-ever Super Bowl commercial press release. With two Scion-badged debuts expected during 2012, that leaves 8 new or revised Toyotas for the list.

Although listed in seemingly random order, the list can, in fact, be mentally divided into two separate “blocs”. The first 9 are the no-brainers, the Toyota, Scion and Lexus vehicles that have already been officially revealed to the world, in some cases as far back as a year ago or longer, but not available for purchase until the 2012 calendar year. The remaining 10 is where our informed speculation title comes in, with yet-to-be-revealed vehicles whose probabilities vary from highly likely to speculative wild-ass guesses that may well be bumped off the list by something else.

OK, enough qualifyers and preambles. Here’s our Informed Speculation list:

1) Lexus GS 350
With its slow, protracted rollout during 2011 (LF-Gh predictor concept at April’s New York Auto Show; 4th-gen GS 350 debut at Pebble Beach, California in August; GS 350 F Sport premiering at Las Vegas’ SEMA Show; and the debut of the not-for-North America GS 250 at China’s Guangzhou Auto Show, both in November) plus its familiar, predictable exterior styling, the latest iteration of the Lexus GS may not, on the surface, feel particularly “new”, but just wait until its February on-sale rollout, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the generational leap of its interior and, above all, by a driving experience that is miles ahead of its predecessors, one that is certain to produce anxiety attacks in Ingolstadt, Munich and Stuttgart.

2) Lexus GS 450h
The hybrid version of the 4th-generation Lexus GS got its own dedicated public debut at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. Like its predecessor, this is a performance-oriented hybrid with a 3.5-liter 2GR-FXE V6 that is a hybridized and more powerful derivative of the GS 350 engine. Due to go on sale after its non-hybrid sibling in spring 2012, it is, if anything, even more of an eye-opening improvement over the previous GS 450h. And, if published rumors (notably from England’s Auto Express) turn out to be true, the GS 450h may well be joined by a second more economy and low CO2 emissions-oriented hybrid sibling. Most rumors point towards a GS 300h powered by a variant of the new-for-2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid’s 2.5-liter 2AR-FXE 4-cylinder engine. A more remote possibility is a GS 350h powered by a new hybridized variant of the Lexus IS 250 and GS 250′s 4GR-FSE 2.5-liter V6.

3) Toyota Prius c
As Toyota’s Prius branches out into a family of Prii with the larger Prius v (a.k.a. Prius Alpha or Prius+), the subbrand now goes in the opposite direction with the smaller Prius c (for cookie city). This dive into Toyota’s deep parts bin essentially mates the 2550mm (100.4″) wheelbase iteration of the NBC platform (think outgoing Toyota Yaris / Vios / Belta sedan) with the 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter 4 cylinder hybrid powertrain from the 2nd-generation (2004-2009) original Prius. Toyota has put a great deal of effort into making the mechanical components as compact and light as possible and in lowering the center of gravity (a major Toyota goal these days) as Prius c project manager Masahiko Yanagihara informed Bertel Schmitt of The Truth About Cars. About to go on sale in Japan as the Toyota Aqua, the Prius c will be available in the U.S. in March with a starting MSRP below $19,000. Expect it to obliterate what few sales the current 5-door Honda Insight still generates.

4) Toyota Prius Plug-in
After a rather long public introduction period (its North American debut was at the December 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, and this author attended a technical briefing at the South Florida Auto Show in October 2010), the Toyota Prius Plug-in is finally about to go on sale. Its public rollout is just as protracted as its launch was, with order-taking for 14 launch states (California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia) having begun in October 2011 for Spring 2012 delivery, followed by a 2013 national rollout. The Prius Plug-in features a lithium-ion battery that provides an extended electric-only driving range of up to 15 miles at a maximum speed of 62 miles per hour. Charging times are 2.5-3 hours using a standard 120V outlet or 1.5 hours using 240V.

5) Scion FR-S
The most highly anticipated affordable new sports car in a long time finally goes on sale this coming Spring. The phrase “game-changer” has probably devolved into cliché by now, but if any one car truly deserves that description, this is it. The collaboration with Subaru has brought out the best each company has to offer, and red-blooded car enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting its release. Sure, die-hard Toyota fans remind us that none of the company’s golden-age sports cars bore the Scion badge, while others fret that Subaru’s marketing and two trim-level offering for the BRZ are trumping Scion’s traditional mono-spec plans, but all this pales to the hearty celebrations and hosannas for the return of the reliable, affordable rear-wheel-drive Japanese 2+2 sports coupe in new-car showrooms.

6) Toyota Land Cruiser
Many Toyota fans fret over the similarities between the Toyota Land Cruiser and its Lexus LX 570 sibling, eloquently expressed by the Toyota’s ranking among the 10 least-selling vehicles by a mass-market brand. After all, if you’re spending over $70,000 on a super-capable SUV, may as well get one with a luxury badge and its commensurate dealer VIP treatment. So, what does Toyota do for the current Land Cruiser’s first mid-life facelift going on sale this month as a 2013 model? Bring it even closer to the Lexus LX by adding a large, chrome-trimmed body side molding and adding “over $2,500 in new and updated equipment, inside and out” and making the features of the previously optional Upgrade Package standard! Once you get over the eye-popping $77,955 base MSRP for the 2013 Land Cruiser, head on over to Expedition Portal and read Scott Brady’s spot-on take on the subject.

7) Lexus LX 570
Like its Toyota-badged fraternal-verging-on-identical twin described above, the current iteration of Lexus’ top-of-the-line SUV receives its first mid-term refresh. Most obviously, the LX becomes the third model (after the CT and 4th-generation GS) to receive the new-face-of-Lexus spindle grille, as well as new Turn Assist (which tightens the turning circle by adding more brake force to the inside rear wheel) and Multi-terrain Select (allowing for a choice of five types of terrain settings) features. Expect it at your local Lexus dealer in early February with an MSRP of $80,930, or almost $3000 over the Land Cruiser. As we said earlier, a no-brainer which one to go for. By the way, the LX 570, like the Toyota Land Cruiser and 4th-generation Lexus GS, skips the 2012 model year altogether and goes straight from 2011 to extended 2013 model year.

8) Scion iQ EV
After a couple of launch delays, the North America-market Scion iQ was nonetheless barely excluded from our “list of 19″ by virtue of the 248 units sold in the western United States during December 2011. Yet to go on sale, but expected by the end of this calendar year, is a limited run of battery-electric Scion iQ EVs. A Toyota-badged prototype, as shown above, debuted last March at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show. Information on the Toyota USA Newsroom is scant, except to predict a range of less than 50 miles per charge and a small run of cars available only to demonstration programs such as fleets and short-distance urban car-sharing programs. The Integrity Exports website adds that there will be an initial run of 600 cars, with 400 remaining in Japan, 100 earmarked for Europe and the final hundred coming to the United States wearing the Scion badge.

9) Toyota RAV4 EV
Back in May 2010, we amply reported on the Toyota/Tesla collaboration, which, soon enough, begat a Demonstration Vehicle prototype battery electric 3rd-generation Toyota RAV4 EV that debuted at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show with the promise of a late 2012 on-sale date. The carmaker’s second BEV launch this year harkens back to the first RAV4 EV that was available from 1997-2003. Those of you with long memories may recall that this resulted in an odd product cadence where, after the 2001 model year 1st-gen RAV4 EVs were sold alongside newer 2nd-gen gasoline-powered RAV4s. Given that the current RAV4 has been around since the 2006 model year, will history repeat with the post-2013 RAV4 EV an offshoot of the 3rd-generation RAV4 that will soon be superseded by a 4th-generation gasoline version? This author’s admittedly hazy crystal ball says no…

10) Toyota RAV4
With its debut in late 2005 as a 2006 model, the current RAV4 has been the longest-lived gasoline or diesel-powered generation of Toyota’s pioneering small crossover SUV, now in its 7th model year with but a single mid-term refresh in 2009. Would Toyota really launch a RAV4 EV this year in such an aging model? We doubt it. And this author isn’t alone in his skepticism, as Car and Driver‘s Jon Yanca noted that, “Toyota made a point to say that the (2010 RAV4 EV) demonstration vehicles will be based on current-generation cars, which sure makes it sound like the appearance of the fully baked version will coincide with the launch of the next RAV4. So there’s one useful thing we learned—maybe.” Even more useful, however, would be a return to its roots as a short, strictly 2-row seating model such as Japan and Europe get, and not the current North America and Australia super-size that is barely shorter than the Toyota Highlander.

11) Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
With the existence of a Toyota RAV4 EV that will supposedly be available in significantly greater numbers than the 100-car test run of Scion iQ EVs, should we really expect a RAV4 Hybrid? Back in November 2010 this author wrote that, “With all the talk of the full-electric Toyota/Tesla RAV4 EV, a separate hybrid RAV4 is unlikely, but you never know.” In retrospect, we feel that prediction to be erroneous, and that we will see a RAV4 Hybrid to plug the price and fuel economy gap between a gasoline and full-electric RAV4. Other factors include the lack of a 4-cylinder hybrid crossover SUV with an all-wheel-drive option in Toyota’s lineup and, to a lesser extent, Ford’s mix of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full-electric variants of its Focus and C-Max lines.

12) Toyota Avalon
Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter’s speech at the Automotive News World Congress also included this enigmatic clue: “You’ll see an outstanding example of a locally developed new product later this year. I can’t say much about it other than its name has a letter “A” or two in it”. While Venza, Sienna, Tundra, Sequoia, maybe Matrix or even an improbable and highly unlikely Solara revival could fit this U.S.-developed description, odds are he’s talking about the 4th-generation Toyota Avalon. The current iteration of Toyota’s full-size front-wheel-drive sedan is certainly overdue for a major change, given its 2005 model year debut and 2 mid-life facelifts. In June 2011, a Toyota dealers’ national meeting in Las Vegas included a preview of both the 2012 Camry and the upcoming Avalon. Reportedly, they were far more excited by the latter, likening the new Avalon’s styling to the Audi A7 and current Jaguar XJ. Given the Avalon’s precedent of Chicago Auto Show debuts, we may well see the newest version of Toyota’s large sedan unveiled at the show’s Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 February press conferences.

13) Lexus ES 350
Where the Toyota Camry goes, the Lexus ES closely follows, at least as far as total makeovers go. Hardly surprising, given their common mechanicals and roots. Current rumors peg the debut of the 6th-generation Lexus ES during the 2012 New York Auto Show press conferences on Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 April, alongside the unveiling of the production version its archrival, the smokin’ hot 2nd-generation Lincoln MKZ. Given that the current Lexus ES is the brand’s best-selling model in China (and, in fact, among the 5 top-selling luxury vehicles there), the premium that frequently chauffeur-driven Chinese executives place on rear seat leg room, and no plans for a Chinese market long-wheelbase version of the new GS sedan all suggest that the new ES may well skew closer to Avalon than Camry in size and proportions.

14) Lexus ES 300h
As we reported back in December 2010, Toyota applied for U.S. and Canadian trademarks for ES 300h for use by its Lexus division. Likely to debut alongside its non-hybrid counterpart in New York, the first-ever hybrid Lexus ES will probably share the latest Camry Hybrid’s 2AR-FXE 2.5-liter 4-cylinder hybrid engine. Given the rave reviews this new powertrain has received, not to mention its noticeably improved fuel economy versus its 6th-generation Camry Hybrid predecessor, expect this to be the final death knell for the underperforming Lexus HS. Also, don’t be too surprised if, at some point, this Lexus ES and ES h becomes the second Lexus model to be built in North America, be it in Canada’s Cambridge, Ontario South Plant alongside the RX 350 or in the U.S. at a new Lexus-caliber facility within Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky manufacturing complex.

15) Lexus RX 350
Having debuted in November 2008 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the current 3rd-generation (AL10) Lexus RX is just about due for its mid-life refresh. At a minimum, expect a revised front with Lexus’ new spindle grille, plus new wheel styles and revised taillight inserts for Lexus’ most popular model in the United States. One possible surprise, however, was hinted at by Hans Greimel and Mark Rechtin of Automotive News as they quote Lexus general manager Mark Templin’s statement that “Lexus will launch nine new or updated models this year, plus three F-Sport variations“. With the new GS F-Sport being the first, might an RX 350 F-Sport be the second? Unlikely as this notion may sound to some, don’t forget that the RX currently offers an unheralded Sport Package with sport-tuned suspension and VDIM.

16) Lexus RX 450h
The bulk of what we wrote above for the RX 350, naturally, also goes for its RX 450h hybrid sibling. One probable exception, though, would be the slim likelihood of an RX 450h F-Sport for North America. CT 200h F-Sport notwithstanding, Japan and Europe seem to be far more amenable to the notion of F-Sport hybrids than the New World is. For proof, just look at 4th-generation GS offerings here versus other markets.

17) Lexus LS 460
With the current, 4th-generation (XF40) Lexus LS having debuted for the 2007 model year and received but a single mid-life refresh for 2010, the time seems ripe for the rollout of its 5th-gen successor. Though details are scant-to-nonexistent at this point, we expect a protracted, multi-continent rollout of its diverse variants, akin to what we saw for the 4th-generation Lexus GS. Assuming that April’s 2012 New York Auto Show is earmarked for the ES, possible LS debut venues include Pebble Beach, California in August; Paris in September; and Los Angeles and Guangzhou, China in November. Given that the Lexus LS’s archrivals Audi A8, BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class all currently or will soon offer 6-cylinder versions of their flagships even in North America, we wouldn’t be surprised to see an LS 350 powered by the 2GR-FSE 3.5-liter V6. On the reverse side of the coin, might a 5th-gen LS F-Sport be the third new thusly-badged model that Mark Templin was hinting at?

18) Lexus LS 600h
Again, there isn’t much to add to what was said above for the Lexus LS’s hybrid variant. Given the rumored 2-pronged economy hybrid/performance hybrid strategy for the new Lexus GS, plus the current or upcoming availability, even in North America, of diesel-powered Audi A8 and Mercedes S-Class models, an LS 450h powered by the Lexus GS 450h’s 3.5-liter 2GR-FXE hybrid V6 to be sold alongside the LS 600h L and its 2UR-FSE 5-liter hybrid V8 sounds like a natural strategy.

19) mystery large Toyota hybrid
Unexpectedly hinted at during Bob Carter’s Automotive News World Congress speech, this one deserves its own separate Kaizen Factor article. Stay tuned…

Other possibilities
As is the norm for this sort of Informed Speculation articles, there are a number of seemingly more remote, secondary possibilities that may well shove some of these entries off the list. They are definitely worth exploring.

With Scion focused on expanding previously-delayed gasoline-powered iQ availability beyond the U.S. west coast, rolling out the highly-anticipated FR-S coupe and the 100 electric iQ EVs, we wouldn’t expect more from them besides a token Release Series or two of an existing model. What about Scion’s long-standing tradition of always revealing something at the New York Auto Show, you say? More often than not, this is a concept vehicle, as opposed to a new production model, and that’s certainly what we’d expect this year.

At Lexus, some of you may be baffled at the inclusion of the 5th-generation LS ahead of the 3rd-generation IS. After all, the 3rd-generation (S190) GS launch at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show in January was swiftly followed by the 2nd-generation (XE20) IS debut at Geneva in March of that year. Our rationale is that the current LS has received only a single mid-cycle refresh and no talk of a delay from its traditional 6-year cycle between major changes, whereas the current IS has received two mid-cycle refreshes amidst talk of a 1-year delay versus original 3rd-gen launch plans. Thus, IS can more logically stand to be released after LS.

There are also hopes that the trademarked-in-mid-2009 CT 300h name might become an actual, more powerful option for the successful entry-level Lexus CT line. But would a new engine option without a mid-cycle refresh count as one of the 19 anyway? We’d guess not. As to rumors of a sub-RX, RAV4 based Lexus SUV or a larger, 7-seat crossover, sure, they’d be logical additions to the line, but with Lexus’ hands full juggling the cadence of renewing its four core sedan lines, don’t expect to see them as production vehicles debuting during this calendar year.

Toyota’s broad model line, of course, makes for the largest margin of error on this list. Starting at the bottom, the new-for-2012 in North America 3rd-generation (XP130) Toyota Yaris hatchbacks are still awaiting a notchback sedan sibling. But will it ever come? Just over two years after the newest Yaris debuted in Japan as the Toyota Vitz, we are still awaiting the next generation of its Japanese Domestic Market sedan counterpart, the Belta. And no new Belta nor Yaris sedan also means no new Vios for southeast Asia. With Honda and Mazda adopting a no-sedan-for-North America strategy for their Yaris-rivaling Fit and 2 lines, Toyota may well be following suit.

Corolla and Matrix? Nah. The North American Corolla appears one year later than its Japanese Corolla and European Auris siblings, and the latter isn’t expected to be unveiled until this September’s Paris Auto Show. The Sienna minivan? Another unlikely, since the 2011 model year debut of its 3rd-generation puts its mid-term refresh at some point next year at the earliest. Highlander? With the current model’s 2011 model year mid-life facelift, also improbable. On the other hand, their Venza sibling is a prime candidate for bumping something off the list, since it has been around since the 2009 model year without the benefit of a mid-term refresh. A 2013 model year mid-term refresh at the end of this year for the current, new-for-2010 Toyota 4Runner and its Lexus GX 460 sibling also rates a maybe, while our esteemed co-editor Flipside909 has also suggested the possibility of a second mid-term refresh for the Tundra and Sequoia.

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…