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