Lexus to offer 9 hybrid lines by 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota Launches Hybrid Corolla, Keeps It In Japan

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

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -143

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -116

Article and all photos by Bertel Schmitt

The 2013 Toyota, Lexus and Scion “launch list” gets tweaked yet again!

number_9_answer_3_xlargeAnother day, another set of teaser hints and pronouncements over what new or revised vehicles Toyota, Scion and Lexus will introduce during the 2013 calendar year. First, on 11 September 2012, Toyota Division U.S.A. group vice president and general manager Bill Fay predicted that “seven, exciting all-new or updated Toyota and Scion vehicles (will be unveiled) in 2013″. Then, on 3 January 2013, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Lentz stated that “Nine all-new or significantly updated models (will be unveiled)”…Beginning this month with RAV4, followed later this year by the Lexus IS and Scion tC, just to name a few. Now, on the sidelines of the International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas on Monday 7 January, The Detroit News‘ David Shepardson cites senior vice president for automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales USA Bob Carter as saying that

Toyota plans 9 new vehicle launches for 2013 — including five for its Toyota brand, one for Scion and three for Lexus, after 12 new or refreshed models in 2012.

Twelve new or refreshed models in 2012? Wasn’t it 19? Well, the 19 for 2012 consisted of 12 Toyotas, 6 Lexus and one Scion, so it seems Carter was only referring to Toyotas. So, if we work from the third set of clues given by a high-ranking Toyota official in less than 4 months, plus our previous sleuthing and that of other pundits, the list would consist of the

Toyota Highlander – All-new 3rd-generation. This time, we’re combining all variants of the Highlander, hybrid and non-hybrid alike, into one entry.

Toyota Tundra – More likely a semi-extensive second mid-life facelift for the current 2nd-generation model, as opposed to an all-new 3rd-gen.

Toyota Corolla – All-new 11th-generation, expected as a sedan only, with the Matrix hatchback variant failing to see a third generation.

Toyota 4Runner – A mid-life refresh to the current 5th-generation model originally launched in September 2009.

Toyota Sequoia – As with the Tundra, an extensive second facelift for the current 2nd-generation model, as opposed to an all-new 3rd-gen. If this is pushed back to the 2014 calendar year, then Toyota was counting hybrid and non-hybrid versions of the Highlander separately after all.

Lexus IS – All-new 3rd-generation, officially confirmed to debut in just over a week at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show.

Lexus GX – A mid-life facelift for the current 2nd-generation that originally debuted in November 2009.

Lexus NX – Believed to debut at one or more of the major fall 2013 auto shows (Frankfurt, Tokyo or Los Angeles), Lexus’ newest model line is a compact crossover SUV smaller than the brand’s most popular model, the RX. Like the latest Toyota RAV4 from whence it’s expected to derive, the NX 200t and NX 300h launch (from public introduction to press preview to on-sale date) will probably encompass two calendar years.

And the Scion? It is interesting to note that Bob Carter is confirming our notion of a single new or refreshed model for the brand for 2013, as opposed to Automotive News‘ insistence on two new models. While Jim Lentz tells us to expect nothing more than a mid-term refresh for the current 2nd-generation tC, is Scion really going to celebrate it’s 10th anniversary only with something so anticlimactic? Or did he misspeak, leaving us to hold out hope for a new-generation 5-door hatchback instead? Well, if Scion once misidentified the FR-S manual transmission code on its press preview materials, perhaps they also erred in identifying their big news for 2013.

Besides reporting Bob Carter’s clues regarding the 9 new models for this year, David Shepardson also obtained the first official confirmation we’ve seen that

…the new (Furia) concept Toyota will show at the North American International Auto Show will be the basis — at least in part — for the new Corolla…

“You’ll see the concept of the Corolla,” Carter said, saying it will have “some of the elements” of what the new Corolla will look like. “We’re looking at styling of the vehicle in a way for the youth of today. Corolla has always been a youth car.”

Ummm…did he really say that with a straight face?

Informed speculation: the 7 all-new or updated Toyota and Scion vehicles for 2013

7 imagesCA6G017NAs the calendar turns from 2012 to 2013 and we look back at our previous predictions (some dating back to 2010) on what new or revised models Toyota, Scion and Lexus models were launched, we are reminded that Toyota is a company that is always Moving Forward, even though its new tagline is “Let’s Go Places”. Quite apropos, as buried in the 11 September 2012 news release announcing the new ad and communications tagline was a new round of product predictions. As Toyota Division group vice president and general manager Bill Fay noted,

(We will unveil) seven, exciting all-new or updated Toyota and Scion vehicles in 2013

Longtime Kaizen Factor readers know that we take these proclamations as a challenge to come up with a precise list of the vehicles in question. A couple of things seem crystal-clear: Lexus is specifically excluded from this prediction (their 2013 calendar year new releases are expected to be the 3rd-generation IS sedans, the GX SUV’s mid-life facelift and the new, sub-RX crossover SUV line, the NX); and the fact that it was uttered by a Toyota USA official means no Japanese domestic market or Europe-only models are part of the 7.

Unlike our previous Informed Speculation articles, where we were mostly on our own as far as deducing what went on the lists, this time there is more internet chatter on what the precise models are, mostly via Mark Rechtin of Automotive News. At the 4th-generation Toyota Avalon press preview in early November, he chatted with Toyota U.S.A.’s vice president of marketing Jack Hollis, who revealed that

The Avalon…will be followed by redesigns of the Toyota RAV4 and Highlander crossovers, Tundra full-sized pickup and Corolla compact sedan. A midcycle update for the 4Runner also is planned…

The redesigned RAV4 is expected in the first quarter of 2013; the Highlander and Tundra are coming the second quarter, and the Corolla is scheduled to arrive in the third quarter…

In addition, Toyota’s Scion brand has its xB and xD hatchbacks scheduled for renewals, either as a redesign or an entirely new product category.

Without further ado, here are our predictions:

Corolla badgeToyota Corolla
After the 11th-generation (E160) Corolla’s 2012 calendar year debut in Japan (in sedan, wagon and Auris hatchback guises), Europe and Oceania (Australia/New Zealand), North America patiently waits its turn. And it looks like we may have to wait a bit longer. Once touted as a shoo-in for a 2013 Detroit Auto Show unveiling, the announcement of the Monday 14 January 2013 debut of the Toyota Furia Concept at the show turned that notion on its head. The final scene (shot above right) of its pyromaniac’s delight teaser video shows the side profile of what appears to be a C-segment front-wheel-drive sedan such as the Corolla. And, indeed, there is near-unanimity among pundits (this author included) that Furia is a preview of the 2014 Corolla sedan for North America. Thus, we’d be surprised if the production version of the newest 11th-gen Corolla iteration is officially revealed any earlier than the 2013 New York Auto Show press conferences on Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 March.

As with most if not all recent Toyota and Lexus new-generation launches, we expect the new Corolla to use a carryover engine from its predecessor, in this case the 2ZR-FE 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine. If Oceania’s new Corolla Hatchback (Auris) is anything to go by, it may receive a slight 4 hp bump, to 136. Transaxles, though, may be a different story. Again referencing Oceania and other markets that have seen the newest Corolla, the current woefully obsolete 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic will, in all likelihood, be replaced by a 6-speed manual and a Multidrive CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). Yes, it’s more likely than not that the Corolla will become the second non-hybrid (besides the Scion iQ) Toyota CVT application in North America. Whether any of them (such as a sporty Corolla model) will use the Multidrive S with 7-speed sport sequential manumatic mode and paddle shifters remains to be seen.

Speaking of sporty Corolla models, we hope the current tepid Corolla S model gives way to a proper Corolla SE that follows the lead of current Yaris, Camry and Sienna SE variants in going beyond the merely cosmetic and offering meaningful firmer suspension and steering tweaks. And what about a return of the Corolla XRS with the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder 2AR-FE engine as a rival to the Honda Civic Si, Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen GTI? Don’t count on it, much as we’d like to see it. Another losing bet is on a third generation of the Toyota Matrix, as Toyota Division group vice president and general manager Bill Fay told Mark Rechtin of Automotive News, “If we don’t have the Matrix, it won’t be the end of the world.” Thus, it seems that the Toyota brand will join the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra in not offering a C-segment 5-door hatchback body style in the United States. No biggie, for the Scion brand will probably take up the slack. More baffling is Fay’s contention that the Matrix will continue to be available in Canada. Will the aging 2nd-generation E140 Matrix soldier on alongside the newer E160 Corolla sedan in the Great White North? Or might the Green Car Reports‘ John Voelcker be on to something when he suggests that the new E160 Auris might be imported into Canada as a Matrix replacement?

Highlander badgeToyota Highlander
With Toyota’s Camry and Avalon and the Lexus ES having been renewed within the past year or so, it is now their K-platform Highlander sibling’s turn for a new generation. Although any growth spurt would probably be slight, at least the discontinuation of the V6 and 3rd-seat options from the North American RAV4 makes for much less overlap between the two. The 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 should be largely carryover. Whether the base 2.7-liter 4-cylinder 1AR-FE engine survives in the next Highlander is an open question, given that in the latest Sienna minivan the 4-cylinder option was a barely more fuel economical resounding flop that was only offered for 2 model years. For the V6, it is a given that the current 5-speed automatic transaxle will give way to the U660E 6-speed auto currently used in the latest Camry, Avalon and ES V6s.

The current 2nd-generation Highlander is an anomaly that, like the Toyota Zelas/Scion tC and Lexus ES, is built (as a hybrid and for export to a handful of markets outside North America) but not sold in Japan. Going forward, however, that will change. As a February 2012 press release informs us:

Toyota will increase production of the Highlander mid-size SUV in late 2013 at the company’s Princeton, Indiana (USA) plant. Hybrid and export versions will be included…

The company will invest about $400 million to support global demand for the Highlander, which will no longer be built in Japan by late 2013. Toyota builds Highlander in China for that market only…

Highlander is currently sold in Russia and Australia, and TMMI will export to those countries.

Speaking of Australia, in that market the Highlander still bears the horrible, Freddy Kruegeresque Kluger nameplate, due to a conflict with a Highlander trim level for the Hyundai Terracan SUV that was discontinued in 2007. Might the Australian nomenclature finally align with that for the rest of the world?

Given the newest Corolla’s preview by the Furia concept and Jack Hollis’ assertion that the 3rd-generation Highlander will go on sale in the 2nd quarter of 2013, might this be the major production Toyota debut for the 2013 Detroit Auto Show?

2013_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_007_46257_2524_lowToyota Highlander Hybrid
As noted above, the big news regarding the 3rd-generation of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the shift in sourcing from Japan’s Kyushu facility to the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, Inc. (TMMI) plant in the U.S. This makes it the first Toyota hybrid to be built in the Hoosier state.

We suspect that the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder 2AR-FXE hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain from the current Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES would be marginal in the bulkier and heavier Highlander, but would an extra 178cc, 8 hp and 15 lb/ft of torque make the difference? Those are the approximate benefits from hybridizing the current base Highlander’s slightly larger 1AR-FE 2.7-liter four to create an Atkinson cycle hybrid 1AR-FXE. Useful as they may be, though, we suspect that the next Highlander Hybrid will carry on with the current 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6 hybrid powertrain.

Given all this emphasis on U.S.-only sourcing, we expect the latest Highlander to join the Avalon and RAV4 EV in having an American chief engineer.

Tundra_Double_Cab-prvToyota Tundra
The current, 2nd-generation of the space shuttle-towing Toyota Tundra full-size pickup truck made its debut at the February 2006 Chicago Auto Show. Since then, it has seen a minor facelift coupled with the replacement of the “middle option” 4.7-liter 2UZ-FE V8 engine with the newer, more powerful yet more economical 4.6-liter 1UR-FE V8 for the 2010 model year. We expect its latest version to debut 7 years later, during the Thursday 7 and Friday 8 February media preview for the 2013 Chicago Auto Show.

By most accounts, don’t expect a totally new, 3rd-gen Tundra to emerge. Rather, we should expect to see something akin to the extensive second facelifts applied to the 3rd-generation (XX30) Toyota Avalon in April 2010 for the 2011 model year; or to the 4th-generation (XF40) Lexus LS for the 2013 model year. Or, in the words of Motor Trend

…a source confirmed to us that the Tundra’s updates will be purely aesthetic and quite minimal – don’t expect to see any updates to the truck’s powertrains.

This is partially contradicted by Mark Rechtin of Automotive News‘ predictions dating back to last August:

Toyota will call (the spring 2013 re-engineering) a full redesign, but the V8 powertrains and suspension will remain the same, and the ladder frame dimensions won’t change much…

Expect Toyota to start pushing the 4.0-liter V6 version hard for corporate average fuel economy reasons, using direct injection to boost horsepower from its current 270 to more than 300. A larger fuel tank will increase range. Expect more “trucky” styling.

Finally! A long-overdue 1GR-FSE direct-injected 4-liter V6. We wonder if it will feature dual (D4-S) direct+port injection or go direct injection-only like the 2.5-liter 4GR-FSE V6. And would a V6 that powerful threaten to make the small 4.6-liter V8 redundant?

In comparison to the recent activity surrounding Detroit 3 full-size pickup trucks, then, expect something more akin to the 2013 Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 refreshes than an all-new generation like the upcoming 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.

4Runner_Trail-prvToyota 4Runner
The 5th-generation 4Runner was unveiled at the Texas State Fair on 24 September 2009, for the 2010 model year. Thus, it is due for a mid-life refresh for the traditional autumn 2013 kickoff of the 2014 model year. Primarily focused around new headlights, taillights, front grille inserts, exterior colors and interior tweaks, there may nevertheless be one significant change if Mark Rechtin’s Tundra prediction noted above holds true: the addition of direct (or dual direct+port) injection to the current 4-liter 1GR-FE V6 to create a 1GR-FSE successor.

Its overseas Toyota Land Cruiser Prado fraternal twin and its upmarket Lexus GX 460 derivative should similarly see a minor facelift, the latter becoming the latest Lexus to receive the signature spindle grille.

sequoia-platinum-badge-3Toyota Sequoia
Where the Toyota Tundra goes, its Sequoia full size sport utility vehicle offshoot soon follows. Although not explicitly mentioned in the latest round of “new Toyota” predictions, the suggestion of a 2014 model year “re-engineering” by Rechtin would imply a Tundra-like makeover to appear no later than the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show press previews on Wednesday 20 and Thursday 21 November. For reference, the 2nd-generation Tundra made its public debut at the February 2006 Chicago Auto Show but did not go into production until a full year later, on February 2007. In contrast, the 2nd-gen Sequoia first appeared at the November 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show but went into production the following month. Thus, our prediction is not particularly far-fetched.

Given that the Sequoia is probably too large and heavy for even an upgraded 1GR-FSE V6, don’t expect much more than a revised front end, taillights and wheels, with a couple of new exterior colors and some interior tweaks thrown in for good measure.

scion_bdg_ns_102612_717New Scion hatchback (xD successor?)
Historically, Scion’s two 5-door hatchback offerings have marched together in lockstep. The original 2004 xA and xB debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show on 2 January 2003 and both went on sale together, starting with 105 Toyota dealerships in California on 6 June of that year. Their successors, the xD and the 2nd-generation xB were both unveiled on 16 December 2006 at an invitation-only, no-camera event in Miami, Florida, followed by their joint public reveal on 8 February 2007 at the Chicago Auto Show. Soon thereafter, however, each went their own way. The xD went on sale in early August 2007 and soon settled into a routine groove of traditional late summer/early fall (between August and October) annual model changes. In contrast, the larger 2nd-gen xB was all over the map…er…calendar when transitioning from one model year to the next. After its debut in early May 2007 (3 months ahead of its xD sibling), it followed a March/April pattern for release of the following model years until 2011, when the 2012 xB was pushed back to July (thus creating a 16-month 2011 model year). Another 16-month (if not even longer) 2012 model year is in store, given that the 2013 model year xB, in Scion’s words, “will begin arriving in dealerships early next year” (the 2013 calendar year).

In light of this, we’re going to agree to disagree with Mark Rechtin’s contention that replacements for both the xB and xD will be introduced at the New York Auto Show in March. Would Scion really replace the xB so soon after the 2013 model goes on sale? We’ll stick out our necks and say no, and suggest that Scion’s 10th-anniversary festivities will only include a single new model, and that the xD will be discontinued before the xB. We will agree, though, that we’ll likely see several new Release Series special editions during 2013 to celebrate 10 years of Scion. (This author will be rooting for an admittedly unlikely long-shot larger-engined, manual transmission Scion iQ micro-hot hatch).

Toyota’s traditional veil of secrecy becomes even more impenetrable when trying to figure out what the future holds for the Scion model range. Back in April, a teaser for a subscriber-only WardsAuto article quoted then-Scion vice president Jack Hollis as saying

We don’t have plans for a direct xB or xD replacement…Harkening back to the original brand tenet of “one-and-done” models, Scion won’t carry over the names of the xB and xD

Soon, the notion of rebadged Daihatsu models as part of the future of Scion took hold, and Mark Rechtin, in the latest iteration of his annual “future of Scion” predictions for Automotive News and AutoWeek agreed, suggesting that

There has been talk of reconfiguring the boxy, 100-inch wheelbase Daihatsu COO/Materia (a.k.a. Toyota bB), which is closer in size and design to the original xB that defined the Scion brand.

Because of the xD’s tepid sales, Scion is rethinking its entry in the segment. We may see something more like the Ractis mini-minivan from the Japan market. The new xD (successor) likely will arrive in the fall of 2013.

Other possibilities
In spite of having more clues and hints than ever, there is still an unexpected level of uncertainty hanging over these predictions. Does the Toyota RAV4, with a public reveal in November 2012 but an early 2013 start-of-manufacture and sales date truly belong on last year’s predictions list or on this one? Is Mark Rechtin right about 2 Scion debuts for 2013 versus our prediction for a single one? Is Toyota counting the Highlander as one entity this year as opposed to last year’s counting of hybrids and non-hybrid versions separately?

Speaking of hybrids, a number of pundits, such as Auto Express, Green Car Reports and WardsAuto have wondered about the possibility of a gasoline-electric RAV4. Auto Express quotes RAV4 Deputy Chief Engineer Yoshikazu Saeki as saying that

…a hybrid “would not be difficult to do. We are watching the market. After introducing the new RAV4 we will see. There will be a possibility of introducing a hybrid RAV4 and we will respond to what the market wants.”

while WardsAuto cites Toyota U.S.A vice president-marketing Bill Fay as saying that

A hybrid version of the RAV4 is possible, but not now. You never know what’s down the road, but nothing short-term.

Perhaps Toyota sees some overlap between the Prius v and a RAV4 Hybrid, even though the former is longer, lower and narrower than the new RAV4. Also, unlike RAV4, Prius v is unavailable with all-wheel-drive. Or is Toyota, in a sense, borrowing from the Ford playbook that saw it abandon the Escape crossover SUV hybrid in favor of a front-wheel-drive only C-Max Hybrid tall wagon?

The initial draft of this article had a 2014 model year mid-term facelift for the 3rd-generation Toyota Sienna not-so-minivan in place of the Sequoia, given that the outgoing Highlander got one after 3 model years. The current Toyota Venza, Tundra and 4Runner mid-life refreshes, on the other hand, didn’t happen until after the 4th model year, Thus, we walked away from that prediction.

Finally, my esteemed colleague Flipside909 keeps insisting on how long overdue the Tacoma not-so-compact pickup truck is for a new generation. To which Mark Rechtin (again?!) of Automotive News replies:

The Tacoma soldiers on until a fall 2014 redesign that is required for safety and emissions standards.

Ahhh…then we can start our 2014 calendar year predictions list with a Sienna facelift and a new-generation Tacoma…

The 2012 Informed Speculation scoreboard

Rare is the car magazine that does not have a section dedicated to brief notes and comments on future vehicle news, rumors and what we refer to as Informed Speculation, bearing titles such as Upfront, the Oracle, Ampersand and MT Confidential. And, just as often as not, what you read there may turn out to be off-base or utterly false. Those mistaken predictions are quietly disregarded, swept under the rug in the hopes that, with our short attention spans and “too much information” digital age, their authors can pretend they were never made in the first place. To name but one totally random example, Georg Kacher once wrote in CAR magazine that the Toyota Auris Hybrid that debuted in 2010 would be powered by the 2nd-generation (XW20) Prius’ 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder hybrid power train when, in fact, it used the 3rd-gen (XW30) Prius’ larger 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE unit instead. The 1.5-liter 1NZ-FXE was eventually revived, but in the smaller Aqua/Prius c and Yaris Hybrid models, not in the Auris.

We at Kaizen Factor, on the other hand, are more honest with ourselves. As the 2012 major auto show season drew to a close with the Saturday 9 December end of the Angeles Auto Show, and as the clock counts down to the end of the 2012 calendar year, it’s time to look back at our major Informed Speculation stories and see where we were right and where we were woefully off the mark.

hsd_01The 7 new Toyota and Lexus hybrids due by the end of 2012
Over 2 years ago, a RAV4 EV Demonstration Vehicle press release in the Toyota USA Newsroom informed us that “…by the end of 2012, Toyota will add seven all new (not next-generation) hybrid models to its portfolio”. Naturally, we took that as a challenge and came up with what we felt were the 7 vehicles in question. Our score: 4 out of 7 right.

The “Toyota Prius MPV (also referred to as Prius Alpha or Prius Verso)” was, indeed, named Prius Alpha in Japan, but alternately bears Prius+ (in Europe) and Prius v (in North America, Australia and Hong Kong) badging. The “‘Baby Prius’, based on Toyota FT-CH concept” saw production as the Aqua (in Japan) or Prius c (in other markets). We were also right about the Europe-only Toyota Yaris HSD and the Lexus ES h, although we erroneously felt it was likelier as an ES 450h using the Lexus RX 450h’s 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6-based hybrid powertrain. Instead, we got the initial Lexus-brand application (in the ES 300h) of the 2.5-liter 2AR-FXE 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain from the latest Toyota Camry Hybrid.

And the trio we got wrong? Unlike the 1st-generation Auris, Toyota did not add a hybrid variant to the current 3rd-generation Toyota Avensis at the time of its 2012 model year mid-life facelift, nor has the Toyota Sienna minivan received a hybrid version. And the Lexus IS h? Yes, it’s coming, but after the end of 2012 time frame, and not for North America. So, what did we miss in their place? The Toyota Avalon Hybrid and the Lexus CT 200h, which actually went into production in December 2010, a month after the aforementioned press release was issued. Try as we might, we couldn’t come up with a third, so we suspect that Toyota is counting the 5-passenger Prius v with a nickel-metal hydride battery hybrid system and the 7-passenger Prius+ with a lithium-ion battery hybrid system as 2 separate models. Does that make it 5 out of 7 right, then?

7 or 11? The other 4 upcoming Toyota and Lexus hybrids
No sooner had this author posted the above-referenced story that word came, via Yahoo News/AFP and AutoWeek that, in fact, Toyota’s plans were to release 11 new hybrids by the end of calendar year 2012. The difference? Besides the 7 discussed above, an additional 4 were new-generation versions of existing hybrids. Here, we got 2 out of 4 right, with the Lexus GS 450h version of the 4th-generation Lexus GS and the Toyota Camry Hybrid offshoot of its latest 7th-generation.

We were wrong about the Toyota Estima Hybrid minivan, and even though the Lexus LS received a major facelift that was unveiled on 30 July 2012, it wasn’t profound enough to call it a new generation, so we’ll put it in the “wrong” column as well. The two we missed? The 2nd-generation Toyota Auris HSD that just debuted at the September 2012 Paris Motor Show and, just making it under the wire, the hybrid version of the 14th-generation Toyota Crown, officially unveiled on Christmas Day 2012.

The hybrid versions of the Crown Royal and Crown Athlete mark the debut of the 2AR-FSE engine, as predicted in our recent TMC’s Environmental Technology Development update: a peek at Toyota and Lexus’ powertrain future (Part 1) article. Yes, you read that right. What we referred to as the “2AR-FXE with D-4S engine variant” has been given the 2AR-FSE moniker instead. This is essentially the current Camry Hybrid / Avalon Hybrid / Lexus ES 300h 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with the addition of D-4S dual direct+port injection, for which we had predicted something in the vicinity of 220-225 total system horsepower. The Toyota Global newsroom tells us that, in the Toyota Crown Hybrids, it produces 162 kW (220 PS), or 217 total system horsepower, just a bit shy of our earlier guesstimate.

The 19 new Toyota, Lexus and Scion models to launch during 2012
With 19 vehicles at stake, this North American-centric prediction had far greater room for error, yet we only note one major miscue: the prediction of a Hybrid version of the just-launched 4th-generation Toyota RAV4. Taking its place on the list: the Toyota Venza mid-life facelift.

Admittedly, we did get some details wrong. The RAV4 EV, for instance, turned out to be a 3rd-gen derivative after all. The definitive inside story of the Toyota/Tesla RAV4 EV collaboration is an Automotive News story by Mark Rechtin titled From an odd couple to a dream team, which informs us that

There also was the problem of developing the EV based on an old platform. In fact, a redesigned RAV4 with a new platform was scheduled to be launched at about the same time the EV would arrive.

It would not be possible to develop an EV concurrently with the new RAV4 platform. And the parties could not wait for the new model to be completed before starting r&d and still meet (Akio) Toyoda’s tight deadline, (RAV4 EV chief engineer Greg) Bernas said. The old platform would have to do.

Other errors include predicting that the 2013 Lexus LS would be the 5th-generation model when, in fact, it was an extensive second facelift to the 4th-gen; and scaled-way-back production plans for the Toyota/Scion iQ EV, from the originally-planned run of 600 cars (400 remaining in Japan, 100 earmarked for Europe and the final hundred coming to the United States wearing the Scion badge) to 100 cars or so total, with about 90 coming to the U.S., the balance remaining in Japan and none going to Europe.

Finally, we must admit that the 4th-gen RAV4’s launch timing (public debut in late November 2012, but production start and on-sale date of January 2013) puts it in a borderline situation where we wonder which year Toyota is counting it in. We’ll stick with the former, but, already, the carmaker has announced 7 new or facelifted models for the 2013 calendar year. And that will be the subject of our next Informed Speculation article.

Has Lexus killed or indefinitely postponed more powerful CT variants?

Lexus CT 200h F Sport blue

Back in July 2009, this author helped break the story of Lexus’ filing of CT 200h, CT 300h and CT 400h trademarks. The CT 200h, of course, went on sale worldwide as the brand’s entry level model in early 2011, but the larger-engined, more powerful variants remain nothing more than grist for the rumor mill. As recently as late June 2012, GoAuto‘s Haitham Razagui wrote that

Another likely unveil for Paris is a hot hatch variant of the CT200h and (Lexus Australia marketing manager Peter) Evans revealed its arrival is “a matter of when rather than if – or rather when and what because there are a few alternatives”.

“I am quietly optimistic based on the feedback and the whispers I’ve had,” he said.

Yet, the late September thru mid-October 2012 Paris Motor Show came and went with nary a sighting of a CT 300h, and it was left to the ES 300h to mark the Lexus-badged debut of the 2AR-FXE 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 200 total system horsepower engine and P314 continuously variable transmission hybrid powertrain. And, even as word of IS 300h and GS 300h trademark filings came from Australia, ominous signs started coming regarding the earlier CT 300h trademark. The Legal Force Trademarkia and Trademarks 411 websites both describe the CT 300h and CT 400h trademarks as “dead”. We should note, though, that the Trademarks 411 site’s Frequently Asked Questions: Trademark Filing page states that

US trademarks can last forever as long as the trademark is being used in commerce and defended against infringement. However, for a trademark registration to remain valid, a Statement of Use must be filed: (1) between the fifth and sixth year following registration and (2) within the year before the end of every ten-year period after the date of registration.

A pivotal figure in this story remains Haitham Razagui of Australia’s GoAuto, for earlier this month he chatted with Lexus International general manager Andrew Kirby and brings bad news for those of us hoping for a Lexus CT hybrid hot hatch:

Lexus has ruled out launching a more powerful version of its popular CT200h hybrid hatchback for the time being – even post-facelift – despite customer requests from around the world, including Australia…Lexus International general manager Andrew Kirby suggested enthusiasts will have to wait more than five years for a hot hatch to materialise.

The hot hatch could be a low priority in the Japanese luxury brand’s product development department because it is busy finalising the all-new IS sedan ahead of its launch next year, putting the recent LF-CC coupe concept into production (as the RC 350) and coming up (with) the (NX) compact SUV.

“There is no potential” for a more powerful CT in the medium term, said Mr Kirby.

Asked if there was scope for a hot CT to be introduced at the model’s mid-life facelift stage, Mr Kirby said: “(in the) next 3-5 years, probably not; after that then yes”.

“We have certainly had that request from customers and that is something we are continuing to investigate … we recognise that many markets around the world have asked us for a more powerful CT.

“The car looks the part and the suspension and driving feeling is sporty so we agree there is potential for (a hot CT) but we can’t deliver on that quite yet.”

A hot hatch would arguably form a cornerstone for Lexus as it moves away from its conservative image and repositions itself as a more design-led, driver-focussed brand.

In other words, don’t expect a CT 300h for the current generation of CT hatchback, but there may well be one for its 2nd-generation successor (perhaps with an additional sedan body style to rival the upcoming Audi A3 sedan and serve as a de facto replacement for the current HS 250h?) Notice, though, that, expansive and specific as Andrew Kirby was on the subject of a more powerful hybrid CT, he “would not confirm speculation that Lexus is considering turbocharged four-cylinder engines for its future products.” Does this leave the door open for a non-hybrid CT 200t hatchback powered by the upcoming 3AR-FTE or 3AR-GTE 2-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine expected to make its Lexus-brand debut in the upcoming NX 200t sub-RX, RAV4-derived crossover SUV? This author certainly hopes so, as a much-needed Volkswagen GTI rival. Better yet, why not an all-wheel-drive non-hybrid and manual transmission CT F as an Audi S3 rival? Let’s be very clear that Lexus has confirmed nothing of the sort (nor have the CT 200t and CT F names even been trademarked, to our knowledge), but consider this a show of support for such a CT “hot hatch” to appear in the future…

An…er…um…highly unusual Lexus CT 200h art car

What do cars and politics have in common? All the fiery debate, finger-pointing and hand-wringing over the U.S. government/taxpayer bailout of General Motors and Chrysler and dubious “investments” in and loans to “green” companies such as Fisker and Tesla? Yeah, that, too, but we were thinking more along the lines of the broad spectrum of expression and opinion, from mainstream middle to lunatic fringes (Roseanne Barr for president?! Really?!)

Somewhere in those fringes of the automotive universe is the world of art cars. Though the precise origins of the movement are hazy, proponents point to such seminal efforts as Janis Joplin’s 1965 Porsche 356c Cabriolet, John Lennon’s 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom V, late 1960s hippie-themed VW Microbuses and the string of BMW Art Cars that began with a 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL painted by Alexander Calder. As the movement grew from A-list rock musicians and prominent artists to the creative everyman’s need for self-expression, we saw the rise of ever more bizarre art cars and, with them, a growing number of gatherings and shows, of which the Houston Orange Show’s Art Car Weekend and Parade is but the most prominent in the United States. Other notable art car locales include the San Francisco Bay area; Douglas, Arizona; Nevada’s Black Rock Desert; Minneapolis and Seattle.

Lexus joined the art car fray via its Latino-friendly Vida Lexus (Lexus Life) initiative. Beyond the obligatory links to official information on Lexus automobiles, the English and Spanish language versions of the Vida Lexus website include Lifestyle and Events sections. It was through the latter that we learned that, back on Friday 20 April 2012, Lexus rolled out its “Art Galleries and Back Alleys” project in conjunction with East Los Angeles-based Self Help Graphics & Art and artists Patssi Valdez and Vyal Reyes with the Lexus CT 200h shown throughout this article.

In the words of an official Lexus press release issued in conjuntion with this art car’s appearance at the Miami International Auto Show:

(Artists Valdez and Reyes) explored the intersections between engineering and art, luxury and culture—and created a masterpiece that incorporates the expressions and techniques often featured in Hispanic art.

Materials used in the creation of this project are described as acrylic, gold leaf, bling (yes, obviously!), spray paint, spray cans, faux fur and vinyl, on a Lexus CT 200h. A sign at the Miami International Auto Show further informs us that

The exterior showcases a colorful, vibrant, and dynamic aerosol painting of abstract and surreal images. The interior features faux diamonds over a gold leaf base, and touches of aerosol with accents of mirrors and painted symbols. Valdez’s window wraps are a homage to artistic inspirations and communities found on both sides of the First Street bridge and places that influenced the formation of the Chicano arts movement.

Please don’t ask us to drive this thing, though, for all those faux diamonds and gems promise to make it a literal pain in the butt, not to mention back, thighs and hands. Not that you’d see much out of the decorated windshield, anyway. Left surprisingly untouched, though, are the F Sport accessory 17″ Trident 5-spoke alloy wheels. Besides, this particular CT 200h couldn’t be driven anymore, for it is one of the pre-production prototypes that, after a specific, yet unclear amount of time, may no longer drive on public roads but must either be crushed or relegated to museum or auto show duty. We cringed in horror as we saw a stock Matador Red Lexus IS F pre-production prototype and the Fox Marketing IS C and IS F meet their date with the grim reaper crusher. Yet, this particular CT 200h (we’ll guess it was originally Daybreak Yellow Mica with an Ecru NuLuxe interior) lives on as a very distinctive art car. Was it a good save, or would this particular CT 200h have been better off joining its IS F and IS C brethren in pre-production prototype heaven? What do you think?

Photo credits: Joaquín Ruhi (jruhi4)