Le Comeback: Renault returns to America, under Mitsubishi cover

Le Car - Picture courtesy photobucket.com

Renault hasn’t sold cars in the U.S. since the post-disco-era and the sale of AMC to Chrysler. Renault cars are about to return to the Promised Land, albeit in Mitsubishi mufti.

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Lexus to offer 9 hybrid lines by 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is 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.

The small Lexus roadster. Is it happening after all?

Roadster-interior-2Never mind the upcoming Lexus NX small crossover, the IS-derived RC 2+2 sports coupe or even the rumored production version of the LF-LC concept expected to carry a 6-figure price tag. Forget any notions of a 3-row crossover SUV or a GS-derived 4-door coupe or even a CT F non-hybrid, AWD manual transmission hot hatch. If yours truly were only granted a single wish for a niche expansion of the Lexus lineup, it would be for a small 2-seat roadster (a fixed roof coupe would be OK as well) to take on the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Porsche Boxster/Cayman and the new Jaguar F-Type, and suggested as much back in July 2006 and, again, in July 2008. And when in June 2012 BMW and Toyota announced an expansion of their alliance to include the joint development of a sports vehicle,

Yours truly’s first thoughts were that the long sought-after small Lexus roadster would finally see the light of day not as a Scion FR-S/Toyota GT86 derivative, but as a rebodied and re-engined next-gen BMW Z4 (a notion seconded by Glenn Brooks of just-auto)… Jack Rix of Auto Express envisioned a (rebodied, we hope) production version of Toyota’s MR2 Spider-derived, fugly and catfish-like GRMN Sports Hybrid Concept II twinned with a BMW-badged version that would sit in the ‘i’ range somewhere between the i3 and i8…

Even Georg Kacher, in his “future of BMW’s Project i” piece – written a month before the BMW/Toyota joint sports car announcement – unwittingly touches upon yet another possibility with this passage:

“What the BMW community would love instead is an affordable Z2 – think of it as BMW’s answer to the Toyota GT 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ triplets. This car could pick up what was lost when then Z3 became the Z4, but unfortunately the new compact roadster keeps being rejected by the board, primarily for pricing and positioning reasons. Even though it is now almost too late to sign off on a Z2 based on the purist rear-wheel drive 2 Series components set, the time will probably never be ripe for a front-wheel drive Z2 twinned with the next Mini Cooper S Roadster”.

What about making the BMW Z2 a reality by coupling it with a Lexus version that would compete with long-rumored production Volkswagen and Audi versions of the Concept BlueSport roadster? Sounds good awesome to us!

Alas, over time, Lexus USA officials emphatically shot down the notion of a small sports car, citing the segment’s overall dwindling sales numbers. Too small of a niche to bother with, in other words. Thus, it was a “Yessss!!! Hosanna! Hallelujah! Triumphant fist-pump, jump-up-and-down moment” when Mike Connor, in the MT Confidential column of Motor Trend‘s May 2013 print edition, wrote that

Sources in Japan say Toyota’s version (of the joint BMW/Toyota sports car) will actually underpin an all-new Lexus sports car, a suggestion that makes all the sense in the world given Akio Toyoda’s ambition to make Lexus a genuine global rival to the German lux-meisters. Whisper is the new Lexus will be positioned to compete with the Mercedes SLK, BMW Z4, and entry-level Porsche Boxster.

But wouldn’t BMW be shooting itself in the foot by aiding and abetting a competitor in creating a rival to its own Z4? Perhaps not, given that, nowadays, rival carmakers collaborate on all sorts of niche segment models from tiny Euro-centric A-segment city cars to European “large MPVs” (those approaching U.S. “minivan” size) to all manner of cargo vans. Affordable sports cars are no exception. Think not only the Subaru/Toyota collaboration that begat the BRZ/GT 86/FR-S triplets, but the fact that Mazda’s upcoming 4th-gen (ND) MX-5 Miata will be paired with an Alfa Romeo-badged variant. Motor Trend‘s Connor also echoes the issues raised by German journalist Georg Kacher 4 paragraphs above:

And why does BMW need a new sports car platform? It already has the Z4. True, but the Z4 shares a lot of hardware with the 3 Series, which is fast getting too big to be sliced and diced into a credible two-seat roadster. Sharing with Toyota allows BMW to economically decouple the Z4 platform from the 3 Series, and keep it sports car size. There’s another potential benefit: The new platform could also underpin a new 2 Series coupe as the next-gen 1 Series goes front drive. It would keep the 2 Series rear drive – vital to BMW’s sporty credentials – but, more important, also liberate it from using modified 3 Series hardware, which is getting too big, too heavy and – crucially – too expensive.

This plan, if true, would bring with it one bit of collateral damage: the death of any hopes for a revival of the Toyota Supra. As MT‘s Connor notes:

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…

Sounds like a lame excuse to us, given that Chevrolet dealers sell Corvettes that start at a bit over that and can balloon to more than twice those sticker price numbers, at which Nissan dealers will also happily sell you a GT-R. Yet, if the BMW-Toyota collaboration is to yield but a single Japanese sports car, it probably makes more sense (and profits) to badge it as a Lexus and not as a Toyota.

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?

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?

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…