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…

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.

Tetsuya Tada rekindles more Toyota sports car talk

Recently, Top Gear Philippines’ Editor-in-Chief Vernon B. Sarne (whom we were privileged to meet at the 2010 Paris Motor Show) was fortunate enough to interview Tetsuya Tada, 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. Their conversation brought to light a couple of interesting revelations.

The first of these is Tada-san’s claim 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.

The notion of a smaller and cheaper than 86 sports car is something that we at Kaizen Factor wrote about over 2 years ago as a derivative of Toyota’s sole remaining small and inexpensive rear-wheel-drive platform underpinning the SUVs sold under the Daihatsu Be‣go, Daihatsu Terios and Toyota Rush badges. In fact, enthusiastic Toyota engineers cobbled together what could be construed as a development mule for this idea in the Gazoo Racing/MN FR Hot hatch , a neo-KP61 Starlet of sorts unveiled at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon. One year later, the carmaker took the idea several steps further with a preliminary concept for just such a sub-86 sports car, the front-mid-engined TES Concept T-Sports built by the Toyota Engineering Society and shown below right. This seminal vehicle was amply discussed as part of our 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon coverage.

What about the “more upmarket than 86″ sports car? The last Toyota concept that addressed this segment was 2007’s FT-HS, powered by a variant of the Lexus GS 450h’s 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6 hybrid powertrain. This was widely touted as a predictor for a production Mark V Toyota Supra that, as of this writing, has yet to see the light of day. Fueling fans’ hopes, 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. So, should we raise our hopes of seeing a reborn Supra next year? Not so fast, for, as the second revelation of the Top Gear Philippines interview informs us,

Tada said…that nothing is sure yet since his team is still in the process of conceptualizing the two other Toyota sports cars. He also noted that 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.

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.

Would a 21st-century Toyota Supra be built on the new rear-wheel-drive N-platform that debuted on the 4th-generation Lexus GS? Perhaps. Or it could be a lower-priced, Toyota-badged offshoot of the rumored production version of the Lexus LF-LC concept. Or it may be the joint BMW/Toyota “future sports vehicle” touted in the memorandum of understanding the 2 carmakers signed on Monday 25 June 2012.

A final noteworthy observation is the implicit promise that Tetsuya Tada will be an integral part of the development of the 2 new Toyota sports cars. Might Toyota be grooming Tada-san to be the successor of the late, great Hiromu Naruse?

Photo Credit 1: Joel Strickland

TMC’s Environmental Technology Development update: a peek at Toyota and Lexus’ powertrain future (Part 1)

On Monday 24 September, what was ostensibly the press preview for the (very limited) production version of the battery electric variant of the Toyota iQ soon became, in the words of Bertel Schmitt of The Truth About Cars, “the strangest product launch I have ever seen”. Given how much information the usually reticent Toyota revealed regarding its future powertrain plans, press coverage was equally strange, veering between overly simplistic and sensationalist sound bites. Toyota to Launch 21 New Hybrids and a New Fuel Cell Vehicle in the Next Three Years! Toyota drops plan for widespread sales of electric car! Toyota kills electric car plans, says ‘capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs’! Ultimately, only a trio of accounts of what transpired at the Universal Design Showcase of Tokyo’s MegaWeb are truly worth reading: the aforementioned Bertel Schmitt of The Truth About Cars‘ “you-are-there” report, Hans Greimel’s Automotive News/Autoweek story for its large number of exclusive tidbits of information and, if you’re really pressed for time, Jake Holmes of Motor Trend‘s summary of the full TMC Announces Status of Its Environmental Technology Development, Future Plans Toyota Global newsroom PDF document. If, however, you prefer deep-dive analysis, commentary, interpretation and informed speculation of the sort Kaizen Factor thrives on, stay with us as we deconstruct Toyota’s newest revelations.

A new 2AR-FXE with D-4S engine variant
The “enhanced engine for use in hybrid vehicles, based on the 2.5-liter AR gasoline engine, (adopting) the Atkinson cycle and D-4S system” is none other than a new D-4S (dual direct+port injection) variant of the 2AR-FXE 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle hybrid engine used on the current Toyota Camry Hybrid and Lexus ES 300h. The existence of this engine was actually revealed a week earlier, in a Lexus USA Newsroom press release for the Lexus LF-CC concept. In a story for the my.IS website, yours truly figured that it would produce something in the vicinity of 220-225 total system horsepower (versus 200 total system horsepower for the port injection-only 2AR-FXE). Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development news release adds a couple of new bits of information. For one, the 2AR-FXE with D-4S achieves the world’s highest maximum thermal efficiency (38.5%), which translates into the engine producing more power and using less fuel, while wasting less heat.

Hans Greimel also informs us that this iteration of the 2AR-FXE engine will receive Denso’s newly-tweaked D-4S injectors that already appear in the 4th-generation Lexus GS and Scion FR-S/Toyota GT 86. In comparison to the original D-4S injectors that date back to 2006, the new ones use a slit-shaped (as opposed to the previous multihole) injector opening. This creates a richer fuel mixture inside the cylinder and results in 1% better fuel economy.

Toyota reveals that this engine will go on sale sometime during calendar year 2013 in an undisclosed vehicle. Greimel, however, suggests that the Japanese domestic market’s Toyota Crown Hybrid will be the first recipient of the new powerplant. Makes sense, as this would allow for some closer-to-home experience before exporting it in the Crown’s platform-mates, the rumored (and trademarked) Lexus GS 300h and IS 300h versions of the 4th-gen GS and 3rd-gen IS, respectively. Given current rumors that the IS 300h, like the outgoing IS 200d and IS 220d, will only be sold in Europe, expect a debut for the Lexus variants at either the 2013 Geneva Motor Show (press previews on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 March) or, later in the year, at the Frankfurt Motor Show (press previews on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 September).

Beyond its initial applications in Toyota’s new rear-wheel-drive N-platform (launched with the 4th-generation Lexus GS and expected to spread to the upcoming 3rd-generation Lexus IS and 14th-generation [S210 or S220] Toyota Crown), will the 2AR-FXE with D-4S hybrid powertrain eventually migrate to the myriad front-wheel-drive K-platform Toyota Camry derivatives that use the AR 4-cylinder engines? Could be…

A turbocharged 3AR-FTE or (better yet) 3AR-GTE?!
In what is perhaps the biggest surprise of the Environmental Technology Development announcement, Toyota informs us that

Starting 2014, TMC plans to launch a vehicle with a new 2.0-liter, turbo-charged AR engine, also based on the 2.5-liter AR gasoline engine. The new engine’s smaller displacement will provide higher fuel efficiency while the turbocharger will improve output.

In other words, Toyota is meeting the challenge laid down by Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler/Fiat, among others, in going the smaller displacement with a turbo route, all the better to “game” the U.S. EPA fuel economy cycle (and its European and Japanese counterparts) into producing lower consumption numbers realistically achievable only if you drive 24/7 like Grandma on a day she forgot to eat her breakfast. Step on it, spool the turbo up to full boost, and you’ll use more gas than in the naturally-aspirated 2.5, but I digress…

As we noted back in December 2011,

When looking back at Toyota’s boosted gasoline powerplants, the company’s history is akin to Audi’s, with a mix of turbocharging (Supra, 2nd-generation MR2, Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo/GT-Four) and supercharging (1st-generation MR2, TRD aftermarket kits and Australia’s Aurion TRD). The new millennium, however, has seen nothing but superchargers.

Thus, it’s a 180 degree, back-to-the-future turn for Toyota to turbocharge, as opposed to supercharging, its AR 4-cylinder engine.

Deducing what engine code the new 2-liter AR turbo will use is a fairly straightforward matter. As is the case for Toyota and Lexus’ GR V6 engine family, the smaller the first number, the larger the engine displacement, and vice-versa. The 1AR-FE is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine that debuted in Toyota’s current Venza and Highlander, made a brief appearance in the current Sienna minivan and is also available in the Asian-market Lexus RX 270. The 2AR-FE is its smaller 2.5-liter variant (shown above left) that is available in Toyota’s RAV4 and Camry, the Scion tC coupe and the new throwback-badged Lexus ES 250 for the Chinese market. The 2AR-FXE, of course, is the hybrid version we discussed earlier. Thus, a 2-liter version will be a 3AR. The “F”, per Wikipedia, denotes an economy narrow-angle valve DOHC (dual overhead camshaft) head, while a “G” would make it a performance wide-angle valve DOHC. A “T” for turbo is, of course, obligatory, as is the final “E” for electronic fuel injection. Thus, it would be a 3AR-FTE if it’s more economy-oriented or a 3AR-GTE if it’s performance-oriented. Sure, we definitely prefer the latter, but should also note Toyota GT 86 chief engineer Tetsuya Tada’s thoughts on boost (again from our December 2011 article):

Tada-san favours the supercharger approach because it is simpler to achieve than increasing engine size and doesn’t wreck throttle response as turbocharging might. Indeed Toyota says that turbocharging along with four-wheel drive and wide tyres are what make sports cars boring to drive.

In other words, we suspect a more economy-oriented 3AR-FTE is likelier. As to what 2014 vehicle gets the honors of launching this engine, it’s anybody’s guess, but this author suspects some sort of obscure, low-production variant of the Corolla for the Japanese domestic market. I know our co-editor Flipside909 is rooting for it to power a Volkswagen GTI-rivaling son-of-Corolla FX16 GT-S. Or, perhaps, a non-hybrid Lexus CT 200t sporty hatchback with a proper manual transmission?

Another compelling question is whether or not the so-called 3AR-FTE will use D-4S dual direct+port injection. We suspect not, given the historical issues with aftermarket boost for Toyota’s GR-FSE V6s and how Subaru went direct injection-only when turbocharging the FA20 flat 4.

Toyota’s small ND diesel gets a reprieve for Europe
In our first article on the BMW/Toyota alliance, we figured that Toyota wouldn’t bother to reengineer its aging diesel engines to meet upcoming Euro 6 standards. It turns out we were wrong, at least insofar as the smallest of them all, the 1.4-liter 1ND-TV. As the carmaker informs us,

The adoption of newly developed exhaust gas cleaning technology enabled the engine to pass the Euro 6, one of the most stringent exhaust emission standards in the world. Vehicles equipped with the new diesel engine are planned for launch starting 2015.

Thus, expect the 1ND-TV to soldier on in Toyota’s Yaris, Auris, Corolla, iQ, Ractis/Verso-S and Urban Cruiser (Toyota ist/Scion xD) lines, as well as in India-built versions of the Etios and Etios Liva models. On the other hand, the press release is silent on the ultimate fate of Toyota’s medium-sized AD 4-cylinder diesels. Expect those to be replaced by BMW diesels as of 2014.

i-ART: another Toyota/Denso fuel injection breakthrough
Throughout this article, D-4S, the first-ever dual direct+port injection system pioneered by Toyota and automotive supplier Denso, has been a recurring theme. Flying under the radar, however, the latter (itself a member of the Toyota Group conglomerate) announced, in December 2011, the creation of i-ART (intelligent-Accuracy Refinement Technology) the world’s first autonomous closed-loop diesel fuel injection control system. In essence, this system equips each injector with a pressure sensor that communicates its fuel pressure to the engine ECU and, in doing so, significantly reduces exhaust emissions and increases fuel efficiency, compared with the conventional open-looped technology that does not have feedback function from the injectors. i-ART-equipped versions of the 3-liter 1KD-FTV 4-cylinder diesel debuted in the Brazilian market version of the Hilux pickup truck in April 2012. Given the ease with which a 2-liter diesel i-ART test unit met upcoming Euro 6 emisions standards, we wouldn’t be surprised if this technology spread throughout the KD diesel engine family (including the smaller 2.5-liter 2KD-FTV) and to other Toyota truck-based lines such as Land Cruiser Prado and Third World models such as Fortuner, Innova and Hiace. And, if this technology is so emissions-friendly, wouldn’t it be cool to see these diesels in North America’s expansive truck-based Toyota line, not to mention in Lexus’ GX as a rival to the German luxury diesel SUVs? Then again, 3 liters is awfully large for a 4-cylinder engine, and the Germans use 6 cylinder diesels in this size segment, at least in North America, so the KD might be a bit crude for Lexus duty…

Arrghh! Toyota’s CVTs spread beyond hybrids, Europe and Japan
As Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update shifts its focus from engines to transmissions, discussion begins with one of this author’s pet peeves: CVTs, or continuously variable transmissions. I’m still regretting the way in which the traditional manual transmission with a clutch pedal is becoming a dinosaur of an endangered species, but at least modern torque-converter automatic transmissions and so-called single and dual-clutch (but no clutch pedal) transmissions purport to maintain some level of driver control via “manumatic” modes, gates and paddle shifters. CVTs, on the other hand, are far less likely to offer these options. As of now, dissatisfaction with the “manual mode” paddle shift feel on the Lexus CT 200h’s CVT transaxle led to a decision to limit this option to the Japanese domestic market. Indeed, the so-called “rubber band feel” of CVTs and the way they hold high revs while the car barely seems to move is off-putting to many.

Yet, CVTs also have their virtues, fuel efficiency chief among them. They are also the best way to manage hybrid powertrains, as tepid reviews of hybrids with torque-converter automatics such as the Infiniti M and the Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima fraternal twins can attest to. At any rate, a number of carmakers, such as Nissan and Subaru have staked their future on the CVT, and Honda and Audi also use them on some models. We certainly hold out hope that diligent engineering will result in future CVTs that…er…don’t suck, as Nissan seems determined to do.

Perhaps we’re dismissive because, in North America, the Scion iQ is the sole non-hybrid Toyota product using a CVT, whereas Japan and Europe offer a plethora of CVT-equipped models. In the latter market, so-called Multidrive (M/D) and paddle shifter-equipped Multidrive S (M/D S) models use the CVT. These, by the way, should not be confused with Multimode Manual Transmission (M/M) models that use a type of sequential manual transmission consisting of a traditional manual gearbox with an electronically controlled clutch (but no clutch pedal). The Environmental Technology Development press release touts

TMC’s newly developed continuously variable transmission, Super CVT-i, (that) has achieved both superior fuel efficiency and smooth acceleration due to its unsurpassed transmission efficiency, improved integrated engine control and reductions in both size and weight. The transmission, first installed on the Corolla for the Japanese market in June 2012, is planned for use on additional models, particularly in the compact segment.

Perhaps those additional models include the upcoming North American version of the 11th-generation (E160) Toyota Corolla.

From the folks that brought you the world’s first 8-speed automatic transmission, the world’s first 8-speed automatic transaxle
Back in 2006, Japan’s automatic transmission manufacturer Aisin AW rocked an automotive world accustomed to 4, 5 and 6-speed automatics by designing the TL-80SN, the first-ever 8-speed automatic transmission. Suitable for rear-wheel-drive applications, it debuted in the 2007 XF40 (4th-generation) Lexus LS 460. The AA80E transmission, as Toyota calls it, soon spread through their V8 car lineup, namely the Lexus IS F, the late, lamented Lexus GS 460 and the Toyota Crown Majesta. Nearly 2 years later, German automotive supplier ZF countered with its own 8-speed longitudinal automatic transmission, the 8HP. After launching with the 5th-generation (F01/F02) BMW 7-Series, the 8HP quickly spread to other brands such as Audi, Bentley, Chrysler, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce. Hyundai, meanwhile, developed its own 8-speed automatic for use in the Genesis and Equus lines.

Notice, though, that even the highly flexible ZF 8HP unit is a longitudinal transmission, used by Audi only in its longitudinally-engined lines (A4 thru A8), and not in its smaller (A3 and below, plus TT) transverse-engine models. Leave it, again, to Toyota and Aisin to follow up the pioneering TL-80SN / AA80E with the world’s first transversely-mounted 8-speed automatic transaxle, the U880F which premiered on the all-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350 F Sport SUV for the North American market in August 2012. And, stay tuned, for Toyota strongly hints that the U880, presumably in “regular” (front-wheel-drive) and F (AWD) iterations, should eventually spread throughout Lexus and Toyota’s FWD-centric models.

21 new hybrid models between now and the end of 2015
Among the numerous revelations contained in Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update, the claim you see above is among those that has been most widely reported and generated the most buzz. Yet, to our knowledge, no one has attempted to name the 21 vehicles. And, frankly, we’re not about to either, at least not in the in-depth manner in which we dared to guess at the 7 all-new hybrids, 4 revised existing hybrids and 19 new or revised models for North America due by the end of calendar year 2012. The nearly 3½-year time frame and the global (including Lexus) nature of this list makes even Kaizen Factor‘s crystal ball go all blurry and erratic. Further confusing things is what Toyota means by “now”. The Monday 24 September 2012 date of Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update? Or the August 2012 date mentioned in a couple of Toyota’s footnotes? This seemingly picayune point is key in determining whether or not the Lexus ES 300h, which went on sale in the United States and Canada during August 2012, is part of the list of 21.

Hans Greimel of Automotive News did note, however, that 14 will be either all-new nameplates or hybrid versions of vehicles that don’t currently come with an electric-gasoline option, leaving 7 next-generation, or full-model changes to existing hybrids. The latter are easier to guess at, and we figure that next-generation hybrid versions of Toyota Auris, Toyota Prius, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Estima (a primarily Japanese domestic market minivan that is a bit smaller than the Sienna), Toyota Crown, Lexus RX and Lexus LS are the likeliest 7.

And what about the 14 all-new nameplates or hybrid versions of vehicles that don’t currently offer an electric-gasoline option? These run the gamut from the obvious (The Toyota Avalon which will go on sale by the end of 2012 and the trademarked Lexus IS 300h) to the safe bet guesses to the flat-out speculative. And, speaking of Lexus, do rumored additional, alternate-engined versions of existing hybrids (think Lexus CT 300h, Lexus GS 300h or Lexus LS 450h) count separately among the 21?

Our previous Informed Speculation articles suggested hybrid versions of Toyota Avensis, Toyota Sienna, Toyota RAV4 and, perhaps, Toyota Venza. With the 11th-generation (E160) Corolla already available in Japan in a couple of variants and its Auris offshoot already hybridized, don’t be surprised if a Toyota Corolla hybrid becomes available. Don’t expect, however, a future version, hybrid or otherwise of the Toyota Matrix, which will die at the end of the 2013 model year.

Talk of a potential RAV4 hybrid reminds us that its upcoming 4th-generation (XA40) is expected to sire a Lexus sibling, which could wear the Lexus TX 300h moniker. And might the brand’s two recent hybrid concept coupes – LF-CC and LF-LC – lead to production versions bearing, say, Lexus IC 300h and Lexus LC 600h badges?

And what about the Toyota/Ford collaboration on a “new co-developed hybrid system ready for use later this decade on…rear-wheel-drive light trucks and SUVs”? Does that mean we’ll see hybrid Toyota Tundra and Toyota Sequoia models by the end of 2015? Hard to say, since the original Toyota Global and USA news releases from 22 August 2011 not only fail to mention any prospective production dates but promised to move from Memorandum of Understanding to formal production agreement “by next year” – meaning 2012 – yet, with less than 3 months to go before year’s end, nothing has happened. Might an announcement be forthcoming at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show press conferences on Wednesday 28 or Thursday 29 November?

Finally, Lord knows what obscure Japanese domestic market-only hybrids Toyota will come up with. For example, this author vaguely recalls reading something about possible hybrid versions of the oddball, asymmetrical door (single slider on the left, two regular doors on the right) Toyota Porte/Spade twins. Not much of a stretch, really, since they share their underpinnings (read NBC, or New Basic Car platform) with Yaris and Prius c/Aqua.

Thus ends Part 1 of our in-depth analysis and commentary on Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update, which corresponds to the Initiatives for Energy Conservation section of the news release, focusing on improvements to conventional gasoline, diesel and hybrid powertrains. Stay tuned for Part 2, which will feature our thoughts on Initiatives for Fuel Diversification, as Toyota describes various degrees of electrification such as plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles and fuel cells. This will conclude with a Beyond the News Release section featuring additional background information, much of it from journalists that attended the actual press event in Japan.