Lexus to offer 9 hybrid lines by 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The upcoming 3rd-gen Toyota Harrier: it’s NOT a preview of the 4th-gen Lexus RX

Toyota Harrier 1
A bare-bones Japanese language Toyota news release linking to a page on the Toyota Japan website promising a new Harrier crossover SUV in winter 2013 led to a stream of predictions that we were looking at the 4th-generation of the Lexus RX – minus the spindle grille – based on the historic relation between the two models. And this was no mere shadowy teaser, but included 4 clear pictures of a dark violet-blue-gray vehicle (three of which illustrate this article) with clear stylistic ties to its predecessors.

So, are they correct, or off base? OK, so the title of this article is a huge, in-your-face giveaway spoiler as to what this author thinks, but please stay with us as we justify why our opinion flies in the face of much of the Internet punditry. After all, yours truly has been down this road before – almost 9 years ago, to be precise – debunking erroneous notions that the original Toyota Mark X was the 2nd-generation Lexus IS.

First, though, a review of the historic relation between essentially similar Lexus and Toyota models is in order. In terms of origins, these fall into two broad categories:

Conceived as a Lexus, but badged as a Toyota in Japan
Born of the F1 (“Flagship One”) initiative to create a large luxury vehicle to challenge the world’s best, the original Lexus LS launched Toyota’s international luxury brand, with sales starting in the United States in September 1989. With the Lexus brand not appearing in the Japanese market until 26 July 2005, however, there was an almost 16-year period which saw an at times convoluted relationship between the international Lexus models and their Toyota-badged variants for Japan. Japanese dealers began clamoring for their version of the Lexus LS, which appeared at Toyopet Stores barely a month after its U.S. debut bearing the Toyota Celsior badge. The late 2006 debut of the XF40 4th-generation Lexus LS saw the end of Toyota Celsior badging.

A high-end luxury sedan begs for a GT coupe counterpart, right? Thus work began on the E-segment Lexus SC at Toyota’s Calty Design Research center in California, leading to a June 1991 unveiling. In Japan it appeared around the same time as the 3rd (Z30) iteration of a familiar badge: Toyota Soarer. The Soarer name carried on into the Japanese version of the 2nd-generation (Z40) Lexus SC until the July 2005 Japanese rollout of the Lexus dealer network. Then, the Toyota Soarer simply changed badges and carried on as a Lexus until its ultimate demise as a production car in July 2010 and as a Super GT racer at the end of the 2011 season.

Toyotas rebadged as Lexus for export
Toyota soon realized that a single F-segment high-end large luxury sedan such as the Lexus LS / Toyota Celsior was not enough to sustain a dealer network, and hastily adapted the V20 (2nd-generation) Toyota Vista 4-door pillared hardtop (itself a Toyota Camry variant) as the original Lexus ES 250. This 2-year stopgap was replaced by the XV10 2nd-generation Lexus ES with a new Toyota Windom equivalent. Both were launched in September 1991. The ES/Windom relation continued until the debut of the XV40 5th-generation Lexus ES in February 2007, at which point the Toyota Windom died and the Lexus ES became a model built but not sold in Japan.

After the rear-wheel-drive F-segment Lexus LS sedan and the E-segment Lexus SC coupe, an E-segment sedan seemed like a natural next step for Lexus. After Calty designer Erwin Lui’s unorthodox tactic of using plaster-filled balloons to achieve the original SC coupe’s rounded, voluptuous shapes, Toyota did something just as unexpected: hire Italy’s famed Italdesign Giugiaro to design a new Crown derivative, the Toyota Aristo, which was unveiled in Japan in October 1991. Its Lexus GS counterpart for export began production in February 1993. The twin Aristo/GS continued for a second generation, known as S160, until the introduction of the 3rd-generation (S190) Lexus GS at the January 2005 Detroit Auto Show and the Japanese introduction of the Lexus brand over 6 months later killed the Toyota Aristo.

Lexus’ first foray into the world of sports utility vehicles was with the Lexus LX line, essentially fancier, high-luxe versions of the largest Toyota Land Cruisers, starting with the 1996 model year only for export. In a notable twist, however, the 2nd-generation (J100) Lexus LX was sold in Japan as the Toyota Land Cruiser Cygnus. The Cygnus badge didn’t survive past the 2007 model year.

The increasing popularity of European-style, enthusiast-friendly D-segment sports sedans led to the creation of the iconic Toyota Altezza in October 1998. The following year, its Lexus IS-badged counterpart first appeared in Europe. Alas, the original Altezza/IS lasted but a single generation, and the Altezza badge was laid to rest in March 2005 with the advent of the 2nd-generation (XE20) Lexus IS (although we once wondered if the Altezza badge was worthy of reviving).

Yes, just about every Toyota-badged Lexus introduced before 2005 has been relegated to history, with one exception…

Toyota Harrier 2

Harrier: the last remaining Toyota-to-Lexus model
Although previewed in concept form by the Lexus-badged SLV, the world’s first D-segment luxury crossover (car-based) SUV actually first went into production as the Toyota Harrier in December 1997, 3 months before being exported as the Lexus RX. Harrier and RX were near-identical twins during their first (XU10) and second (XU30) generations, the latter having first gone on sale in February 2003. As the 3rd-generation (AL10) Lexus RX appeared in November 2008 and finally entered Japanese showrooms, Toyota chose not to discontinue the Harrier. Rather, it carried on, virtually unchanged, in the Japanese domestic market, a fact that slipped under many radars.

In a sense, the seeds for this story were sown back in December 2012, when yours truly, researching something on the Toyota Japan site, accidentally stumbled upon a now dead Harrier page. If memory serves correctly, it was then available only with a single engine offering: the 2AZ-FE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, a fact tacitly confirmed by the Batfa.com website.

Thus, Japanese consumers have, in a sense, the option of choosing between showroom-new 2nd-gen or 3rd-gen Lexus RXs, with the former bearing a Toyota badge and using a smaller, less powerful engine. Such a situation isn’t as unusual as you’d expect. Volkswagen is probably the champion in this regard, with buyers in China, Mexico and South Africa, off the top of our head, able to choose from multiple generations of Golfs, Jettas and Passats off the new car showroom floor. It isn’t unusual for European carmakers such as Opel, Fiat and Peugeot/Citroën to offer, for a period, decontented cheaper versions of soon-to-be-superseded models alongside their better-equipped, more expensive successors. And, in North America, Chevrolet has been known to continue building older versions of Malibus and Impalas for fleet and rental markets alongside the newer consumer-oriented versions.

With Toyota having chosen to continue offering the Harrier in Japan and the current version having remained virtually unchanged for over a decade, it’s no wonder we’re now looking at a successor. Just how much do we know at this point, though?

Hybrid-only or not?
Although recently down to a single 4-cylinder gasoline engine choice, the Toyota Harrier has previously offered the options of the 1MZ-FE 3-liter V6 and the gasoline-electric hybrid version of its larger 3MZ-FE 3.3-liter V6 sibling. It takes only the barest of glances to spot the prominent HYBRID badges on the front fenders of the newest Harrier, so we’re definitely seeing the return of the Harrier Hybrid. But will the Harrier go hybrid-only for the next generation? Hard to say for sure, but there’s certainly a strong case that it could. For one, the latest 7th-generation (XV50) Toyota Camry for the Japanese market has evolved into a niche Hybrid-only vehicle, the largest such front-wheel-drive model in Toyota’s domestic stable. Further, none of the Japanese domestic market’s crossover SUVs currently offer a hybrid version. The Highlander/Kluger? That hasn’t been sold in Japan since the advent of the second generation in mid-2007. The RAV4? The newest 4th-generation version has yet to go on sale there even with gasoline engines, let alone as a hybrid that the rumor mill says is an iffy proposition. And what about the other Toyotas conceptually closest to the Harrier: the American Venza and its similarly-styled smaller Japanese sibling, the Mark X Zio? Nope, no hybrids there, either.

And what powertrain would a Harrier Hybrid use? Our best guess is the 2.5-liter 2AR-FXE 4-cylinder unit from the latest Camry Hybrid.

Facelift or all-new sheetmetal? A brief styling analysis.
Looking at the new Harrier, especially the side view and greenhouse, is giving us a very strong case of déjà vu. Is this all-new sheetmetal? Or simply an extensive facelift on the existing Harrier akin to those applied to the current 4th-generation Lexus LS for 2013 or to the previous 3rd-generation Toyota Avalon for the 2011 and 2012 model years?

The fixed glass pane on the trailing edge of the rear doors is more akin to the outgoing Harrier/2nd-gen Lexus RX than to the latest RX, which replaces this glass with a thicker C-pillar. Yet, details such as the greenhouse and side window shapes, fender and lower door sill shapes and sculpturing appear closer but hardly identical to the latest Lexus RX. Thus, we’ll conclude that we’re looking at new sheet metal, albeit styled in a very familiar way.

Toyota Harrier 3Up front is where the Harrier shows the most marked departure from its predecessor. Beneath the prominent chrome brow on the leading edge of the hood is an upper grille that, to this author, looks like a translucent throwback to the late 1980s-to-mid 1990s light bars found on Mercury Sable and Pontiac Grand Prix models of the era. The shape of the large lower grille follows current Toyota styling trends, and is especially reminiscent of the latest Avalon. Pretty distant from the current Lexus spindle grille look, we’d say.

When is the 4th-gen Lexus RX due, anyway?
Writers speculating on whether we’re about to see a new Lexus RX are ignoring that model’s product cadence. The 3rd-generation went on sale in February 2009 as a 2010 model and received the larger spindle grille as part of a mid-life facelift in Spring/Summer 2012 for the 2013 model year. Thus, we’d be quite surprised if a 4th-generation RX appeared any sooner than late 2014 or during the 2015 calendar year as a 2016 model. Besides, Lexus’ current priorities are launching its 2 newest model lines, the RC coupe and the NX smaller crossover SUV.

Any hopes for a Toyota Harrier/Lexus RX reconvergence? Sorry, but that train left in early 2009, and this new Harrier, if anything, shows that its path is veering further than ever from that of its formerly near-identical twin.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s unprecedented in Toyota’s history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Disney/Pixar Toyotas

One of my Subaru-driving autocross friends described it as “The best Fast and Furious movie, hands down!” Tongue-in-cheek hyperbole? Perhaps, but, in this case, he was absolutely right. The object of our admiration was an animated short barely 7 minutes in length that is, for diehard car nuts, the best in the series of Mater’s Tall Tales Cars Toons that have appeared to fill the time between the 2006 debut of the Disney/Pixar movie Cars and its Cars 2 sequel debuting on June 24.

Said animated short, titled Tokyo Mater, starts out as another sleepy day in Radiator Springs is interrupted by three of the Delinquent Road Hazards tuner cars speeding and drifting along Route 66, with an angry Sheriff in hot pursuit. The sight of this mad chase leads the town’s dilapidated tow truck, Tow Mater, to recall the time that he stumbled upon the stranded and broken-down Ito-San, who happens to look suspiciously like a dark blue 7th-generation (S120) Toyota Crown from the mid-1980s, as shown at the upper right (or, according to other pundits, the 1980s iteration of the ridiculously long-lived – 1967 thru 1997 – first-generation Toyota Century, as shown at the lower right). Tow Mater then takes action and tows the troubled ‘toon Toyota all the way to Tokyo, where… well, just head on over to Disney.go.com and see for yourself.

As for the Cars movie’s star, Lightning McQueen, he has been variously described in Wikipedia as “based on generic NASCAR vehicles, but with design influences from the Chevrolet Corvette”; by Cars director John Lassiter himself as “a hybrid between a stock car and a more curvaceous Le Mans endurance racer, with some Lola and some [Ford] GT40″ and by yours truly as a sort of neo-retro Plymouth Road Runner. Yet, we’d all be wrong, for the real Lightning McQueen is actually a Toyota MR2 Spyder (or MR-S, as it’s known in Japan) modified to run in Japan’s Super GT300 racing series!

Super GT is Japan’s rough equivalent to the U.S.’s NASCAR racing series. Since 1996 it has been divided into 2 classes: GT300 and GT500, named after their respective engine horsepower limits. The 1998 season marked the äpr racing team’s initial entry in the series, with a 2nd-generation (W20) Toyota MR2. Two years later, they moved to its successor, the W30 Toyota MR-S (or MR2 Spyder), albeit with heavily modified bodywork that included the fitment of a hardtop.

For the 2006 season, the team obtained sponsorship from Disney Interactive Studios, the conglomerate’s video game and interactive entertainment division and, as a result, one of the team’s MR-S racers was branded as the Toy Story Racing car and given the number 101, as shown at left. This MR2 Spyder won the 2006 season’s final round at Toyota’s Fuji International Speedway, with Morio Nitta and Shinichi Takagi behind the wheel, and finishing fourth overall for the season in the GT300 class. The 2007 season saw Nitta and Tagaki replaced by Kazuya Oshima and Hiroaki Ishiura in the #101 Toy Story Racing car, and an even better result: 2 outright victories (in Round 2 at Okayama International Circuit and Round 4 at the Sepang Circuit) plus the overall GT300 championship.

The 2008 season saw the obvious decision to rebrand the Toy Story Racing car as the Lightning McQueen äpr (racing) MR-S, accompanied by a change in number to match the animated racer’s 95 (which, in an ironic twist, commemorates the year that the original Toy Story movie debuted). Yes, Lightning McQueen lives! Alas, the real racer failed to match his animated namesake’s record, for, in spite of a victory at Round 3 at Fuji International Speedway with Kohei Hirate and Keisuke Kunimoto at the helm, the car only managed a 9th-place standing at the end of the 2008 season, failing to finish its last race. Worse, this was the end not only of Disney co-branding, but of the MR2 Spyder’s GT300 racing career as, for the next season, the äpr racing team replaced it with the Toyota Corolla Axio GT, a Frankensteinish mashup of a modified-beyond-recognition Corolla sedan body and the Lexus IS 350 and GS 350’s 2GR-FSE 3.5-liter V6 placed in a mid-rear-engined position (where the back seat would normally be).

Beyond Cars
Diehard Disney/Pixar fans are well aware of a number of references (or “Easter eggs” or inside jokes) that appear across most if not all Pixar films, such as a character voiced by John Ratzenberger, the yellow with a blue stripe and a red star Luxo Ball or A113 (a homage to a classroom at CalArts, the alma mater of Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter and Brad Bird, among others). Then there’s the iconic Pizza Planet truck, a 3rd-generation (1979-1983) Toyota pickup truck known as the Hilux outside North America, as evidenced by the once-faddish “YO” tailgate and single round headlights, as shown at right.

The Pizza Planet truck has made an appearance in every full-length Pixar movie, with the possible exception of The Incredibles. And even that is a point of contention among Disney/Pixar buffs, with the Jim Hill Media site, among others, providing purported evidence of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in the superhero family flick, while Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3 and co-director of Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, affirms, in a Formspring Q&A, that “The Incredibles is the only Pixar film that does not have the Pizza Planet truck.”

What about Cars 2?
While the original Cars movie received the most tepid reviews of any Disney/Pixar film to date, its ensuing highly profitable merchandising and toy bonanza, which surpassed even Toy Story‘s, led the Pixar studios to fast-track a Cars 2 sequel. And the new film’s globe-trotting World Grand Prix plotline that unfolds in England, France, Italy and Japan makes it a natural for a cast of Gandhi or Ben-Hur proportions, as Autoblog reminds us (all the better to sell more toys, of course). Yet, among the primary and secondary characters revealed so far, Toyota influence appears scant.

Although Le Mans (or Le Motor, as Cars 2 calls it) Prototype racer Shu Todoruki would appear to be a natural for some Toyota GT-One (or even Mazda 787B) influence, its shape is too broadly generic to track down to any one source, save for a lot of Peugeot 908 HDi FAP around the headlights. Even more generic-looking are the boxy sumo-wrestling microvans Kingpin Nobunaga and Pinion Tanaka. As to micro geisha Kabuki dancer Okuni (upper left), she appears to be, at first glance, a Smart ForTwo with a Fiat 500 nose, but a possible Toyota connection appears in those oval headlights that recall the eCom (lower left) a limited run of 50 electric vehicles that first appeared at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show.

On the other hand, the first and second Cars 2 preview trailers show the presence of a good number of 1st-generation Scion xBs (or 1st-gen Toyota bBs, for the Japanese Domestic Market-oriented among you) in the Tokyo airport and sumo wrestling match scenes. And does that photo at the right also show a ‘toon take on a 3rd-generation (XF-30) Lexus LS / Toyota Celsior? At any rate, we’ll know soon enough what possible surprises Cars 2 holds in store for us. This author’s inner child can hardly wait…

Thanks for the tip, José Fernely

As Toyota further extends its Japan shutdown, a picture emerges on which models will run out first

To hardly anyone’s surprise, Toyota has announced yet another extension of its vehicle-production halt at all plants in Japan (including subsidiary vehicle manufacturers) until at least Saturday 26 March (a previously-scheduled Saturday production day), as reported on Toyota’s USA and Global Newsrooms. This newly extended shutdown brings the estimated loss of production units to about 140,000 since the earthquakes and tsunami struck. About 60% of those vehicles, or 84,000, would have been export bound. This was followed by cautionary warnings of likely production interruptions in North America of indeterminate location or duration. A Reuters article, citing Toyota spokesman Craig Mullenbach, suggests that the company’s San Antonio, Texas plant that builds slow-selling Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks is the likeliest North American production facility to be idled.

In better news, the previously-announced resumption of replacement parts production on Thursday 17 March and of parts for overseas production facilities on Monday 21 March was reaffirmed, along with word that all 13 North American vehicle and engine plants are, for now, running normally, although overtime has been curtailed to conserve parts that come from suppliers in Japan.

Meanwhile, a story from the British-based (and limited access) just-auto.com site brings us an update from Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM), Toyota’s importer, assembler and distributor in India. Sandeep Singh, TKM’s deputy managing director informs us that most parts are sourced from from Thailand and Indonesia and there would be no immediate threat to the Indian operations as stocks for the current month are sufficient and components ordered earlier are also on the way. Still, he cautiously adds that “We are still assessing the situation and would likely be in a better position to comment on that in the next few days”.

Also reporting updates is the Guangzhou Toyota operation in south China via a Reuters story. The company states that, given 90%-95% Chinese content of locally-built Toyota Camrys plus current stocks of Japanese-sourced parts, they should be fine until mid-April. The article also estimates that current inventory of Lexus vehicles in China is sufficient to sustain sales for two months.

A recent iteration of the Toyota USA Newsroom’s earthquake and tsunami statement ends by saying that “Regarding dealerships in the U.S., inventories remain generally good”. While that may certainly be the case at present, most pundits think that by the time April ends, the situation may be very different, especially insofar as Toyota and Lexus models sourced from Japan. The uncertainty and pessimism hinges around two basic facts. For one, while the majority of Toyota factories and their larger (Tier 1) suppliers are based around the Tokyo and Toyota City areas that are hundreds of miles from the major earthquake and tsunami epicenter, that is not necessarily the case with smaller, almost mom-and-pop Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers and machine shops. Depending on the vehicle and who you listen to, a modern car has somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 individual parts, and if even one of them is missing, you certainly can’t produce the vehicle. Honda and Nissan have reported difficulties or an outright inability to contact over 40 of these small suppliers, and it’s most likely that Toyota is in this same situation. The second issue, as Michael Smitka, professor of economics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia said in a Bloomberg article, “You can’t get trucks in and out of the area affected by the disaster. In some cases, a road or bridge may be open, but with only one lane available. Are you going to try to put through a shipment of machinery at the expense of getting through a shipment of food?” Oh, and don’t forget to add the disruption added by rolling power blackouts due to the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant drama.

Although predicting the future supply situation of any given vehicle is an imprecise guessing game, two articles provide valuable data that sheds a faint light on the subject, not just for Toyota but for Japan’s major automakers. The first of these was written by Bill Visnic of Edmunds AutoObserver, and was already cited as a source for our recent Subaru update. The second is a study by Hans Greimel of Automotive News of the 20 top-selling Japan-built models sold in the United States and their recent sales numbers. Combining data from these two sources, plus a sprinkling of information from other articles allows us to compile this cautious and admittedly hazy snapshot of what to expect supply-and-demand-wise from a number of imported-from-Japan Toyota and Lexus models in the coming months:

Toyota Prius
With 140,928 units sold in 2010, plus a further 24,174 units in January and February 2011, the Prius is currently Toyota’s best-selling Japanese import vehicle in the United States. Given its rise in popularity concurrent with the rise in gasoline prices, it is often cited alongside the Nissan Leaf and Honda Fit as one of the three vehicles most threatened by low supply and high demand, a situation further exacerbated by one of three Toyota/Panasonic Primearth EV battery-making facilities being among the most affected by the Japanese natural disasters.

A report from Edmunds AutoObserver from Monday 21 March affirms that consideration of the Prius among online shoppers is up more than 30% since the beginning of the year, triple the 11% increase in consideration of all hybrids and of all small cars in general, with one Pennsylvania dealer reporting a quadrupling of interest. Yet, at this point, supply still seems reasonable (with California’s Longo Toyota reporting about a 30-day supply) and there are few if any reports of over-MSRP selling. Some dealers are selling Prii at MSRP, while Tony Gmitrovic of Elmhurst Toyota in the suburban Chicago, Illinois area reports that “while Prius hybrids are still going out the door at below MSRP, instead of at $700 to $800 below we’re seeing them go at $400 to $500 under.” Two days later, the Detroit Free Press quoted TrueCar.com‘s Jesse Toprak as stating that, “American consumers are paying at least $2,000 more for a Toyota Prius than they would have paid before the crisis began… Prius went from selling about $300 under invoice three weeks ago to selling right at the MSRP since the earthquake.”

This may be a short-lived situation, however, as the Toyota USA Newsroom has just announced that on Monday 28 March Toyota will restart production of the Prius at the Tsutsumi plant in Toyota City.

The Prius’ larger Prius v/Prius+ sibling’s launch in Japan, originally slated for late April, has become the first new model debut postponement as a result of the Japanese earthquakes, a fact announced via a Toyota USA Newsroom press release. Seemingly unaffected, at this point, are the late summer 2011 U.S. release of Prius v and the “first half of 2012″ on-sale date for Prius+ in Europe.

Toyota RAV4
Given that the RAV4 has been made in Canada since 4 November 2008, it may seem odd to see it listed here. A glance at Toyota’s February 2011 sales chart, however, reveals that just over 23% of RAV4s sold in the U.S. thus far in 2011 are imported from Japan. It remains to be seen if the Canadian plant has the capacity to take up the slack from Japan, or if, to the contrary, a lack of parts will also bring Canada to a halt. We should also note that the current RAV4 is due for a next-generation makeover no later than the 2013 model year.

Lexus ES
Perennially Lexus’ best-selling car (as opposed to crossover SUV), the ES is cited by Edmunds AutoObserver as being among the company’s models most at risk of low supplies by the industry’s Days to Turn metric. Defined as the average number of days vehicles were in dealer inventory before being sold during the month(s) indicated, the ES’s 26-day supply for February 2011 and a probably lower-than-average additional supply for March may translate into serious shortages as soon as mid-April.

The fact that the current Lexus ES isn’t even offered in either the Japanese Domestic Market nor in Europe, with the bulk of its production destined for North America, as well as its strong under-the-skin kinship with the made-in-America Toyota Camry, and it is little surprise that every time a fiscal or political U.S./Japan crisis flares up, rumors start to run amok regarding North American Lexus ES production. The great Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 may well be the tipping point that finally makes this happen.

Toyota 4Runner
With all the talk of the traditional body-on-frame, truck-based SUV such as the 4Runner being an endangered species, it comes as something of a surprise to see it appear so prominently on these lists. Yet, with a notable sales upturn for the 5th-generation model that debuted for the 2010 model year, the 4Runner is #10 among the top 20 best-selling Japanese-built vehicles in the U.S., and its 35-day supply on February 2011 implies that getting one after late April could be a dicey proposition.

Toyota Yaris
Predictions surrounding the Toyota Yaris are probably the most complex and convoluted you’ll find in this article. Edmunds AutoObserver informs us that the current Yaris Days To Turn figure in the U.S. is well over 100 days, thus hinting that current inventory won’t sell out until as late as July. Things are not that simple, however, as another spike in gasoline prices as a side-effect of the current war in Libya (or further spread of Middle East unrest) coupled with dwindling Prius stocks could well drive renewed demand for one of the U.S. market’s most fuel-economical non-hybrid vehicles.

Also, the current, 2nd-generation Yaris is winding down its last model year, and its 3rd-generation successor went on sale in Japan in late December 2010, as well as appearing as a Yaris HSD Hybrid concept for Europe at this month’s Geneva Auto Show. With the Prius v/Prius+ Japanese launch already delayed, the same fate may well behold the 3rd-generation Yaris launch outside Japan. Even worse for the U.S. market, the bulk of current Yaris sedan production (also sold as Toyota Belta or Vios in other markets), as well as 3rd-generation Yaris for North America and the Middle East is or would be served from the Central Motor Company facility in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai, ground zero for the tsunami of Wednesday 9 March. While the plant is located back near the mountains, away from the shoreline where the tsunami made landfall, and reported damage to its wall and some pipes but no major structural or equipment problems, the state of its nearby infrastructure imply that this may well be Toyota’s last Japanese plant to reach any semblance of normal production. Toyota is surely brainstorming alternatives, and radical possibilities include sourcing Yaris production for North America from Europe’s Valenciennes, France plant or even this author’s suggestion that Yaris be built in Mexico.

Toyota Corolla
Another unexpected entry in the list is the Toyota Corolla. Its situation is much like that of the RAV4 mentioned earlier, with Canadian output supplemented by Japan-built vehicles that comprised just over 24% of U.S. Corolla sales. Again, it remains to be seen to what extent the Canadian plant has the capacity to take up the slack from Japan, or if a lack of parts will eventually bring Canada to a halt. Probably mitigating the Corolla situation, however, is on-again construction of Toyota’s Blue Springs, Mississippi factory, tentatively slated to begin production of the Corolla this coming fall.

Lexus IS
The overall 15th best-selling Japanese-built vehicle in the U.S. for 2010, Lexus’ smallest rear-wheel-drive sports sedan line currently has a 31-day Days To Turn figure in the U.S. for the IS 250, a bit over the ES’s 26-day figure. Thus, Lexus ISs could start becoming scarce by the end of April.

Lexus RX
You may be forgiven for wondering why Hans Griemel’s Automotive News article ranks the Lexus RX below its ES and IS stablemates as the 19th-best-selling Japanese vehicle imported into the United States for 2010 (and outside the top 20 for 2011) when it is, in fact, the marque’s best-selling vehicle here. The answer, again, is the same as for the Toyota RAV4 and Corolla: a mix of Canadian and Japanese sourcing. The latter comprises 30% of all Lexus RXs sold in the U.S., including all hybrid RX 450h models.

Does Lexus have the capability of sourcing RX Hybrids from North America as well? Tentatively, yes, but the logistics may not be all that easy, given that only the Cambridge, Ontario plant is geared to Lexus levels of fit-and-finish and quality, while only Kentucky has hybrid powertrain assembly expertise with the Camry.

Lexus LX
Although a niche, low-volume model, Lexus’ top-of-the-line SUV currently has but a 26-day supply on hand at dealers as of February 2011, just like its ES sibling. This implies that stocks could begin running seriously low as soon as mid-April. It would be interesting to see how that figure compares to the very similar Toyota Land Cruiser.

Lexus LS
The luxury carmaker’s flagship sedan, the Lexus LS, though far from being the marque’s volume leader, currently reports a 34 Days to Turn inventory, which probably means meager selection at U.S. Lexus dealers by the time the end of April rolls around.

Lexus CT
The Japanese natural disasters couldn’t have come at a worse time vis-à-vis the launch of Lexus’ newest volume model line, the premium compact hybrid CT. With the bulk of Lexus’ advertising and marketing initiatives for 2011 (some of them quite unorthodox and youth-oriented) directed towards the CT 200h, many feared that it would all become a monumentally wasted effort. Indeed, anecdotal evidence coming out of California already conveys tight CT supplies for the demand that’s out there. Fortunately, The Lexus CT is one of a trio of vehicles (along with the Toyota Prius and another Lexus that we’ll discuss shortly) that will see a resumption of production in Japan on Monday 28 March. Thus, Lexus’ Kyushu plant joins the Toyota Tsutsumi plant in Toyota City as the only two of the automaker’s facilities producing vehicles in the motherland.

Frankly, it makes all the sense in the world for Lexus to put its current diminished resources behind CT. After all, this is the vehicle that is expected to exponentially increase the marque’s sales in Europe, and interest in North America has also been heightened by the recent runup in gasoline prices.

Lexus HS
Toyota’s decision to prioritize Japanese production of Prius and Lexus CT, as noted earlier, is a sound one that may well be described as a no-brainer. Much more puzzling, however, is awarding this vaunted status to Lexus’ HS 250h. After all, this is a model that isn’t offered in Europe, was ultimately turned down by Australia and has sold well below expectations in North America. Granted, it’s Lexus’ best-selling model in the Japanese Domestic Market, but who in Japan would currently have their mind on car-shopping? Yet, the fact that it is built alongside the Lexus CT in Kyushu, its degree of platform and component commonality with Prius and CT, plus a possible decent supply of parts probably made a case for its inclusion in the upcoming reopening of Japanese production. Hopefully, parts inventories and logistics permitting, the Kyushu plant is flexible enough to adjust CT vs HS production. Or, perhaps, HS will finally begin to gain some sales traction in the U.S. It may already be doing so in California, at any rate.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1:
Bertel Schmitt – The Truth About Cars
Other Photos: Toyota USA Newsroom