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.

Lexus and Toyota at the 2012 Paris Motor Show: what to expect

As the 2013 model year international auto show season kicks off, the current even-numbered 2012 calendar year means that the action starts in early autumn in Paris, France (odd-numbered years see Frankfurt, Germany as the fall kickoff, and the Tokyo Motor Show in December that is absent on even-numbered years). In the runup to the Paris preshow press conferences to be held on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 September, most carmakers have already tipped their hand and given clues as to what they will be unveiling, and Toyota and Lexus are certainly no exceptions.

TOYOTA
Internationally, the Toyota brand’s first major unveiling for late summer/early fall 2012 is the 2nd-generation of the Auris C-segment line. A Toyota Corolla derivative roughly analogous to North America’s Matrix 5-door hatchback, the Auris is the third of the 11th-generation (E160) Corolla variants to debut in 2012, behind the Japanese domestic market’s Corolla Axio sedan and Corolla Fielder station wagon models. The Japanese version of the Auris debuted on August 20, with 2 engine options echoing those of the Corolla Fielder: the 1NZ-FE 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine as used on the current Toyota Yaris and the 2ZR-FAE 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine (essentially a more powerful yet economical version of the current Corolla’s 2ZR-FE engine benefiting from the addition of the Valvematic mechanism that continuously controls the intake valve lift volume). Unfortunately, the Auris’ Japan-only Blade fraternal twin, which included the intriguing Blade Master model powered by the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6, was discontinued in April without a 2nd-generation successor.

For its European debut, the British-built iteration of the Toyota Auris offers a different – and far more extensive – range of engine options. The two gasoline-powered European models offer 4-cylinder engines that have smaller displacements than their Japanese counterparts: 1.33 liters and 1.6 liters. The former is clearly the carryover 1NR-FE, but it is unclear at this point whether the latter is the 124 hp, Dual VVT-i-only 1ZR-FE or its peppier 130 hp Dual VVT-i plus Valvematic 1ZR-FAE variant. Those preferring 4-cylinder diesel power have a choice (according to an official Toyota Europe news release) of 1.4-liter or 2-liter displacements. Given that Toyota won’t begin to purchase diesels from BMW until 2014, we’re certain that these are Toyota’s current 1ND-TV and 1AD-FTV, respectively. Finally, the Auris Hybrid returns for the new generation (and is shown above right), powered by the carryover 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline-electric powertrain shared with the Toyota Prius, Prius v and Lexus CT 200h. Auris fans may note that the current generation offers several more powerful gasoline and diesel options than the quintet listed above, but bear in mind that the new Auris has a lower (0.28) coefficient of drag, lower height and center of gravity, 10% stiffer body structure and, most crucially, is as much as 40 kg (88 lbs) lighter than its predecessor. This, combined with revised steering and suspension – including wider availability of a double-wishbone rear suspension – should make the new Auris a more compelling drive.

It is uncertain whether or not the slow-selling 3-door Auris body style will return with the 2nd-generation, but we’re inclined to say no, for reasons outlined back in January 2011. On the other hand, a 5-door station wagon body style alternative has become de rigueur in the European C-segment, where 25% of sales in the class are wagons. Even such familiar models as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Buick Verano/Opel Astra and Hyundai Elantra/i30 offer station wagon variants unavailable in North America. Thus, Toyota felt compelled to add a second Auris Touring Sports body style. Shown as a darkened teaser (which was lightened and enhanced by Autocar in the photo shown above left) it will be fully unveiled at Paris later this month. The Auris Touring Sports will be available with the regular Auris hatchback’s full suite of 5 powerplant options, thus making it Europe’s first wagon in the segment available with a full hybrid powertrain. Quite notably, Toyota is predicting an even 1/3 gasoline / 1/3 diesel / 1/3 hybrid split in European Auris sales for the new generation when it goes on sale in early 2013 as a hatchback, followed by the wagon during the second half of the year.

Toyota debuts for the 2012 Paris Motor Show extend beyond the newest iteration of the Auris. The carmaker proudly trumpets a “new Verso“, as teased in the cropped, highlighted and enhanced Carscoop picture shown at right. For the uninitiated, the Verso is Toyota’s entry in the hotly contested European MPV (C-segment mini-minivan) category. In the United States, the sole class representative currently in new car showrooms is the Mazda5, while, north of the border, Canadians may also choose a Kia Rondo or Chevrolet Orlando. Another way to describe the Toyota Verso is as a rebodied, non-hybrid version of the Prius v/Prius +/Prius Alpha wagon with shorter rear overhang and a 3rd-row seat. In fact, both sit on the same 2780mm (109.4″) wheelbase. In this case, however, take the “new” with a grain of salt, even though Toyota Europe’s official news release describes “(a) new design language with a clear family identity, an improved interior, a revised 2.0 D-4D (1AD-FTV diesel) engine with improved performance and lower CO2 emissions, and enhanced driving dynamics and reduced NVH levels”. Given that the current Verso was introduced in March 2009 at the Geneva Motor Show, expect a mid-life refresh akin to that received by the Toyota Avensis last year, and not an all-new generation.

Also debuting in Paris is a new Yaris Trend edition featuring, in Toyota’s words, “unique exterior styling and model-specific interior finishes, textures and colours to attract young, urban-based, design-focused customers”. Carscoop offers us far more insight, however, as the Yaris Trend was actually launched in the United Kingdom on August 8. Essentially, this is the top-of-the-line sporty Yaris SR (which includes fog lamps, part-leather upholstery, a rear roof spoiler and lowered suspension) with the addition of 16″ Podium anthracite machined alloy wheels, chrome tailpipe finisher and a Jaguar XJ-inspired blacked-out C-pillar, in a choice of Tyrol Silver or Cirrus White exterior paint. And, we should add, some goofy swirling pinstripes along the front fenders and doors.

For the hardcore European enthusiast, however, the best news is the Continental debut of a full suite of TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Performance Line Accessories for GT86. This is a comprehensive range of exterior, interior and mechanical components that enhance style, aerodynamics and performance, all offered individually, as opposed to being grouped or bundled into packages. Also of interest is a GT86 Racing Simulator, a fusion between a real Toyota GT86 and an advanced computer simulation system. The driver steers, shifts, brakes and accelerates the GT86 using the original controls. The simulator then uses a state-of-the-art motion system to respond to driver input and deliver an un-paralleled realistic driving experience. The windshield is a Full HD monitor for the drivers and a Lucas Arts THX Surround system is used to supply sound from the racetrack.

The Toyota stand at the 2012 Paris Motor Show will also feature the Yaris Hybrid, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the TS030 Le Mans prototype (LMP1) racer which recently saw its first podium finish and the FCV-R Fuel Cell Vehicle concept, the latter perhaps in anticipation of the European Hydrogen Road Tour 2012. All this detailed information, needless to say, leaves little to no room for surprise at the Toyota press conference which will take place at Pavillion 4, Stand 114 at 8:30 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September.

LEXUS
In stark contrast to the above, Lexus has, thus far, been more elusive and coy as to its 2012 Paris Motor Show plans, except for a brief news release promising the reveal of “a brand new concept car” alongside the Western European premiere of the all-new LS 600h F SPORT shown at left at 8:45 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September (15 minutes after the Toyota press conference) at Pavillion 4, Stand 120 next to Toyota.

Naturally, the blogosphere has been rife with speculation as to what, precisely, this new Lexus concept will be. We can certainly rule out the second iteration of the Lexus LF-LC sports coupe, since that is earmarked for an Australian unveiling in mid-October. What, then? Kevin Watts of the Lexus Enthusiast posted a poll with ten distinct possibilities: Compact Crossover, City Car, CT-Based Variant, Four-Door Coupe, GS Coupe, GS F, IS Coupe, IS Sedan, LF-LC Convertible or the eternal catchall “Other”. This author concurs with most pundits that it’s a tossup between an IS Coupe predictor and the long-awaited sub-RX, RAV4-derived compact crossover that everybody refers to as CX but is far likelier to wear the TX prefix in production.

Even this concept will not be a true “Paris surprise”, as Lexus has promised to reveal further information and pictures on Monday 17 September at 8:00 AM Central European Time, 10 days ahead of the actual press reveal.

And what about Subaru?
In 2010, Subaru didn’t even bother to appear at the Paris Motor Show. The carmaker will be there in 2012, at Pavillion 3, Stand 215. As of this writing, however, it does not appear that they will unveil anything new, nor that they have even scheduled a press conference.

Lotus in transition: As Elise and Exige “Final Editions” roll out, new Evora variants come in

Back in 17 September 2010, at the British Embassy in Tokyo, an event rife with symbolism took place: Lotus Cars CEO Dany Bahar gave Toyota president Akio Toyoda a white Lotus Elise R powered by Toyota’s last Yamaha-designed 1.8-liter 2ZZ-GE VVTL-i 4-cylinder engine. The event was a Lotus/Toyota mutual admiration lovefest, as reported by Autoblog, AutoWeek and an entry on the Automotive News Blogs (the latter subsequently taken down or relegated to their subscriber-only archives). Bahar said:

“The presentation of Toyota’s last 2ZZ engine in the Elise is a symbolic gesture of our continued respect and deep appreciation for our partner not only acknowledging our past but also looking forward to our future together. There is no one superior to Toyota in terms of reliability.”

Toyoda added:

“A Toyota engine in a Lotus car creates a completely unique drive feeling – a special blend featuring the best of Lotus and Toyota that we hope many car lovers continue to experience and enjoy…The Lotus test course can be considered the start of my driving career…I want all my executives to drive this Elise and experience it for themselves.”

Toyoda then fondly recalled his first exposure to the brand roughly 30 years ago during a visit to Lotus’ testing grounds. He took a car for a spin around the track and toured Lotus’ underground workshop, a visit he likened to “descending into a James Bond 007 world.” and added that he considers the Lotus Elise the very embodiment of fun-to-drive. Vividly proving this, as Toyoda sat behind the wheel of his new toy, he stomped on the gas, drove through a line of startled reporters and revved the engine in an impromptu spin around the embassy grounds.

Roughly two weeks later came the Paris Auto Show press conferences, and, for this author, the most memorable was Lotus’ orgasmic explosion of five new-generation concept sports cars that denoted the carmaker’s inexorable march upmarket, plus a sixth Lotus City Car Concept tucked away in a corner (more on this later). Yet, ambitious as this future Lotus roadmap is, we couldn’t help but wonder about the present and the immediate future, and what would happen to the Lotus Elise. Would it die abruptly, at least in North America and other export markets? Seeking clarity, we sought out the spokespersons at the show’s Lotus stand, one of which informed us that the whole “Akio Toyoda getting the very last 2ZZ-powered Lotus Elise ceremony” was, in fact, symbolic, and that the carmaker had stockpiled enough of the engines to last until the end of the 2011 model year, roughly in August of this year. The end, however, came a bit sooner than that, for the Golden Gate Lotus Club’s Chapman Report Online, via Autoblog reported on Saturday 16 April 2011 that a trio of Elise and Exige “Final Editions” would be built between now and July 2011, for arrival in the US and Canada between June and August 2011. Here are the basics on each of them:

Lotus Elise SC Final Edition
Perhaps Akio Toyoda did get the very last Elise R (powered by a naturally-aspirated 189 hp 2ZZ-GE engine), but, in a sense, he was cheated, as North America’s Final Edition is a supercharged Elise SC. This boosted (albeit non-intercooled) iteration of the 2ZZ engine produces 218 hp@8000 rpm and 156 lb/ft of torque@5000 rpm. Lotus will only make 15 copies, priced at US$57,500 plus destination charge. Four exterior colors are available (Ardent Red, Aspen White, Chrome Orange and Carbon Grey) are available, and include the Touring Package with sport seats trimmed in black Alcantara; Bilstein sport pack dampers with Eibach springs; Torsen (Torque-sensing) Limited Slip Differential; black 5 Y- spoke forged wheels with Yokohama ADVAN A048 tires; black rear diffuser; matte black painted hard top, roll bar cover, transom panel and door mirrors; and a special numbered plaque. The sole available option is the $995 StarShield, which is clear protection film applied to the car’s nose, rocker panels, exterior mirrors and lower rear panels, applied at the port for U.S.-bound cars only. Although no pictures have been released, we expect it to look very similar to the Elise SC RGB shown above left.

Lotus Exige S260 Final Edition
Half as exclusive as the Elise SC Final Edition (with 30 units to be built as opposed to the Elise’s 15), the Exige S260 Final Edition uses an Eaton M62 supercharger (versus the Elise SC’s smaller M45 unit) plus an intercooler to produce 257 hp@8000 rpm and 174 lb/ft of torque@6000 rpm. While also featuring the Touring Package, Torsen Limited Slip Differential and black Y-spoke forged wheels with Yokohama ADVAN A048 tires from the Elise SC Final Edition, the Final Exige is available in Lotus’ full suite of interior and exterior color options. This includes a no-cost choice of black, red, magnolia or biscuit leather inside and solid or metallic exterior colors. More importantly, the suspension is the full-fledged Track Package with double adjustable Ohlins dampers. Priced at US$67,500 plus destination charges, the option list includes Lifestyle and Premium exterior colors and StarShield protection.

Lotus Exige S260 Final Edition – Matte Black
At the pared-down 2009 Tokyo Motor Show, the sole foreign-carmaker world debut was the Lotus Exige Stealth shown at left, which bore the Lotus Exige Scura moniker outside Japan. This murdered-out matte black-with-gloss black stripes-and black interior model was a 35-car limited edition sold only in Europe, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) and select Asian markets. Better late than never, North America gets its own limited run of 25 Lotus Exige S260 Final Edition – Matte Black cars. Sharing its specification with the regular Exige S260 Final Edition save for a dedicated set of black 5-spoke ultra lightweight forged wheels, it sells for US$69,900 plus destination charge, essentially a $2400 premium for the matte paint. No options are offered, and the only interior seating available is black Alcantara. It remains unclear if the beautifully contrasting gloss black stripes from the Scura/Stealth will make their way to the Matte Black Final Edition, but this author certainly hopes so.

Where do the Lotus Elise and Exige go from here?
A number of factors converged to force the Lotus Elise and Exige’s exodus from the North American market. The aging 2ZZ-GE engine’s last appearance in a North American-market Toyota was in the 2006 Matrix XRS, while in European-market Toyotas it died with the 7th-generation Celica and failed to make the Corolla-to-Auris transition. The engine’s lack of compliance with stricter Euro 5 emissions standards currently in effect further doomed it. The current Elise will carry on in Europe, however, in its base model, which is powered by Toyota’s 1.6-liter 1ZR-FAE 4-cylinder engine, tweaked by Lotus to produce 134 hp@6800 rpm and 118 lb/ft of torque@4400 rpm. Actually, that tweak is only good for a 4 hp boost and unchanged torque ratings versus its more mundane applications in Toyota’s European-built Auris, Avensis and Verso models.

With the 1ZR-FAE not homologated for U.S. and Canadian emission standards, perhaps its similarly-powered non-Valvematic 1.8-liter sibling, the 2ZR-FE that powers our Corolla, base Matrix and Scion xD could’ve fit the bill, but Lotus justifiably felt that such a sharp drop in power wouldn’t fly in North America. The final death knell for Elise in North America, however, is the 2006 U.S. law requiring “smart” airbags with varying deployment force according to the size of the passenger. A hardship for low-volume carmakers such as Lotus, the company’s original exemption from the law was granted a single extension that expires in August 2011.

Less clear is what happens to the Lotus Exige going forward. Its two current models, the Exige S and Exige Cup 260 are powered by differently-tuned supercharged variants of the soon-to-be-extinct 2ZZ engine, and there have been no indications that it would be down-powered in the manner of its Elise. And, quite notably, the Exige did not receive the Elise’s 2011 Evora-esque facelift, shown at right. Further, the official Lotus Cars site’s Car Configurator page currently only allows for Elise and Evora configuration. So is the Exige on its way out everywhere? Or will it return, as some rumors have it, powered by the Evora’s Toyota-sourced 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6? We asked two different Lotus spokesmen at the New York Auto Show press conferences about the latter possibility, but they would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.

Lotus Evora with IPS (Intelligent Precision Shift)
With the number of Elise and Exige variants in decline, a growing Evora model range will carry Lotus forward until the marque’s planned ascension upmarket continues with a reborn Esprit. The Evora itself is notable for being the first rear-mid-engined 2+2 since the 1970s heyday of the Italian Ferrari Dino GT4 / Lamborghini Urraco / Maserati Merak triumvirate. After debuting in July 2008 and going on sale a year later in a single model powered by Toyota’s ubiquitous 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6 driven through the Aisin EA60 six-speed manual transaxle from the European Toyota Avensis diesel, additional Evora IPS and Evora S models were unveiled at the 2010 Paris Auto Show.

The Lotus Evora with IPS (Intelligent Precision Shift) is simply Lotusspeak for the 6-speed automatic transaxle option. To be more precise, this is essentially the U660E transaxle used in front-wheel-drive V6 versions of the latest Toyota Avalon, Camry (including the Australian-built Aurion), Sienna and Venza, as well as Lexus’ ES 350 and RX 350. In fact, Lotus even leaves the individual gear ratios unchanged. That does not mean, however, that Lotus has left the automatic untouched. As shown above, paddle shifters as well as sport and full-manual modes have been added, with the latter, according to Lotus spokesmen, including a lockup torque converter for 2nd-thru-top gear à la IS F. Per official Lotus specifications, the Evora with IPS gains 117 lbs and is 0.4 seconds slower in 0-60 mph acceleration versus its manual counterpart.

And that, quite frankly, is just about all we know at this point, for Lotus has yet to offer the world’s automotive press a chance to sample the Evora IPS. Road & Track‘s Mike Monticello, however, quotes Lotus CEO Dany Bahar as stating that, “It’s been a long time since Lotus created an automatic and we’ve spent a great deal of time refining this one to make sure that it perfectly complements the Evora drive experience.” Indeed, for those of you that would expect Lotus founder Colin Chapman to be spinning in his grave at an F1-like 18,000 rpm at the notion of an automatic transmission Lotus, we should remind you that, during his lifetime, the Elite II (Types 75 & 83), Eclat and Excel 2+2s offered an optional 4-speed ZF slushbox. If, in fact, Mr. Chapman is spinning in his grave over anything, it’s bound to be over the fact that the Evora weighs more than 3000 lbs., and let’s not even discuss the planned retractable-hardtop Elite or the 4-door Eterne…

Lotus Evora S
Of far more interest to the hardcore enthusiast is the other new Evora variant, the “S” model. Available only with a 6-speed manual transaxle, the “S” stands for supercharger. Adding an Eaton TVS (twin vortices series) blower to the standard Evora’s 2GR-FE 3.5-liter Toyota engine boosts the horsepower level from 276 to 345 hp, and bumps up the torque by around 35 lb/ft, peaking at 295 lb/ft at 4500rpm.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because this is precisely what Toyota Australia did to create the short-lived Toyota Aurion TRD model. For the uninitiated, the Aurion is the badge that the current V6 Camry wears Down Under, where Camrys are 4-cylinder only. To compete against the plethora of local GM Holden and Ford Falcon performance versions, the Aurion was fitted with the world’s first production application of the aforementioned Eaton TVS supercharger for a 323 hp rating and 300 lb/ft of torque. Optimistically launched in August 2007 with a target of 50-70 units per month, the Aurion TRD never met even that modest target, likely because the performance promise of the engine was undermined by its being offered only with front-wheel-drive. On 31 March 2009 Toyota shut down its TRD Australia division and, with it, production of the Aurion TRD and TRD Hilux pickup.

As evidenced from the numbers above, Lotus managed to extract an extra 22 hp over what Toyota managed for the supercharged 3.5-liter V6 that bears the 2GR-FZE moniker. Although Lotus spokesmen we spoke to at the 2011 New York Auto Show swear that they “started from scratch” in their own pairing of the Toyota V6 and the Eaton TVS supercharger, the fact that both Evo and Top Gear first drives of the Evora S mention Australian firm Harrop in conjunction with the engineering of the supercharger installation, just like the Aurion TRD makes that claim a bit suspect.

Will the Evora be the last Toyota-engined Lotus?
At the 2010 Paris Motor Show unveiling of Lotus’ 5 future concepts, conventional wisdom combined with the specifications released by the company pointed towards Esprit, Elite and Eterne models powered by a boosted version of the Lexus IS F’s 2UR-GSE 5-liter V8, an Elan powered by a boosted version of the current Toyota 4Runner and FJ Cruiser’s 1GR-FE 4-liter V6 (or, perhaps, a yet-to-be-unveiled direct+port-injected 1GR-FSE variant thereof) and a next-generation Elise powered by a boosted 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, likely a derivative of the 3ZR-FAE engine used in Europe’s current Avensis and RAV4, as well as a number of Japanese Domestic Market models.

Yet, barely a month later, rumors started that Lotus honchos felt that, in order to properly compete against the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini, Lotus needed to develop its own dedicated, clean-sheet, from-scratch engines. Of course, other rivals such as Spyker (with its Audi V8-powered lineup), Pagani (which uses Mercedes-AMG engines) and Koenigsegg (whose engines are heavily modified 4.7-liter 4-valve DOHC versions of the Ford Modular V8) will agree to disagree. And, conversely, Lotus is perfectly capable of coming up with its own engine, as it did with its 900-series 4-cylinder range that debuted in 1972 as the first modern DOHC, 16-valve production engine.

Lotus is still seemingly grappling with the issue and sending ridiculously mixed signals, though. On Wednesday 20 April, on the eve of the Lotus press conference, a company spokesman was candid enough to admit that they were still debating whether to launch their first post-Evora model, the Esprit (shown below), with a barely-modified Lexus IS F V8, with a more heavily-modified version of that engine or to roll out a dedicated, totally Lotus-designed lightweight, high-revving V8. The indecision has pushed back the Esprit launch from its original Spring 2013 target to the end of the 2013 calendar year. Weighing heavily on the decision, though, is a heartfelt belief by Lotus’ leadership that, at the Esprit’s expected $180,000 selling price, its clientele demands an engine that is not a Toyota hand-me-down. And, indeed, at the Lotus press conference the next day, Lotus’ Chief Technical Officer Wolf Zimmerman (formerly the Managing Director of Engineering & Production and Chief Engineer of Technical Strategy at Mercedes-AMG) was almost defiantly quoted as reaffirming that the Esprit would use a new, all-Lotus V8.

That still leaves open the question of what will power the rest of the Lotus line. As reality sets in that the Paris Auto Show launch may have been akin to mental masturbation comes word that a more realistic plan will focus on the already-delayed Esprit, Elite retractable-hardtop convertible and next-generation Elise. The 4-door Eterne would be jettisoned (it was an interiorless quasi-afterthought, anyway) and the V6 2+2 Elan was essentially a premature Evora successor. If what Lotus refers to as the 2015 Elise is to compete in roughly its current segment, it’ll probably be more profitable for Lotus to stick to Toyota engine sourcing. Then again, if Lotus develops a 4 to 5-liter V8, half of it could conceivably form the basis of a 2 to 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine.

So, what’s the point of the Lotus City Car Concept?
All this grandiose talk of Lotus moving up to challenge Ferrari and Porsche makes the sixth Lotus unveiled in Paris, the City Car Concept (shown at left), all the more baffling at first glance. Yet, upon further reflection, it makes all the sense in the world. With upscale carmakers particularly challenged by meeting the double whammy of ever-tightening U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and European CO2 emissions laws, we should nevertheless note that such revered marques as Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Bugatti and (probably within a year or so) Porsche are all owned by larger carmakers offering a multitude of super-economy models against which to weigh or average their more ravenous emissions and appetites for fuel. Then we have the situation of Aston Martin, whose spinoff from its Ford parent left it without mass-market fuel sippers against which to average its CO2 emissions. The solution was either a stroke of genius or the world’s biggest April Fools’ joke that really isn’t, depending on your perspective: take the Toyota iQ microcar, give it a bespoke, upmarket interior, facelift the exterior and call it an Aston Martin Cygnet.

Lotus’ situation falls somewhere between these two extremes. The company has since 2003 been fully owned by Proton, Malaysia’s manufacturer of weapon packs for Ghostbusters second-largest carmaker behind Daihatsu licensee Perodua. Over the past 25 years, Proton’s model range has consisted of an unremarkable range of front-wheel-drive cars, vans and pickup trucks including a hodgepodge of rebadged Mitsubishi Mirage / Colt / Lancer models built under license and unique models powered by Renault or the Lotus-designed Campro engine. Of some interest or relevance here, however, is the trio of Proton EMAS concepts unveiled at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show. An acronym for “Eco Mobility Advance Solution”, emas is also the word for “gold” in the Bahasa Malaysian language.

The trio of EMAS concepts (a 3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback and Country SUV-wannabe) were among Italdesign Giugiaro’s last independent designs before being bought out by Volkswagen. More crucial, however, is what lurks beneath the Italian designer sheetmetal: a series plug-in hybrid powertrain with Lotus’ 1.2 litre, 3 cylinder Range Extender engine with flex-fuel (methanol, ethanol and gasoline) capabilities. Yet another surprise lies beneath, as Auto Express‘ first drive of the 5-door Proton/Lotus EMAS concept reveals that “under the skin are the remnants of a Toyota iQ”!

The Lotus City Car Concept, then, is a clear descendant of the Proton EMAS family, albeit designed by Lotus’ current design guru Donato Coco, who earlier reached similar positions at Citroën and then at Ferrari. The apparent plan is for this A-segment vehicle to eventually reach production in Proton and Lotus variants, as well as an undisclosed third Asian badge (rumored to be – are you sitting down? – Detroit Electric, in a venture that has nothing to do with the Motor City and everything with China buying the rights to a brand that has been defunct for over 70 years!)

This author couldn’t help but ask a Lotus spokesman at this year’s New York Auto Show if it wasn’t oddly ironic that currently Toyota-powered Lotus was planning to compete so directly with the Toyota-derived Aston Martin Cygnet. “Well”, he replied, “who do you think did much of the engineering work for the VH architecture that underpins Aston Martin’s entire current lineup?”