Scion Fans Unite At Scion Night

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Scion Nights is undeniably the world’s largest gathering of Scion owners and enthusiasts in one place at one time. As we are nearing the holiday season, Scion has once again partnered up with the Toys for Tots Foundation to help collect gifts for less fortunate kids. Over 12,500 Scion owners and guests came from all parts of California and surrounding to partake in one of the largest toy drives in the region.

Each owner and their guests who arrived in a Scion with a new unwrapped toy were given admission to the Halloween themed Knott’s Scary Farm. Instead of the usual military vehicle cargo haulers, the untimely government shutdown allowed Scion to enlist brand new Texas-built 2014 Toyota Tundras to help hold onto the gifts for the Toys for Tots Foundation. Over 27,000 gifts were collected.

This annual Scion celebration drew over 3,500 Scions, which encompasses every single model and generation ever made. Scion traffic jams were caused in and around the streets leading into Knott’s. All sorts of xA, xB, xD, tC, iQ and FR-S could be found everywhere you  looked. Every Scion Release Series as well as the new Scion 10 Anniversary models could be found here.

Before Knott’s Scary Farm opened their doors at 7 pm, Scion treated their guests to a mini carnival of aftermarket vendors, food trucks, live music, a skate park, and even a zip line in the Scion-only parking lot.  Many iconic project vehicles were on display as well as the first ever xA and xB which is normally housed at the Toyota USA Museum. It was a treat for all that came and a huge success for Scion and the Toys for Tots Foundation. Special thanks to Craig at Scion for allowing me to be an honorary Scion owner for a day.

GALLERY: 10.16.13 Scion Night @ Knott’s Scary FarmIMG_6353-L IMG_6367-L IMG_6370-L IMG_6384-L IMG_6374-L IMG_6371-L IMG_6393-L IMG_6402-L

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 or 9? The other 2 new Toyota…er…Lexus models for 2014

AddSlipsBack in 17 November 2010, a Toyota RAV4 press release concluded by informing us, in an almost throwaway fashion, that “by the end of 2012, Toyota will add seven all new (not next-generation) hybrid models to its portfolio”. We scrambled to figure out what they were, and 2 days later, the first of our Informed Speculation stories was posted. Right about that same time, our co-editor Flipside909 stumbled upon a Yahoo News/AFP story stating that Toyota would, in fact, release 11 new hybrids by the end of calendar year 2012. This was confirmed by Automotive News‘ Hans Greimel on 22 November 2010, and, the next day, our sequel Informed Speculation story appeared.

Flash forward just over 2 years, and history repeats, in a manner of speaking. On 11 September 2012, a Toyota USA news release announcing a new ad and communications tagline cited Toyota Division group vice president and general manager Bill Fay’s prediction that “seven, exciting all-new or updated Toyota and Scion vehicles (will be unveiled) in 2013. We deliberately waited to comment on this until after the November/December 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show (the last major show of the 2012 calendar year), and the resulting story was our first for 2013. Two days later, another Toyota USA Newsroom press release, the December 2012 and Year-End Sales Conference Call Notes, revised this to

Nine all-new or significantly updated models…Beginning this month with RAV4, followed later this year by the Lexus IS and Scion tC, just to name a few

in the words of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Lentz.

So, what are the two extra models? Jim Lentz made it crystal-clear that one of them is the new, 3rd-generation Lexus IS, which will debut in a little over a week. Rather than get into particulars here, we refer you to the Front Page of the my.IS website, where yours truly has been writing, and will continue to do so, on what we know so far in advance of the 15 January 2013 reveal. The other is, we predict, the Lexus GX mid-life facelift, given that the brand’s mid-range SUV usually marches in lockstep with its Toyota 4Runner sibling, and that one is widely believed to receive its own refresh later this year. That GX facelift should make it the latest Lexus to receive the trademark spindle grille.

And what about Lexus’ upcoming compact crossover NX line? While it is believed to see the light of day at one or more of the major 2013 fall auto shows, namely Frankfurt (press days Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 September), Tokyo and Los Angeles (both with press days Wednesday 20 and Thursday 21 November), its more-than-likely 2014 calendar year on-sale date has us pushing it back to the next round of Toyota and Lexus debuts.

We’re rather perplexed, though, by Jim Lentz’s mention of the Scion tC among the 9 models to be revised this year. The audio version of his remarks clearly mention the tC. The current, 2nd-generation tC made its public debut at the 2010 New York Auto Show, and appeared in U.S. dealerships the following October. Thus, the 2013 New York Auto Show (long a favored venue for Scion reveals) could bring a mid-life facelift for the brand’s front-wheel-drive coupe, which, sales-wise, has held up better than this author expected in the face of the far superior and sportier FR-S. Did Lentz, in fact, misspeak when he mentioned the tC, or should we cast aside our beliefs and hopes for at least one, if not two all-new Scion models this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without further ado, here are our predictions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2012 Informed Speculation scoreboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tetsuya Tada rekindles more Toyota sports car talk

Recently, Top Gear Philippines’ Editor-in-Chief Vernon B. Sarne (whom we were privileged to meet at the 2010 Paris Motor Show) was fortunate enough to interview Tetsuya Tada, Toyota’s chief engineer for the joint Toyota/Subaru sports car project that led to the widely acclaimed Subaru BRZ and its Toyota iterations variously badged as Scion FR-S, Toyota GT 86 or, simply, Toyota 86. Their conversation brought to light a couple of interesting revelations.

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

…the 86 is just the first of three sports cars that Toyota is planning to roll out, and that the 86 is the middle of the two in terms of market positioning. The first is more mass-market and cheaper than the 86, and the third is more upmarket than the 86.

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

What about the “more upmarket than 86″ sports car? The last Toyota concept that addressed this segment was 2007’s FT-HS, powered by a variant of the Lexus GS 450h’s 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6 hybrid powertrain. This was widely touted as a predictor for a production Mark V Toyota Supra that, as of this writing, has yet to see the light of day. Fueling fans’ hopes, Toyota renewed the Supra trademark on 16 July 2010. Trademarks carry a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision for a period of time after its filing. This author was always under the impression that it was 5 years, but Car and Driver‘s Justin Berkowitz swears that it is, in fact, 3 years. So, should we raise our hopes of seeing a reborn Supra next year? Not so fast, for, as the second revelation of the Top Gear Philippines interview informs us,

Tada said…that nothing is sure yet since his team is still in the process of conceptualizing the two other Toyota sports cars. He also noted that it takes five years to develop a sports car from conceptualization to production, as compared with the three years it normally takes to develop a regular vehicle.

Given that time frame, might Toyota once again lose the Supra trademark? Not necessarily, for Toyota can either renew it or, perhaps, slap the Supra badge on a concept predictor for the eventual production car and thus safeguard it that way.

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

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

Photo Credit 1: Joel Strickland

Scion sells 86 FR-S units in its first month in the U.S. Serendipitous coincidence, or not?

Anyone who has even casually followed the gestation and history of Scion’s FR-S is surely aware of the overriding significance and symbolism of the number “86”. Harkening back to the last of the rear-wheel-drive sporting, enthusiast-oriented Toyota Corollas, the AE86 chassis code Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno notchback and hatchback coupes, the number would go on to play a significant role in the development of its spiritual successor, the so-called “Toyobaru” coupe jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru. Although, for North America, Toyota opted to sell it through its Scion sub-brand and give it the FR-S moniker that channels MR-S (Toyota MR2 Spyder), in the rest of the world, Toyota’s new sports car proudly wears the 86 badge (prefaced by GT in Europe). Beyond the name, Toyota and Scion has also peppered the car with a number of 86-themed “Easter eggs”, from the FA20 engine’s 86mm bore x 86mm stroke to the “86”/horizontally-opposed pistons trademarked logo on the front fenders to the Scion “First 86″ sales program.

Now, as Toyota reveals its May 2012 Sales Chart, a very interesting fact emerges: Scion FR-S sales for the car’s first month in the United States were… 86 cars! Thus, the only units that left dealers’ showrooms last month were the so-called “First 86″, starting with the very first and continuing down the list, including Club4AG webmaster, administrator and events coordinator (and friend of Kaizen Factor) Motohide Miwa. So, was this casual coincidence or carefully calculated? Toyota isn’t really saying, but the May 2012 Sales Conference Call‘s offhand remark by Bob Carter, Toyota Division’s group vice president and general manager that “We sold 86 special FR-S models in May to a lucky group of buyers who won an online social media contest to be the first to take delivery in the U.S.” suggests the latter is the case.

It’s interesting to note that those 86 units sold in May make the Scion FR-S the third-lowest selling among Toyota’s models for the month, with only Lexus’ LFA supercar (with 3 units sold) and the outgoing HS 250h hybrid sedan (21 units moved) reporting lower numbers. Bear in mind, though, that this is merely indicative of a slow rampup of sales, since FR-S numbers are expected to skyrocket, based on anecdotal evidence, buzz and pent-up demand.

Meanwhile, Subaru of America reports that 271 BRZ sports coupes were sold in the United States during May 2012, more than triple the Scion numbers for the month! Don’t expect this to be a typical turn of events going forward, though, for Scion expects to sell more than double Subaru’s numbers on an annual basis.

EXCLUSIVE! The First Scion FR-S in North America Delivered At Longo Scion!

May 3, 2012 – El Monte, CA – It’s been a long wait, but history has been made. The first Scion FR-S (a.k.a. Toyota 86 & GT 86 outside of North America & Subaru BRZ globally) has been delivered to the first lucky enthusiast of the “First 86 Program”. Earlier this year at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, Scion USA announced a program where enthusiasts had a chance to be selected as one of the “First “86” to purchase an FR-S. Well, the time has come, and the first of the lucky “First 86 Program” has taken delivery at the #1 Scion dealership, Longo Scion in Southern California.

A little presentation was held before the “First 86″ owner was handed the keys. Tom Rundai, President and General Manager of Longo Toyota, Lexus & Scion presented the First 86 owner a few gifts including  a special carbon fiber plaque by Five Axis commemorating the “First 86″ delivery, a special “First 86″ gift pack which included a numbered carbon fiber FR-S license plate frame, an FR-S pen and a few other goodies.

Shortly thereafter, the fitted black FR-S cover was pulled off to reveal the first production Scion FR-S available for sale. The lucky owner had selected the pearl white exterior known as Whiteout (37J) mated with a proper Aisin TL70 6 speed manual transmission. After the keys were handed to the first FR-S owner, everyone gathered around to watch him get in the car and start it up for the first time. Shortly thereafter, the barrage of photographers surrounded the new FR-S owner to document the moment. A video crew was also on hand to interview the first Scion FR-S owner ever. Congratulations to the first Scion FR-S owner and his new delivery!

For those anxiously waiting to get their hands on this hot new Scion, get in line because the “First 86″ are receiving their FR-S as we speak! The 2013 Scion FR-S will be available to the general public this Summer at your local Scion dealer.

Special thanks goes out to Jeffrey Chang of Longo Scion, Tom Rudnai, President of Longo Toyota/Lexus/Scion and the folks at Scion USA for the opportunity to witness this historic event.


Article & Photos by: Flipside909

Were we (and Aisin) wrong about the BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 manual transmission? Or is Scion?

Almost 2½ months ago, Kaizen Factor indulged in some of our much-loved Informed Speculation and attempted to delve into the specifics of The BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 transmissions and driveline. No sooner had we posted it, however, that Paul Williamsen, National Manager of Lexus College (this being the brand’s product training division, and an integral part of new model long lead press previews) made the following observations:

…we’re still getting contradictory info out of TMC (Toyota Motor Corporation) on which 6-spd Aisin tranny we’ll have in the FT86, FR-S, & BRZ.

One of the obvious differences between the old IS 200/Altezza box (TMC type J160) and the current IS 250/Cadillac/Porsche box (TMC type RA6X) is that the former has gear reduction on the input side, while the latter has its reduction at the output end. We’ve seen references to both types.

Perhaps, then, things weren’t as clear-cut as they first appeared.

Flash-forward to Wednesday 25 April and the end of the press embargo on the Scion FR-S long lead preview. Although we at Kaizen Factor were not blessed with an invitation, FT-86Club.com‘s stellar coverage was the next best thing to being there. Their correspondent Ichitaka went as far as scanning and posting the Long Lead Press Presentation Outline, in a format familiar to this author from multiple Lexus press previews. Curious over the transmission information contained therein, we were gratified that our prediction of the Lexus IS 250-sourced A960E 6-speed automatic with upgrades such as earlier torque converter lockup, faster upshift and downshift times and throttle blips accompanying downshifts was spot-on. This author did a stunned double-take, however, to see the 6-speed manual identified as an RA62 – just like the less-than-stellar Lexus IS 250 Manual’s transmission – in both the Page 2 index and Page 26, as shown below.

A quick primer on Toyota’s 6-speed manual RWD transmissions
Although our earlier article covered this ground in far greater detail, a recap on Toyota’s 6-speed manual rear-wheel-drive-centric transmissions is in order. In essence, there are only three of them: The Getrag 233 / Toyota V160/V161 used in the legendary Supra Mark IV Twin Turbo; the Aisin AY6 / Toyota/Lexus RA60 series and the Aisin AZ6 / Toyota/Lexus J160. The AY6/RA60 series is, essentially, a beefy truck transmission whose vague shift feel is decidedly subpar for a rear-wheel-drive transmission. Except for RA62 (Lexus IS 250 and, allegedly, Scion FR-S and its derivatives) and RA63 (Europe’s Lexus IS 200d and IS 220d diesels), its other Toyota applications are in Tacoma and FJ Cruiser. The AZ6/J160, on the other hand, is a far more logical basis for the so-called Toyobaru coupe’s manual, having graced not only Toyota Altezza and 1st-generation Lexus IS 200 manual models, but such legendary sports cars as the Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8, 2nd-gen (NB) Mazda MX-5 Miata and the final S15 Nissan Silvia Spec-R. Frankly, we thought that the picture below (from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show), as featured in our prior article, had settled the issue.

Were we (and Aisin) wrong, then? This skeptical author investigates
Although we’ve never seen such an egregious error in any Toyota/Lexus/Scion press preview printout, this author remained deeply skeptical. Another of the Scion FR-S long lead press materials, the “86” Development Story brochure delves into the transmission issue on page 14, as shown below. This starts out with by noting that “…transmission development began with an effort to shorten the stroke of the 6-speed manual transmission used in the Altezza…” – an implicit admission that they started out with the Aisin AZ6/Toyota J160 transmission. Beyond that, the story twists and turns, and informs us how engineers from Toyota, Subaru and Aisin AI engineers came together and brought in Takeshi Kaino, a researcher specializing in shift feel to help implement the ideal 6-speed manual transmission. They go on to say that

After creating five different prototypes and executing a final, daring overall design change, the team finally succeeded in creating the ideal 6-speed manual transmission for a sports car…

(Tomohiro) Ishikawa (6-speed manual transmission development director): “Perhaps 80% of the design had changed. More than that, if you look at blueprints for individual parts. Most of the parts were changed I bet.”

No word one way or the other, however, on whether or not at some point they changed from the J160 to the RA62 as a basis for the FR-S / BRZ / GT 86 manual transmission.

Mild skepticism morphed into full-on raging doubt, however, when comparing the Scion FR-S “RA62″ individual gear ratios as shown in the second illustration above to those of the undoubtedly RA62 Lexus IS 250 Manual (as shown in a PDF document linked to the Lexus USA Newsroom’s 2012 Lexus IS 250/350 Product Information page). Except for a direct 1.000 5th-gear ratio, none of the individual gear ratios (not even reverse!) are shared by the two so-called RA62 iterations! And, given past Toyota history, when the slightest changes to an individual gear ratio or two warranted a new transmission denomination (see the RA60, RA60F, RA61, RA62 and RA63 family, or, going further back, the W55, W56, W57, W58, and W59 family of RWD 5-speed manual transmissions, which are externally and internally very similar aside from the gear ratios), we doubt that 2 transmissions that share but one of 7 gear ratios would carry the same code.

Paul Williamsen sets the record straight
Beyond his impressive talents that include Product Engineering, Design, & Development and Curriculum Design & Development, Mr. Williamsen is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to all things Toyota. Thus, he seemed to be a natural source to shed some light on the murky subject of the Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ / Toyota (GT) 86 manual transmission. And his reply certainly did just that:

Preliminary info from TMC Engineering Div. did not allow us to make a positive identification of origins of the 6-speed manual transmission used in the the FT-86/FR-S/BRZ.

Newer, more thorough, information from TMC identifies the FR-S/BRZ transmission as an all-new type, the TL70.

A technical drawing of the TL70 shows that the order of the gears on the shafts (below) DOES NOT MATCH the RA60: the TL70 does match the sequence of the Aisin AZ6 (TMC type J160) 6-spd manual gearbox fitted to the original Toyota Altezza 2.0 (in Japan) and IS 200 (for Europe).

Similarly, illustrations of the TL70 internal shift linkage indicate that it is more like the J160 than the RA60 series. The ratios are unique to the TL70, with a closer overall spread of ratios than the RA62 of the current IS 250.

I have not been able to personally inspect any of these parts out of the new car and compare them to the earlier models.

There you have it, then. In summary, Toyota, Subaru and Aisin engineers started with the AZ6/J160 manual from the Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS 200, changed at least 80% of it in the quest for improved shift quality and came up with the AZ6-derived TL70 manual that graces the Subaru BRZ and its Toyota-badged stablemates. The only connection to the AY6/RA62 was the one erroneously made by whoever put together the Scion FR-S Long Lead Press Presentation Outline. Thus, we can accurately state that we and Aisin were closest to the truth.

The Forester factor: an unexpected reason why BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 production capacity is limited

As the universally rave reviews come in and hoopla builds over the Subaru BRZ and its Toyota and Scion 86 / GT 86 / FR-S stablemates, the flip side of this popular acclaim becomes evident: a high demand/low supply situation. On March 6, Reuters reported that the first month’s worth of orders for the Japanese domestic market Toyota 86 totalled roughly 7000 vehicles, or 7 times the 1000 unit per month JDM sales target. Three weeks later, a news release from Subaru corporate parent Fuji Heavy Industries reports 3551 BRZs sold in Japan in the nearly 2-month period between February 3 and March 27, nearly quadruple the JDM target of 450 BRZs per month. And, on Friday 13 April, FT-86Club‘s blog cited a Nikkei report that due to the huge backlog of orders, Japanese market deliveries of the Subaru BRZ will be pushed back to January 2013.

Does that mean that Subaru is prioritizing export BRZs? Maybe, but don’t expect a much brighter supply-and-demand situation here in the United States. As Diana T. Kurylko of Automotive News reported on April 2,

…only about 500 (BRZ) units will be available each month for the U.S. market.

That means that some of Subaru’s 620 U.S. dealers won’t have a BRZ at launch and most will get only one car a month.

It is unlikely the United States will receive more than about 6,000 of the rear-wheel-drive coupes a year even in a full-year of production, said Michael McHale, Subaru of America’s director of corporate communications.

“The only way we get more is if another market doesn’t sell its share,” he said.

Subaru will produce 100,000 units annually of the BRZ and its two sister cars, the Scion FR-S and Toyota 86, at its Gunma factory in Japan. The worldwide allocation for the three brands has not been disclosed.

McHale said Subaru of America asked for only 6,000 annually. He said the U.S. sales arm made a conservative request because little was known about the car during most of its joint development with Toyota.

Earlier this year, Scion boss Jack Hollis said his brand expects to sell 10,000 to 15,000 units of the FR-S in 2012.

Those 100,000 units of annual joint BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 production, by the way, are an increase versus original plans for 60,000 cars per year, and were officially confirmed by Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, president of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. on March 16. As to Michael McHale’s contention that “the U.S. sales arm made a conservative request because little was known about the car during most of its joint development with Toyota”, at least one pundit has suggested that it was skepticism over the salability of a rear-wheel-drive Subaru in a corporate culture so ingrained with “the beauty of all-wheel-drive” that led to the low BRZ take rate by Subaru USA.

The Gunma five
As we were reminded a few paragraphs above, and as hardcore Toyobaru coupe fans fully well know, the sports cars are built at a Subaru facility in Japan’s Gunma prefecture (the equivalent of a state or province). More precisely, they are located in the vicinity of Ota city. And, yes, we use “they” advisedly, for, as the official Fuji Heavy Industries Corporate website’s Domestic Facilities page informs us, there are, in fact, 5 distinct Gunma plants: Ota North and Isesaki manufacture automotive parts; Oizumi is the powertrain (automobile engines and transmissions) facility; and then come the two actual carmaking plants: Yajima, which builds Legacy, Exiga, Impreza and Forester (and, presumably, their Outback and XV Crosstrek offshoots); and the Gunma Main Plant, which, according to that page, builds R2, R1, Pleo, Sambar and Stella kei microcars.

Outdated info and an unexpected revelation
Needless to say, copyright 2012 at the bottom of the page notwithstanding, the above information begs for some serious updating. Besides the obviously-missing BRZ and its Toyota/Scion siblings from the Gunma Main Plant information, none of the Subaru models listed above are currently built at Gunma Main. The R2 kei 5-door hatchback and its even shorter R1 3-door sibling were discontinued in March 2010. The original, Subaru-engineered-and-built Pleo ceased production in December 2009, replaced in April 2010 by a rebadged Daihatsu Mira built at the Oita (Nakatsu) Plant No. 1 of Daihatsu Motor Kyushu. Similarly, the original, Subaru-engineered-and-built Stella was replaced in May 2011 by a rebadged Daihatsu Move built at the latter’s Shiga (Ryuo) Plant. Subaru’s last surviving self-engineered kei vehicle, the Sambar microvan ended production on 29 February 2012, as shown above right.

Doesn’t this mean, then, that the Gunma Main Plant is free and clear to build nothing but BRZs and its Toyota and Scion variants? Apparently not, according to Dominick Infante, National Manager, Product Communications at Subaru of America. At the second New York Auto Show press day, he informed this author that, because worldwide sales of the Forester compact crossover SUV had barely dropped off even after the current, 3rd-generation (SH)’s fifth year in production, a number of them are produced at the Gunma Main Plant to supplement the majority that is built at the Gunma Yajima Plant. A surprising and unexpected revelation, then, that suggests some potential Forester vs BRZ conflict in allocating Subaru resources and production capacity.

We should note, however, that in the United States, 2011 calendar year Forester sales totaled 76,196, a 10.44% decrease from 2010’s 85,080 units, a decline undoubtedly fueled by the aftermath of the 3/11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. As for 2012 sales thus far, January saw sales of 5117 Foresters, a steeper 11.87% decline versus January 2011’s 5806 units sold. Similarly, February saw 5565 Foresters sold, a 12% drop compared to February 2011’s 6334 units moved.

Looming large: the Impreza factor
If the notion of some Foresters being built at Gunma Main potentially curtailing BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 production concerns you, you may be downright troubled by a passage from the fifth Subaru USA March 2012 News Archive entry that has also been echoed in a number of Fuji Heavy Industries English language news releases:

Subaru Gunma Main Plant, where minicars were previously manufactured, was recently renewed for the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 production. FHI plans to produce the Impreza at the same plant by March 2013.

The new 4th-generation Impreza (GP/GJ) has certainly been an unequivocal success, with an almost 87% U.S. sales increase in December 2011 versus year-earlier numbers, and 2012 increases soaring into the triple digits, including a 175.51% jump in January 2012 vs January 2011. And don’t even get us started on what might happen when the successor to the current GE/GH/GR WRX and STI emerges some time next year.

What about Subaru’s Indiana facility in the U.S.?
With all this potential jostling over capacity at Gunma Main, we can’t help but wonder if Subaru’s major production facility outside Japan, the United States’ Subaru of Indiana Automotive facility in Lafayette can’t help somehow. It would certainly bolster FHI’s bottom line by building more in a weak dollar locale as opposed to the less profitable strong yen Japan. Yet, here, too, production capacity constraints collide, with U.S. 2011 Legacy and Outback sales having increased 9.49% and 12.09%, respectively, over 2010, and 2012 thus far also showing year-on-year increases for the two lines versus year-ago figures.

With Toyota Camry maintaining its lock as the United States’ best-selling car, we wouldn’t bet on them surrendering capacity to their factory “landlord” in Indiana, either. As Wikipedia informs us, Toyota began producing 30,000 to 40,000 Camrys per year at SIA in 2007, with plans to gradually increase this to 100,000 units per year.

One logical suggestion would be to discontinue the Indiana-only sourced Tribeca mid-size crossover SUV and free up that capacity for something else. After all, the Tribeca isn’t even sold in Japan. Yet, U.S. sales of the largest Subaru increased almost 13% in 2011 (for a total of 2791 units), and an even higher 15.15% in January 2012. February’s 21% year-over-year dip, however, may well be a more typical Tribeca sales pattern.

Should Subaru eliminate the Exiga?
Similarly lackluster (if not more so) numbers are probably posted, we’re willing to bet, by the fourth Subaru line built at Subaru’s Gunma Yajima facility, the Exiga. This is a marginally shorter and narrower 3-row boxier 4-cylinder Tribeca alternative on the same 108.2″ wheelbase that is only offered in Japan and some nearby right-hand-drive markets such as Australia and Singapore.

What should Subaru do? Kaizen Factor suggests…
Tight production capacity may certainly appear to be an enviable problem, especially if you’re a volume European carmaker with excess capacity such as General Motors’ Opel, Fiat or Peugeot/Citroën. Nonetheless, juggling all these successful car lines at Subaru facilities in Japan and the United States in order to meet demand and maximize profitability is a task not to be taken lightly. It is at this point that this Kaizen Factor author plays armchair quarterback, indulges in informed speculation and suggests the following:

Kill off Tribeca and Exiga. If there’s one niche in which Subaru has seen marginal success, it’s in the 3-row crossover SUV/wagon segment. Neither Tribeca nor Exiga will be particularly missed if discontinued, and their demise will open up some production capacity at Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) and at the Gunma Yajima Plant, respectively. And what if Subaru dealers clamor for an entry in this segment? With all the rebadged Toyotas and Daihatsus sitting below Impreza in Subaru’s Japanese domestic market lineup, one more large one wouldn’t be a big deal. Europe has also seen a handful of those, powered by their inline engines of origin. A Subaru-badged version of, say, the Toyota Verso small minivan (itself the foundation for the Prius v) would be a viable solution, and might even finally give the Mazda5 some long-overdue competition in the United States. Plus, it wouldn’t be the first time Subaru goes down this route. Under General Motors’ partial ownership, Subaru offered the Traviq (a rebadged 1st-generation Opel Zafira 7-seat compact MPV). Of course, if Subaru did something like this and offered a rebadged vehicle in North America with an inline or vee cylinder configuration instead of the company’s signature flat (horizontally-opposed) engines, we can already hear the cries of bloody murder from Subie loyalists already up in arms over the BRZ’s lack of all-wheel-drive…

Bring all Legacy and Outback production to the United States. A number of Toyota models that sell primarily or exclusively in North America are only built here, namely Matrix, Avalon, Venza, Sienna, Tacoma, Tundra and Sequoia, with Highlander set to join the list in late 2013. Honda and Nissan (including their luxury brands) also offer a number of North America-only built models, as has Mitsubishi in the past, so why shouldn’t Subaru do the same with its now quite large Legacy sedan and Outback wagon? We’d imagine that the U.S. is by far the largest market for those models, anyway, so building them all here sounds like a good way to increase Subaru production capacity back in Japan for all the fun, sporty, truly Subaru stuff. And we say that advisedly, since the company in the U.S. has just discontinued for 2013 its last link to Legacy’s enthusiast-friendly past: the 2.5GT turbo manual sedan. A shame, for the line that in the past included such tantalizing variants as the spec.B sedan and 2.5GT wagons now signals its new mission as just an all-wheel-drive Camry/Accord/Altima alternative.

Bringing all Legacy and Outback production to the States also means that those sporting spec.B Legacys, available in sedan and wagon versions that still have a following in Japan and Australia even in their current BM/BR 5th-generation would also be built here. And, given that fact, perhaps Subaru can be persuaded to leave and sell a few of them over here…

As to a potential Legacy/Outback vs Camry fight for capacity at SIA, maybe Toyota could be persuaded to give up a smidge of Camry output in favor of Subaru if it means more capacity at Gunma Main for potential Toyota or Lexus-badged FR-S / GT 86 spinoffs. Wishful thinking, I know…

Keep most if not all Forester and Impreza production away from the Gumna Main Plant. With Exiga gone and Legacy/Outback coming exclusively from the U.S., that would leave the Gunma Yajima plant building just Forester and Impreza/XV Crosstrek. As such, any need for Gunma Main to produce overflow Foresters and Imprezas would be minimized, or even curtailed altogether, in turn maximizing production of BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 and any future variants thereof.

What about a new factory or production location?
The suggestions above are seemingly the least disruptive and most cost and time-effective solutions to an apparent capacity crunch facing Subaru (and, by extension, Toyota). There are always, of course, a myriad of other alternatives, from further, more elaborate juggling among or between the five Subaru Gunma facilities in Japan and SIA in the U.S. to building an all-new Subaru factory (such as a rumored Russian assembly plant by 2015) to the flip side of the current SIA Camry arrangement: setting up a Subaru or “Toyobaru” line in one of Toyota’s North American production facilities. With most of the world’s excess carmaking production capacity centered in Europe, the Old Continent could also provide alternatives. Given the strong Japanese production presence throughout Great Britain (think Toyota, Honda and Nissan) and a likely strong Japanese supplier base there, buying and repurposing General Motors’ endangered Ellesmere Port facility in northwest England is but one possibility that comes to mind.

These options, however, are far more involved, convoluted and time and money consuming. Needless to say, this is an area of expertise far above this humble scribe’s capabilities, and we’ll leave it to the corporate honchos, bean counters and production engineers to determine if, ultimately, Subaru might be on a growth spurt beyond what its six current major production facilities can handle.

A hardcore enthusiast’s ultimate dream goal: meeting demand, and creating a BRZ / 86 family
Toyota and Subaru’s short and mid-term goal, we’re sure, is meeting burgeoning demand for the current 4-cylinder, 2-liter naturally aspirated FA20-powered 86, GT 86, BRZ and Scion FR-S 2+2 sports coupes. Longer-term, though, this author believes, as many car forum posters and blogosphere denizens do, that the creation of Tetsuya Tada, Yoshio Hirakawa and Toshio Masuda is simply too good to confine to that single coupe. And, indeed, beyond the obvious more powerful version of that coupe, all sorts of additional body styles have been suggested and rendered, from a 4-door sports sedan (one we hope doesn’t look like the Best Car illustration above right with its fussy side sculpturing and odd Toyota badge/Lexus spindle grille mashup) to a convertible to speedster to the fanciful illustrations by FT86Club.com member Ichitaka05 that include targa and shooting break body styles, not to mention a Lexus-badged small 2-seater.

A final, parting thought
Perhaps, though, Subaru and Toyota have more downbeat and levelheaded notions of BRZ’s and FR-S/86’s long-term sales potential, with our wishful flights of fancy shot down by the numbers crunchers. Maybe, beyond the convertible shown above (as famously rendered by Germany’s Auto Bild) and go-faster powertrain tweaks, there won’t be any spinoffs or derivatives. In that case, the carmakers might be sobered by the traditional trendiness and brief shelf life of many past sports coupes. Perhaps adding some Forester and Impreza capacity at Gunma Main could, instead, turn out to be a visionary move.

BRZ, FR-S and GT 86 as a one or two-year wonder whose sales will then fizzle out faster than a bum firecracker? Heaven forbid things turn out that way…