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.

Does Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ sharing even extend to exterior colors?

During the years-long gestation of the so-called Toyobaru coupe, one of the favorite guessing games was how much or how little differentiation there would be between the Toyota/Scion and Subaru versions. As both were finally unveiled, we learned that there is far less distinction between the two than there was between the old-school Detroit 3 ponycar siblings (Ford Mustang/Mercury Cougar, Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird and Dodge Challenger/Plymouth Barracuda). Heck, even the later Diamond-Star triplets (Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon) showed a bit more differentiation among themselves than the Toyota/Subaru collaboration coupes. Yet, when the carmakers invited the press to the Friday 16 March production launch ceremony of the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ at Subaru’s Gunma Main Plant in Ota City, Gunma Prefecture, the two companies strived for maximum distinction by showcasing a Subaru BRZ in the brand’s signature WR Blue Pearl and a Toyota 86 in their exclusive Hot Lava orange hue, as shown above. What about the rest of the color palette, though? Is Subaru’s Dark Gray Metallic any different from Scion’s Asphalt hue? Does Scion’s Whiteout imply a “refrigerator white” as opposed to Subaru’s Satin White Pearl?

The surest way to answer these and other similar questions is to seek out the all-important 3-character alphanumeric paint code for each individual color and see whether or not they are common across both brands. Traditionally, Toyota and Lexus’ official Japanese websites identify exterior colors by that code. Sure enough, Toyota Japan’s Toyota 86 Exterior Bodycolor Index page does not disappoint. In contrast, official Subaru sites are not as forthcoming with this information. Fortunately, there are plentiful other Internet sources, such as the Automotive Touchup site. Following is what we’ve gathered and learned from those sources.

The unequivocably shared colors
Of the seven exterior colors available for each brand (Scion/Toyota and Subaru), four emerge as unequivocably and undoubtedly shared, and use Subaru-sourced paint codes, even in their Toyota/Scion applications. They are:

Dark Gray / 61K / Asphalt (Scion) / Dark Gray Metallic (Subaru)
Red / C7P / Firestorm (Scion) / Lightning Red (Subaru)
Black / D4S / Raven (Scion) / Crystal Black Silica (Subaru)
White / 37J / Whiteout (Scion) / Satin White Pearl (Subaru)

Thus, fans of “refrigerator”, non-pearlescent whites will be disappointed, since, at least for the 2013 model year, this will be the only shade of white to be offered for both brands.

Dark blue and silver. Shared or not?
Figuring out whether or not the dark blue and silver hues are shared between Toyota and Subaru took a bit more detective work, since their respective D6S and E8H color codes do not appear on the 2012 Automotive Touchup site. It turns out that the silver is the equivalent of a throwback jersey or a revived Nike shoe style, since D6S Sterling Silver Metallic was last offered by Subaru outside of North America in 2009 and 2010. Confusingly, in 2009 Subaru used both the Sterling Silver Metallic and Platinum Silver Metallic monikers to describe D6S. Thus, we can add

Silver / D6S / Argento (Scion) / Sterling Silver Metallic (Subaru)

Similarly E8H dark blue was last offered by Subaru outside of North America in 2010, discontinued for the 2011 and 2012 model years and brought back for the 2013 BRZ.

Dark Blue / E8H / Ultramarine (Scion) / Galaxy Blue Silica (Subaru)

WR Blue Pearl, yes, but which one?
Beyond the D6S Sterling Silver Metallic / Platinum Silver Metallic example we quoted earlier, Subaru color name / paint code alignment can be a bit convoluted. For instance, 37J, 925 and 926 paint codes all bear the Satin White Pearl name. And two separate paint codes (02C and 42C) both share the WR (World Rally) Blue Pearl denomination. What is the precise difference between the two? And which one does the BRZ use?

Page 3 of an official Japanese Subaru BRZ Options chart is inconclusive, for it only lists the last two characters of the three-character Subaru paint code, and 2C can equally refer to 02C or 42C. We know for a fact, however, that the current U.S. market WRX and STI use the 02C iteration of WR Blue Pearl. Further confusing matters, some sources outside the U.S., such as Pro-Spray Automotive Finishes list Subaru paint code 42C as Jet Silver Metallic. Fortunately, a visit to the 2012 New York Auto Show during press previews clarified matters, for the sole BRZ on the Subaru stand just happened to be WR Blue Pearl, and opening the passenger-side door revealed the 02C color code.

Two different color codes for Hot Lava? What’s up with that?
After ragging on Subaru for applying the same name to 2 or 3 different color codes, we must note that Scion has seemingly done something similar with the Hot Lava color name. While the signature 86/FR-S orange bears the H8R color code on Toyota Japan’s Toyota 86 Exterior Bodycolor Index page, on other Scion applications, namely the just-launched iQ, 2004 xB Release Series 1.0, 2008 xD Release Series 1.0 and 2012 xB Release Series 9.0, the color code is 4R8.

Why the two different codes (4R8 and H8R) for Hot Lava? We have a couple of possible educated guesses:

1) There is some sort of subtle difference between the FR-S Hot Lava and the version on iQ plus the myriad Release Series models that justifies the two separate color codes.

2) The Hot Lava hue itself is identical on FR-S and the FWD Scions but, given that the other GT 86 / FR-S exterior colors use Subaru paint codes (not to mention the Subaru-only WR Blue Pearl), then the H8R is a Subaru paint code for what is, at heart, a Toyota/Scion paint color.

The answer is something of an “all of the above”. Given that the Toyota/Scion is built in Subaru’s Gunma assembly plant (and, indeed, the inside door jamb/sill information labels clearly state that the vehicle is built by Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries even for Toyota and Scion-branded versions), it is only natural that FR-S Hot Lava would use a Subaru-specific color code in line with all the other exterior hues. Yet, as luck would have it, the Scion stand at the 2012 New York Auto Show had a Hot Lava iQ and a Hot Lava FR-S not even 50 feet from each other, and consensus was that the FR-S H8R hue is a bit lighter and brighter than the iQ and previous Release Series models’ 4R8.

3-17-12 Tracking The Scion iQ

Video

Here’s video of the Scion iQ being driven indoors at K1 Speed in Irvine. The iQ is the first gas powered vehicle to be driven on this indoor course. Scion made special arrangements with K1 Speed Indoor Karting to show guests the true agility of the new iQ. Guests were whisked away on hot laps in the iQ by SCCA pro drivers. Check out the agility of this latest ultra compact Scion, it will be sure to “move you” out of your seat!

Edit: Youtube link corrected. Somehow it disappeared from the original posting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s unprecedented in Toyota’s history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scion’s SEMA Seven for 2011! Booth #20703

October 26, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA – It’s hell week and we’re quickly approaching opening day of the 2011 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Luckily for Scion, they’re ahead of the game as they have completed all of their project cars in time for this year’s show while others are frantically adding the finishing touches as we speak. Just last night, Scion hosted a sneak preview of their new SEMA Show goodies at the very trendy Kim Sing Theater on Fig which is on the western edge of Chinatown in Los Angeles. This special event brought guests together from local and international locations. Invited media, the builders and a plethora of VIP guests had a chance to rub elbows, share stories and talk about cars while they dined on delicious drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Welcome to the car culture capital of the world!

 

Last year’s Scion Tuner Challenge paid hommage to our nation’s armed forces with an array of special build xB’s. This year, Scion will be showcasing seven projects in which .  four of these cars will be the all-new “Smart-er & Mini-er” iQ (3 of which will be featured in the Tuner Challenge and one trick chop top utility cruiser), two xB’s  a snowboarder’s dream ride & a VIP inspired Scion Canada Tuner Challenge Champ), and lastly one road race ready tC. You’ll be able to take a look at all these rides up close at booth# 20703 located on the northwest section of Central Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

 

Tuner Challenge iQ by Michael Chang

Tuner Challenge iQ by Jon Sibal
 

Tuner Challenge iQ by Tatsu

iQ “Pit Boss” by Cartel

tC Gruppe S by Dynamic

Numeric xB by 686®

More photos can be found here: 10-26-11 Scion SEMA Preview GALLERY
Special thanks goes out to our friends at Scion USA!

As Toyota announces North America, China and Thailand production cuts, a roadmap for a return to normalcy emerges

With Toyota having set its pared-down post-earthquakes and tsunami Japan production schedule all the way until Friday 3 June, it is hardly surprising that the carmaker’s other production locales would soon follow suit. Here is how those plans currently stand:

North America
News releases on both the USA and Global Toyota Newsrooms extend North America production cutbacks beyond the previously-announced Monday 25 April. The new order calls for resumption of production on Tuesday 26 April thru Thursday 2 June, with a pattern of Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday production at 50% capacity (or 4-hour workdays, according to Reuters) and no production on Mondays and Fridays. In addition, each North American production locale will have a full week’s shutdown within that time period. In Canada it will be the week of Monday 23 May thru Friday 27 May (in conjunction with the scheduled Victoria Day holiday), while in the United States it will be the week of Monday 30 May thru Friday 3 June (in conjunction with the scheduled Memorial Day holiday).

No layoffs are planned during this period, and plant team members will utilize non-production time for training and plant improvement activities. As executive vice president of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America (TEMA) Steve St. Angelo informs us, “We are trying to continue production as much as possible and keep our workforce intact in order to facilitate a smooth transition back to full production when all parts are available.” As to the impact of these extended production cuts, Automotive News‘ Mark Rechtin calculates that production 3 days a week at 50% capacity translates into plants operating at 30% of total capacity each week because of the additional two days of idle time. A Bloomberg article further calculates that Toyota’s sales in the U.S. could drop as much as 10% according to TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak, while Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco cites lost production of 150,000 units in North America from March 11 to June 3.

China
An official Global Newsroom press release informs us that Toyota’s numerous China joint ventures (many of them in conjunction with the FAW [First Automobile Works] Group) will carry out production at 30% to 50% of normal from Thursday 21 April thru Friday 3 June due to parts supply difficulties. Also, as a consequence of this production adjustment, Toyota-related plants in China will observe the annual July summer holiday period early, in the end of April or at the beginning of May. Bloomberg cites Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco as estimating a loss of 80,000 units in China from March 11 to June 3. In 2010, Toyota made 1,458,000 units at its plants in North America and 770,000 in China.

Thailand
Toyota’s trio of Thai manufacturing facilities (the Samrong plant in Samutprakan and the Gateway and Banpho plants in Chachoengsao), whose output includes Yaris, Vios (Belta/Yaris sedan), Altis (Corolla sedan), Prius, Camry (including Camry Hybrid), Hilux Vigo and Fortuner (pickup truck and SUV variants, respectively, of Toyota’s IMV [Innovative International Multi-purpose vehicle] project) models, also imposed production cutbacks. These follow the North American pattern of 50% (or half-day) capacity Tuesday thru Thursday and no production on Mondays or Fridays from Monday 25 April thru Friday 3 June. Reuters adds that Toyota lost the production of about 10,000 units during the first two weeks after the earthquake and analysts expected it would lose more until the company can resume overtime.

What happens in June and beyond?
With many of Toyota’s latest production communiqués ending with some variant of “production plans beyond June 3 will be determined at a later date” or “a decision on production after June 3 will depend on the parts-supply situation”, it was mildly surprising to some pundits that press releases on Toyota’s official USA and Global Newsrooms, plus a statement on the latter from Akio Toyoda included a roadmap of tentative predictions on a return to normalcy. Here is the timetable laid out:

July 2011: Projected ramp up of production in Japan, depending on vehicle model.

August 2011: Projected ramp up of production outside Japan, depending on region and vehicle model. The month’s lag is due to the time required to ship parts from Japan to overseas plants.

November-December 2011: Projected return to normal production, likely accompanied by overtime to make up for previously lost production.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation said in his official press release

“To all the customers who made the decision to buy a vehicle made by us, I sincerely apologize for the enormous delay in delivery. Immediately after the earthquake, Toyota, like others, sent its employees into the disaster zone to join forces with our plants, dealers and suppliers to take steps toward recovery. I, too, visited the affected areas several times. I saw people’s efforts first hand, and I was filled with confidence that their hard work would make possible a quicker recovery of production”.

and was further quoted by Reuters and Hans Greimel of Automotive News as follows:

“By telling dealers the timing of the recovery, they can have a better conversation with their customers. Dealers right now cannot talk to their customers about delivery timing. They can’t talk about specifics. Sales people are having a difficult time…With this many aftershocks, including one last night (Thursday 21 April) in the area around Tokyo, we’ve seen some of the recovery work thrown back to square one many, many times. Because of such things, it can reverse the progress being made. So it is difficult to read what will happen. In that sense it’s difficult to say what the impact on production volumes or earnings will be.”

Greimel’s article also contains these salient passages:

Toyota President Akio Toyoda…outlined the timeframe – despite its being long-range and vague – to help dealers with planning. Until now, they have been hamstrung in pitching their products and handling customers because of looming uncertainty about inventories.

He wouldn’t speculate on how it would impact earnings or about how many units of production would be lost globally, with plants limping along for months to come.

Through the end of April alone, Toyota expects to lose 500,000 units globally.

Shinichi Sasaki, executive vice president in charge of purchasing, said models that share many commonized parts will be first returning to normal production.

Toyoda said the company is considering support to its dealers as sales sag. In Japan, that will entail help in seeking public support or in attracting after-service repair work.

He didn’t outline any plans for dealers overseas. Spokesman Masami Doi said actions to support U.S. dealers would be handled through its local sales arm, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

“The best thing we can do for those dealers is supply cars as quickly as possible,” Toyoda said.

Toyota will also tweak procurement to better guard against supply shocks, Sasaki said. While it will stick with a just-in-time approach of keeping low parts inventories, it will spread risk better.

That will include moving more parts production overseas – especially lower tier suppliers, he said. That way, U.S. parts plants won’t be as reliant on imported subcomponents.

“We have to consider being able to procure the entire part locally,” Sasaki said. “We would like to ask our suppliers to consider setting up shop overseas.”

The Reuters article by Chang-Ran Kim and Nathan Layne notes that Toyota’s updated long-term predictions follow microcontroller chip supplier Renesas Corporation’s announcement of a sooner-than-expected resumption of production on June 15, thus relieving a key bottleneck in the resumption of Japanese (and, inded, worldwide) vehicle production. Several analysts struck a note of cautious optimism, with Deutsche Securities auto analyst Kurt Sanger saying that, “The market was worried about clarity on how long this could last, and Toyota provided a degree of that. It’s positive news”. Tetsuro Ii, chief executive officer of Commons Asset Management, added, “According to what we’re hearing directly from companies, it looks like the recovery on the ground is faster than people think, and Toyota may well restart production even faster than they stated in this announcement.”

Delayed production launches and lost sales titles
This cautious optimism, however, shouldn’t blind us to a number of other setbacks to be expected in the way of delayed production launches and the loss of sales titles that Toyota and Lexus have held for a number of years. Following on the delay of the expected late April Japanese Domestic Market launch of the new Toyota Prius v/Prius+, a Reuters report notes that North America’s Scion iQ launch, already postponed once, faces a second potential delay from its previously expected summer 2011 rollout. More clarity on the launch timing should emerge after the end of Japan’s Golden Week holidays on Monday 9 May, according to Jack Hollis, the vice president of Scion.

Toyota’s title as world’s largest carmaker is likely to be lost for 2011 when all is said and done. As an Associated Press report reminds us, Toyota first claimed the #1 title in 2009, maintaing it in 2010 by a slender 30,000 vehicle margin over #2 General Motors (8.42 million Toyota vehicles vs 8.39 million GM vehicles), and, as noted earlier in this article, Toyota production losses to date already far exceed that margin. In fact, some pundits believe that Toyota may, for 2011 drop all the way to #3, behind not only General Motors, but Volkswagen as well, no surprise given the latter two carmakers’ strength in the behemoth Chinese market.

Also imperiled, as Reuters, among others, remind us, is Lexus’ 11-year run as the leading luxury vehicle brand in the U.S. market. As Mark Templin, Lexus Division group vice president and general manager, noted:

“Originally, we had hoped to do 234,000 vehicles for the year, and we saw an upside depending on what happened in the marketplace even from there, but we know that probably won’t be a reality now. Unfortunately, we just really don’t know what we’re going to be able to build for the rest of this year. Sometime in the first week of May we’ll have a really good picture of our wholesale for May, but that won’t tell us a lot about June and July.”

With Lexus not having led any month in the U.S. this year, even before the earthquakes and tsunami struck Japan, at this point it’s anybody’s guess whether Mercedes-Benz or BMW will take the luxury sales crown this year, and even Cadillac is enjoying something of a resurgence.

2011 Geneva: FT-86, Hybrids and more!

The 2011 Geneva Auto Show is home to key Toyota models that have been unveiled for the world to see. The FT-86 II Concept, Yaris HSD Concept, the Prius+ (aka Prius V for North America) and the EV Prototype (which is an electrified version of the Toyota/Scion iQ). Toyota’s global vision is to bring back fun and exciting cars to their line up as well as their commitment to saving the earth’s resources by expanding their hybrid and electric vehicle offerings.


FT-86 II Concept

9vpzv.jpgThe highly anticipated unveiling of the Toyota sports car finally came to the Geneva Auto show. Toyota Europe tweeted another teaser pic of the FT86 II just prior to the Toyota press conference today.

Scheduled to go on sale in Europe (and the rest of the world) in 2012, the Toyota FT-86 II Concept gives us a much more exciting preview of whats to come. This newest interpretation of the long awaited “Toyota Sports Car” gives us a very good idea of what the next Corolla AE86 successor will be like. Key ingredients include a 6 speed manual gearbox which helps translate power to the rear wheels from a free revving petrol engine, sharp steering feel, agile handling thanks to a low center a gravity and a sexy 2 door liftback which equate to a fun-to-drive experience. The new FT-86 II Concept retains many of the sleek attributes of the first FT-86 concept car. The rumor out there is that the FT-86 is a baby version of the Lexus LFA super car.  So far the lines on this new concept are impressive. We hope the final version will not be watered down from this new concept. This new sports car is long overdue since the last fun-to-drive and exciting Toyota ceased over 13 years ago. It was the legendary MKIV Supra that made its mark in the history books as one of the most desired Toyota in the world. It’s still unclear if this will be a future Scion model for the North American, but rumors are leaning to this being a fifth Scion model.

Here are some photos of the FT-86 II Concept unveiled just recently at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show:

More photos of the FT-86 II can be found HERE and on FT86Club.com’s discussion thread.

Official Video: FT-86 II Concept – “the next Toyota sports car”

Yaris HSD Concept

First it was the Prius, then the Auris, now its Yaris! As part of Toyota’s Global Hybrid strategy, the Yaris HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive) Concept debuts in Geneva as the first full hybrid for the volume selling B-segment in Europe. It is without a doubt that Toyota plans to release a total of 10 Toyota hybrid models  in the coming years. Now will this pretty cool and aggressive looking Yaris make its way to the USA? The Toyota FT-CH concept version II was unveiled earlier this year in Detroit. It appears that the Yaris HSD Concept shares the same overall size and shape as the FT-CH. If Toyota gives this car good handling characteristics, high efficiency and a great price point, this should become a hit worldwide.

More photos of the Yaris HSD can be found HERE.

Official Video: Yaris HSD – “the full hybrid roll-out continues”

Prius +

The Prius has become the one of the world’s most iconic vehicle. For those looking to save the earth or make a statement, you buy this. When you think “hybrid”, the Prius is the first car to come to mind. It’s been just over a decade since the introduction of the Prius into the world. Now that Prius has become a household name, Toyota plans to offer a vehicle in a more versatile format. Introduced as the Prius V (V for Versatility) at the 2011 North American International Auto Show, the “V” will be known as the “+” for the Euro market. The Prius + will be the first non-plug in hybrid to offer a compact lithium ion battery pack. And due to the compact packaging of the new Li-ion battery, it will allow Prius + to gain a 3rd row seat expanding seating to 7 passengers.  The Prius V for the North American market will not have this feature as it will still carry the bulkier Ni-MH battery pack. This is totally unfair considering the North American market always gets jipped for the best new stuff coming from Japan.

More photos of the Prius+ can be found HERE.

Official Video: Prius + “the first full hybrid seven seater”


EV Prototype

Based on the popular Toyota iQ in Europe and soon to be Scion iQ in North America, the EV Prototype is an all-electric version of the ultra compact 4 seater. The EV Prototype will be powered by a 47 kW permanent magnet motor and a 270V Li-ion battery pack tucked neatly under the seats. Space is not compromised as the battery packs are flat and compact. The EV Proto will have a range of up to 105 km and have a top speed of 125 km/h. Charging the EV Proto’s batteries can be fully charged by AC or very fast DC quick charge station in a blazing 15 minutes. Re-gen brakes allow the EV Proto’s battery to recover power during deceleration or braking. The EV Proto will be roaming the streets of Europe, Japan and of course here in the U.S. this year.

Images & Video : Toyota Europe