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.

Coverage: LA Auto Show 2010

IMG_9825.JPGNovember 17, 2010  - Los Angeles, CA – Its that time again as the major auto show season in the U.S. kicks off at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show. There are more than 50 new vehicle debuts, including two major announcements from the Toyota camp. The first is the introduction of the Toyota RAV4 EV powered by Tesla. This is their second interpretation of the RAV4 in Electric Vehicle form, although it is the first collaboration with Tesla Motors. This RAV4 EV will have a driving range of 100 miles in various types of driving patterns and climates. The general exterior stays the same. However, the front fascia sports a distinctive grille with an electrical plug-inspired EV logo on the nose. The inside remains virtually unchanged, but the gated gear shifter in the center column is replaced by a push button-type drive selector. Initially, Toyota and Tesla plan to build 35 units for 2011 and projects to roll out full production versions in 2012. It is yet to be determined where Toyota and Tesla will build this, but my guess is that they will continue to build the RAV4 in Canada at the TMMC plant in Cambridge, Ontario with the electric powerplants being sourced from Tesla’s new facility in the Bay Area (in Palo Alto, California to be exact). Another possibility would be the revival of NUMMI in Fremont, California, which would thus get its second wind. Only time will tell if the former Toyota/GM joint venture facility will be the new birthplace for the RAV4 EV. During Jim Lentz’s presentation, they rolled out video of the RAV4 EV in motion. At first glance, it reminded me of a Honda CR-V but I’m fairly certain it was not their intent. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, was also present during the press conference.

IMG_9838.JPG

In its 4th production year, the tenth-generation Corolla receives a refresh. Unfortunately, the luxurious but slow-selling XLE and more powerful XRS are dropped in favor of simplifying the trim levels to only three. The base CE, value-packed LE and the sport-themed S will be the the choices. The redesigned Corolla receives minor exterior changes to the front and back as well as interior updates. Notably, the steering wheel has been upgraded to have a better, sportier appeal. The new radio has a trick new dot-marix display which is similar to what’s found in newer Toyota models. Gone is the generic backlit Toyota green LCD display. Overall, the new updates are pretty sharp. However there as there are obvious hints of Yaris and Camry in the front. I’m saddened that Toyota decided to kill the XRS model, as this held some hope that the Corolla would be a worthy contender in the sport compact market. Bad move, in my opinion.

IMG_9809.JPG Adjacent to the Toyota display, Scion brings out their three-story cage with a host of the usual custom, tricked out variety of xB, xD, tC and concept iQs. A new Scion iQ was displayed on the floor with the 2010 SEMA tC project cars, the new xB Release Series 8.0 in a vibrant Voodoo Blue and a various xD models both stock and modded. Scion continues to lead the way by offering four value packaged models which appeal to different tastes. With a strong aftermarket presence, buyers can customize their Scion to stand out from the rest.

IMG_9844.JPG

IMG_9696.JPGLexus comes on strong this year with their focus on hybrid technology. Lexus is the world leader in luxury hybrids as they show off three customized SEMA project cars at their floor this year. The race ready 0-60 Magazine GS 450h, VIP Auto Salon’s HS 250h and their modern luxury LS 600hL are showcased in the front row. The Darker Side of Green makes its way to Los Angeles for the first time with the new CT 200h in a rich Fire Agate Pearl. The Smoky Granite LFA which was recently showed at SEMA in Las Vegas and flogged around Monticello Raceway in New York just this past Saturday made it just time for the opening of the LA Auto Show. A fully optioned Starfire Pearl IS 350 F-Sport was parked next to the LS 460 Sport. New for this year’s show is a huge LED display which nearly stretches the whole width of the Lexus display area. The vibrant display draws your attention from afar as different Lexus models are flashed on to the screen. You can find Lexus strategically sandwiched between the Audi and Mercedes Benz displays in the South Hall. More photos to come!

IMG_9727.JPG

Photos & Article by: Flipside909

Toyota RAV4 EV Powered by TESLA!

It was only a few months ago Toyota announced their partnership with Tesla Motors at the site of the former NUMMI Plant in Fremont, CA. With the LA Auto Show around the corner, Toyota will finally unveil the RAV4 EV partnered with Tesla. Here are a few photos that were just released by Toyota. The RAV4 EV will be unveiled during press days on 11/17/10 at the Toyota booth, South Hall of the LA Convention Center.

RAV4 EV 001

RAV4 EV 002
TORRANCE, Calif., November 10, 2010 — Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. (TMS) will debut the Toyota RAV4 EV during the Los Angeles Auto Show media days, on November 17 at 2:50 PM at the Toyota booth in South Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer, TMS, will speak at the news conference.  Greg Bernas, chief engineer, Toyota Technical Center, and Shigeki Terashi, president, Toyota Technical Center, also will be in attendance.
Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.