The PlayStation Gran Turismo 6 Lexus, Subaru and Toyota vision concepts

GT6 Toyota

Back in 1992, Kazunori Yamauchi, along with a group of 7 other individuals, set out to develop the original Gran Turismo racing video game for the Polyphony Digital subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment. Five years later, the initial game, for the original PlayStation game console finally went on sale to favorable reviews and an adoring public.

As part of the 15th Anniversary celebration of that late-1997 original release, Yamauchi-san issued an Olympian challenge to the world’s carmakers with a single question: “Would you be willing to design your rendition of Gran Turismo for us?” The videogame’s name “Gran Turismo” (GT) refers to a 2-door sport car, known as a Grand Touring car in the English-speaking automotive world. As the official Gran Turismo 6 Vision GT page reveals, 23 car brands, 3 Italian carrozzeria (Bertone, Italdesign Giugiaro and Zagato) and even 2 sporting apparel brands (Jordan and Nike) answered the call.

Mercedes-Benz has taken it one step further and, on Wednesday 20 November 2013 at the Los Angeles Auto Show press conferences, unveiled the actual, physical Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo Concept, albeit as a 1:1-scale model with no powertrain. (In the game the 3053-lb mid-front engined coupe is powered by a 577 horsepower, twin-turbocharged V8 producing 590 lb/ft of torque).

That Mercedes is hardly expected to be the only GT6 concept to make the jump from virtual presence on a video screen to physical, palpable reality, for the rumor mill suggests that the second will be from no less than…

TOYOTA
Two weeks after the Mercedes Vision GT6 concept reveal, new Vision GT renderings from a number of carmakers, including Toyota and Subaru, were first brought to our attention via Autoblog. Toyota’s rendering, shown at the top of the story, has a silhouette that seems to foretell a much-rumored Mark V Supra. Fanning the flames of the rumormill is no less than Joe Clifford of the official Toyota United Kingdom blog, who, on Thursday 12 December 2013 wrote that

This is the only image available at the moment but any talk of Toyota and new sports cars always leads to speculation on the introduction of a spiritual successor to the Supra.

We never comment on speculation but it’s clear that there are familiar proportions in the shape of the silhouette…

Yours truly’s gut feeling and suspicion is that the Toyota press conference at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show (to be held on Monday 13 January 2014 at 8:50 AM Eastern time) will reveal a Toyota Supra Vision Gran Turismo Concept of some sort.

GT6 Subaru

SUBARU
The closest thing to a Gran Turismo coupe that Subaru has ever built for production is the Thunderbirdesque, Giugiaro-designed SVX. The Vision GT Subaru shown above, however, recalls a far more recent concept from the carmaker: the Cross Sport Design Concept that debuted at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. The bare-bones teaser blurb Subaru released 3 weeks before its unveiling hardly hinted at this cladding-bedecked BRZ shooting brake that, for this author, was probably the biggest unexpected surprise of the show. The second attempt (after the FT-86 Open concept) at expanding the BRZ / GT 86 / FR-S body style repertoire beyond the production coupe has seemingly been made sleeker and, thankfully, lost the side cladding and pseudo-SUV soft-roader styling cues from the Cross Sport Design Concept. Or are we, possibly, seeing some hints around the nose at what a mid-life facelift or even next-gen model of the Toyobaru coupe might look like?

GT6 Lexus

LEXUS
Although the big Wednesday 4 December 2013 reveal unveiled the bulk of the Vision GT teaser renderings from the participating brands, a number of them remained unseen at that point. Among them: Lexus’, which quietly appeared later in December and is shown above. A number of its design elements, such as the triangular layout of the 3-dot headlights, the roofline and the particular shade of red recall the much-praised LF-LC Concept, albeit in a super-wide-body rear quarter variant with cartoonishly large rear tires. Are exaggeratedly wide rear fenders becoming a new Lexus concept car fetish?

…and Daihatsu, too
Among the 7 Vision GT teaser renderings that, as of this writing, remain unseen is Daihatsu’s. Frankly, we can’t help but wonder what this not particularly enthusiast-oriented small car and SUV specialist – majority-owned by Toyota – is doing here. Their only loosely GT-ish model is the Copen retractable-hardtop 2-seat roadster kei microcar that went out of production last year. The colorful trio of Kopen concepts the carmaker unveiled at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show should probably provide the basis or inspiration for Daihatsu’s baby GT.

Toyota’s Tokyo Motor Show lineup

Toyota FV2 Concept

Toyota FV2 Concept

Japanese carmakers will reveal their latest cars-to-come at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show which will open to the media on November 20, and which will stay open to the public through December 1.

Here is what you will see at Toyota’s booth in Tokyo – unless you prefer to go to the LA Autoshow, that is. Continue reading

World’s largest automakers 2013, Daily Kanban prediction: #1 Toyota, #2 GM, #3 VW

Toyota lobby - Picture courtesy Bertel SchmittUnless a disaster happens, the year 2013 will end unchanged as far as the world’s largest automakers are concerned. Meaning: #1 Toyota, #2 GM, #3 VW.

World’s largest automakers
Jan-Sept 2013, full year forecast
9M’13 9M’12 YoY Proj ’13
Toyota 7,536,260 7,681,891 -1.9% 10,048,000
GM 7,250,848 6,942,917 4.4% 9,668,000
Volkswagen 7,030,000 6,710,000 4.8% 9,373,000
Production: Company data. Forecast: Kaizenfactor estimate

Today, Toyota supplied its global sales and production numbers for September and year to date. GM and Volkswagen already published their numbers earlier in the month. For this tally, we use production, not sales, simply because OICA uses production numbers when declaring the world’s largest automaker. The scoreboard has Toyota with a slight decrease. GM and VW booked a moderate increase. As forecasted elsewhere earlier in the year, the field narrowed considerably, however, my crude, but time-tested projection sees the three contestants separated by more than 200,000 units when the year ends. Which gives me the confidence to call a winner three months ahead. (I predicted this outcome elsewhere in May 2013.)

Toyota could end the calendar year a hair below 10 million, or a hair above. The 10 million barrier has been broken by Toyota in 2012 already, and with no fanfare at all. According to OICA, Toyota made 10.1 million units in 2012 worldwide. In May 2013, Toyota forecasted sales of 10.1 million for the current fiscal year which ends on March 2014. TMC’s pace increased a bit the month, and I am confident that the target will be met.

We drive Toyota’s 2015 fuel cell car, and we talk to its father

Toyota FCV -02- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

When I worked for the Dark Side, doing propaganda for Volkswagen, I drove a few pre-production models for familiarization purposes. Never was I invited to drive the prototype of a car that would need another two years to go into production. Today, it happened. It wasn’t just any car. I drove a car that could change the way we drive into the future. My ride was the prototype of Toyota’s first mass production fuel cell sedan, which I was promised to arrive on the market in 2015.

Toyota FCV -06- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The car is covered in camouflage swirly foil, the instrument cluster is amputated and replaced by a few gauges that are taped to the cockpit. It definitely does not look like a million bucks, but that’s what my ride costs.  says Toyota’s advanced technologies chief Satoshi Ogiso, probably by way of a suggestion to be gentle with his baby. “Of course, this price will come down before we introduce the car,” Ogiso promises. How much he won’t say, word on the streets in Tokyo is around $50,000.

Toyota FCV -05- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

We are in a huge, and, surprisingly for Tokyo, empty parking lot in the city’s docklands, the air is heavy with burnt rubber, and it is pierced with the squeals of tortured tires. Toyota jetted the A-list of the world’s motor journalists to Japan. Give them a car, and some will make it beg for mercy.

Toyota FCV -03- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The car is powered by a reactor. The reactor sits under my seat, and it converts hydrogen into electricity. The hydrogen is stored in two tanks that look a little bit, if you imagine some fins fitted to it, like bombs to be tossed out of the Red Baron’s biplane. Ogiso hid one tank under the rear seat, the other tank is tucked into the rear seatback. The whole arrangement does not take more space than a hybrid drivetrain. Last generation fuel cell vehicles had to be buses or big SUVs to accommodate the heft of the apparatus, for the mass production car, Ogiso shrunk the package to a size that can be hidden in a mid-size car.

Toyota FCV -04- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

A fuel cell car, Ogiso explains, is an electric car without the regrets. The car is engineered for a cruising range of 300 miles between fill-ups. Those take less than three minutes, just like with a gasoline-powered car. In case we don’t believe it, we get it demonstrated. A big truck is rolled onto the dockland parking lot, a hose is stuck into where one usually would pour unleaded, and the car is good to go for another 300 miles. Or even 400. Last Monday, one of the cars was driven from Toyota’s head office in Toyota City to Tokyo, with a measured cruising range of 403 miles. “That driver may have been a bit of a hypermiler,” Ogiso concedes.

The prototype sits on the actual production vehicle underbody, the powertrain is the same as what will power the final vehicle. The car currently wears a hand-me-down hat from a midsize Lexus – at the Tokyo Motor Show in late November, we will see something that will come much closer to the final product.

Toyota FCV -08- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

Ogiso does not expect the car to be sold in huge quantities initially. Even for the 2020s, he expects only “a few ten thousands” to be sold annually. Unlike his boss, Ogiso thinks that battery operated and fuel cell vehicles will peacefully coexist. Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada famously said that

the current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge.”

Ogiso sees a use for batteries for small city cars. For cars that want to go 300+ miles without stopping, it’s advantage fuel cell. Where EVs need to lug around a heavy battery, FCVs can turn 11 lbs of hydrogen into 300-400 miles. “That’s very impressive,” says Ogiso with the pride of a newborn father. The two tanks weigh around 135 pounds, together. The fuel cell stack weighs in at another 220 pounds, and that’s “roughly the same as a conventional gasoline engine,” Ogiso says.

Toyota FCV -07- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

To deliver a similar range, an EV would have to drag around a battery weighing some 1100 lbs, says Ogiso, and he adds with a smirk that he knows that “quite well, because we also work together with Tesla.” In the next decade, Ogiso expects sales of FCVs “to grow much faster than those of EVs.”

Toyota FCV -01- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

Oh, and how does it drive? Don’t expect a lengthy critique from three laps around a large parking lost – even if that’s a distance that is deemed as plenty for many reviews elsewhere. The squealing tires were testament to plenty of torque. Those 300 miles won’t be boring, even if they lack the suspense that surrounds somewhat longer drives in an EV.

The lean-machine: We drive the Toyota i-ROAD

Toyota i-ROAD 4 - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

It’s not a big secret that I doubt the success of the electric car, or of any vehicle that will require me to find a motel every 100 miles, where I wait half a day until my car is fueled up – if I can park it in front of my window, and if they don’t mind the extension cord to the car. Despite my huge anti-EV bias, I fell in love with an EV. Never since the mid-sixties, when Baerbel K. lured a still underage BS on the cramped back seat of her Volkswagen Bug, did I have so much fun in a car. I want the thing, and I want it bad, more than I ever wanted Baerbel.Toyota i-ROAD 3- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The thing is the Toyota i-ROAD, a tiny two-seater on three wheels, and I drove it. The engineers at Toyota have a better name for it. Internally, they call it the “lean-machine.” Roofed scooters are quite popular in Japan (especially as a pizza delivery vehicle). Carmakers are trying to popularize them with wider target groups. Nissan has the New Mobility Concept. Toyota has the COMS, occasionally dressed-op as the INSECT. Despite their tandem seating arrangements, these vehicles have a relatively wide stance. Build them narrower, and they could  topple in turns.

Enter the lean-machine. Both front wheels of the i-ROAD can be moved up or down via an on-board computer, thereby inducing lean. The computer uses steering angle, vehicle speed, and an electronic gyroscope as inputs.

Toyota i-ROAD 2 - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The i-ROAD quite natural leans into very tight turns. Despite, or maybe because of the advanced gadgetry, the i-ROAD  demands little or no familiarization. After a few turns, driver and lean-machine become one. Maneuvering the I-ROAD through a slalom course feels like true slalom on skis, the machine crouches in the turn, and it stretches when going into the straightaway.

The i-ROAD takes as little parking space as a full size motorcycle. In a pinch, four can be fitted into a Japanese parking spot. With a range of 30 miles, the vehicle clearly is destined for the city. The lithium-ion battery recharges in three hours. Sure, the machine checks all the green and sustainable boxes. But it provides something that  has become rare on wheels: It is a huge fun to drive.

Toyota i-ROAD - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

“This could be a big success in Europe,” said Christian Wuest, scIence editor of Germany’s Spiegel magazine, who tried the i-ROAD before me, and who dismounted with a huge grin on his face. Yet, it is not sure whether the lean-machine will go commercial at all. The vehicle is still a concept, Wuest and I drove the vehicles that had been shown at this year’s Geneva Auto Salon. A few more will be built, to be used in a field test in Japan and France.  After that, the decision will be made whether the i-ROAD will go into series.

I hope it will be built. The “driveway” of our new old Japanese house in Toyo is barely five feet wide, too tight a squeeze even for a kei car.  The “street” outside is not a lot wider. Lean-machine, I am waiting for you.

 

 

 

New Toyota Hot Hatch: Yaris Hybrid R Concept

Image

2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_EXT_01__mid

Taking an econobox 3 or 5 door hatchback, popping in a high output motor mated to a manual transmission and a taut tuned suspension was a recipe for fun. It’s been many years since the Toyota built great hot hatches like the Corolla FX-16 and the Corolla RunX. With Toyota’s rich motorsports heritage, it is possible for Toyota to have fun-to-drive, desirable cars again.

tmg-logo_color_completeTMG (Toyota Motorsport GmbH), Toyota’s European tuning house was responsible for Toyota GT-One, sports car racer and the Toyota Formula 1 team. Last year, TMG re-entered sports car racing with the Toyota TS030 the first race car entered into the FIA WEC with Hybrid technology. Being a pioneer in Hybrid tech, TMG has taken Toyota Hybrid to a new level incorporating their motorsports expertise into hot hatch form. The Toyota Yaris Hybrid R Concept is the Toyota hot hatch we’ve been waiting for and it debuts at the 2013 Frankfurt Motorshow today.

2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_02__mid

GRE_2__midThe Yaris Hybrid R Concept features trickle down tech from the TS030 Hybrid race car. A 300hp 1.6L Turbocharged (Turbo Garett GTR2560R ) 4 cylinder GRE (Global Racing Engine) powers the front wheels and two 60 hp electric motors powering each of the rear wheels which equates to a max output of 420hp. That’s more than the Lexus IS F! Like the TS030 racer, KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) will power up a super capacitor which resides in the rear seat. A third electric motor will help modulate traction to rear wheels during acceleration and harness power into the super capacitor during deceleration.A six speed sequential transmission is mated to the petrol motor.

_SEB7157DEF4__midOn the inside, two-tone Recaro seats are clad with black leather and blue Alcantara surfaces. The dash and door panels will also have complimenting blue Alcantara trim. The sport steering wheel also clad in Alcantara and will feature a two mode drive selector button for “Road” and “Track” modes. A set of brushed aluminum sport pedals are borrowed from the GT 86 sports car.

 2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_EXT_05__midOn the outside, this concept may look like an ordinary 3-door Yaris. But if you look closely, this hatchback is a lot more prominent than the norm. An aggressive front fascia with a larger grille and blacked out headlamps and two large air intakes with blue LED running lamps accented by blue striping to match the Toyota Hybrid theme. The flared wheel housings are filled with special 18″ TRD wheels wrapped in sticky 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires. Six piston fronts and four piston rear brakes help stop this hot hatch. A rear roof spoiler and rear bumper diffuser help streamline airflow. 

Although just a concept for now, we hope Toyota will bring this Yaris Hybrid R Concept to production in the near future. Even if the Yaris Hybrid R doesn’t make it to production, at least bring the motorsports driven GRE tech to future Toyota and Lexus sports vehicles. How does Supra Hybrid R sound?

Check out the Toyota Yaris Hybrid Concept video:

Key TMG Global Race Engine Specifications
Engine Size: 1595 cm3
Fuel System Type: Direct Injection (up to 200 bar)
Air System Type: Turbo Garett GTR2560R (max boost pressure : 2.5 bar)
Air restrictor: 33 mm
Max. Power: + de 300 ch at 6000 rpm
Max. Torque : 420 Nm
Max. RPM : 7500 rpm

 2013-hybridR-teaser__mid
2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_EXT_04__mid Torque_Vectoring__mid 2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_03__mid _SEB7270DEF__mid2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_12__mid
2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_14__mid2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_11__mid2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_DET_08__mid

 Source: [Toyota Europe]

Watching The First Hybrid Corolla Come Off Line In Japan

The first hybrid Corollas - in grey and white, of course

The first hybrid Corollas – in grey and white, of course

When Toyota launched the Corolla Hybrid onto the Japanese market a few weeks ago, they discreetly pointed out to me that “unlike what we usually do,” this is simply marketed as an engine package, not as a separate model. Some may think this is because there is no shortage of separate Toyota models on the Japanese market. I see it as a step towards Toyota’s mainstreamification of the hybrid powertrain. On Friday, I went to Toyota’s plant in Ohira, Miyagi, to see the first Corolla Hybrid come off line.

hishonor

Ohira’s right-sized Mayor receives Prius plug-in from Akio Toyoda

Until Toyota came to town, Ohira’s only claim to fame was that it is the only independent village in all of Miyagi prefecture, everything else is either towns or cities. Everything in Ohira is small, including its Mayor. Also in the town hall is a photograph where Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda hands over the keys of a Prius plug-in hybrid to His Honor. Akio is no giant, but he clearly towers over Mayor Atobe Masahiro.

Ohira lies some 16 miles and $130 for the taxi driver (do NOT believe that the yen is undervalued) from Sendai. The plant had an ominous start. Four weeks after it was opened in February 2011, Sendai and much of the Tohoku coast was hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The plant itself is built well and was relatively unscathed. Nonetheless, it had to stop production. First, because no gas was flowing. The gas was needed to dry the paint. Then, the plant shut down with all the other Toyota facilities while waiting for a resumption of parts deliveries.

Also near Sendai is the Naka plant of Renesas. It did not fare as well as the Ohira factory. Renesas is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of flashable microcontrollers, the little brains that are inside of more products than we imagine. Renesas supplied some 20 percent of the world’s automotive microcontroller market. About 70 percent of the production was sold to Japanese automakers, the remaining 30 percent went to US and European car companies. The plant looked like it was hit by several bombs. It looked like it would not ship chips before the end of the year. Four weeks later, and with the help of thousands of people brought in from all over Japan, the plant was working again.

The batteries

The battery/ Small enough to fit under the rear seat.

This is not forgotten, but not on top of the mind anymore this Friday in Ohira. Today is the day hybrid technology comes to town. Hybrids are a big hit in Japan. Toyota’s Prius has been on top of Japan’s sales charts since 2009. It recently has been toppled by its Aqua sibling, which is sold in the U,.S. as the Prius c. When the plant opened two years ago, reporters wanted to know when hybrids come to Ohira. Finally, it has arrived.

In the plant itself, very little had to change to accommodate the new technology. The plant is a flexibility marvel.

A regular car factory usually has below ground pits for the motors, chains and gears that keep the line moving. In Ohira, the cars move on maybe a foot high conveyor system that is simply bolted into the concrete flooring. Cheaper to build, cheaper to tear down and rebuild somewhere else. The line can be lengthened or shortened at will. The assembly line doesn’t “grow roots” as they say in Toyota-speak.

The cars no longer dangle from the ceiling

The cars no longer dangle from the ceiling

The cars no longer dangle from the ceiling while parts are attached from below. They roll on a simple raised platform. This reduces the ceiling height of the factory. Advantage: 50 percent of the investment saved, says Toyota. A side effect of the non-dangling is that people can work on a stationary object, instead on one that dangles.

Usually, cars move along an assembly line in a vertical line, as if they already are sitting in a slow-moving traffic jam. Not in Ohira. Here, the cars move sideways. Think of a parking lot down at the mall. Now move the parking lot to the right. Advantage: With the cars moving sideways instead of straight ahead, the line can be 35 percent shorter. The factory can be smaller. The expenses are lower.

The paint spray line of a car factory usually is a highly complex system that is built in place. Very expensive parts and experts have to be flown in. Not in Ohira. For Ohira, Toyota developed a modular paint spray line. The modules can be built somewhere else and are assembled at the plant in a much shorter time. Advantage: Cost savings.

Ohira is a secretive plant

Ohira is a secretive plant

The Ohira plant is a secretive plant. “No photo! No sketch!” warns a slide. The ubiquitous camera-equipped smartphones get a little sticker to cover the camera. Photo-ops are limited to three stations, and reprimands are handed out if the camera points in the wrong direction.

While never officially confirmed, it is widely understood that Ohira is a pilot plant where production technology is developed and confirmed before it is rolled out all over the world.

Toyota’s global bestseller, the Corolla, is not very important in Japan. On the January through July Japanese sales chart, the Corolla sits in rank 8. However, it is THE strategic model for Toyota’s continued growth and its further expansion into the world’s emerging markets. The Corollas that are made in Ohira are not for export. The export article is the production technology developed for and in Ohira.

Hybrid technology may top the charts in Japan, in the rest of the world, it definitely does not. The market share of all hybrid cars sits in the 3 percent range in the U.S. In diesel-enamored Europe, the market share of hybrid vehicles remains below the detection threshold in most countries. In China and the world’s emerging markets, hybrids play even less of a role. This is beginning to change. Experts agree that Europe’s ambitious emission goals need hybrid technology to be met. China is dropping its fruitless fixation on EVs and is moving towards hybrid. Toyota’s internal goal is that hybrid powertrains are mainstream by the end of the decade: Small enough in price to be affordable. Small in package size to fit in most cars. Big in savings.

Final inspection

Final inspection

The hybrid-engined Corolla is very close to all that. It may only be meant for the Japanese market. But like so often in Ohira, it is also proof of the concept that a hybrid powertrain can be fitted to just about any car the world over.

Text and all pictures by Bertel Schmitt, Tokyo

Toyota Builds New R&D Center In China While Enthusiasm Fades

方案一(外立面)
Once again, we proudly bring you a report – this time from China – by Bertel Schmitt.

Toyota today broke ground for a new R&D Center in China. The center is in the TEDA free trade zone in the port city of Tianjin, where Toyota has a factory with its Chinese joint venture partner FAW. The center alone isn’t big news, even if it triggers “giving away know-how to the Chinese” knee jerks. Most OEMs engaged in China have R&D facilities in the Middle Kingdom, GM has a few.

No3The story is interesting for another aspect. Ever since last year’s anti-Japanese riots in China and the subsequent drastic drop of market share of Japanese auto brands in China, enthusiasm of Japanese automakers for the alleged growth market China has markedly cooled off. Last year’s riots caused bigger volume losses at Japanese carmakers than the tsunami and the Thai flood. Sales are slowly clawing back to former levels, but it is a rough and costly exercise.

方案一南侧(预留为草地)With a share of around 21 percent, Japanese-branded cars dominated the foreign-branded sector in China. This has changed. Buoyed by a new wave of nationalism, and by gain in quality and comfort, Chinese brands accounted for slightly over 4 million units in the first seven months of 2013, translating into 40.41% of the market. German-branded cars now hold 19.60% of the market, Americans 15.14%, Japanese 12.33%, Koreans 9.12% and French 3.17%.

方案一北侧(预留为活动场)With Japanese-branded cars having given up nearly half of their market share in China, Japanese carmakers are quietly deemphasizing China. Toyota delayed planned investments in China and is not planning any new ones for the time being. When talking to executives of Japanese OEMs, it is hard not to notice how they suddenly talk all about South-East Asia and India, and about China only if they absolutely have to.

While Chinese exuberance definitely isn’t what it used to be, those R&D centers will be and have to be built. The world’s largest car market has its peculiarities that want to be addressed. Joint venture brands demand their share of research and development: Toyota works, not with much enthusiasm, on the “Ranz” brand for electric vehicles in China. And lastly, the Chinese government wants it that way. Every year or so, a draft regulation is floated that limits government car sales to Made-in-China cars, and to companies that spend at least 3 percent of their Chinese sales volume on R&D in China. These regulations usually fade away, or are ignored. After all, Chinese makers usually spend less than 3 percent on R&D, and taken seriously, those regs would leave Chinese functionaries without wheels.

No1

Article and Photos 2 & 5 – Bertel Schmitt
Photo renderings 1, 3 & 4 – Toyota

Toyota Launches Hybrid Corolla, Keeps It In Japan

Longtime Kaizen Factor readers are probably well aware of our deep respect for and debt of gratitude towards Asia-based, English-writing automotive correspondents whose scoops, insights and opinions have informed a number of our stories. Chief among them are freelance journalist Peter Lyon, Automotive News’ Asia editor Hans Greimel and former editor-in-chief of The Truth About Cars Bertel Schmitt, whose personal and insightful report on the Japanese domestic market launch of the Toyota Corolla Axio Hybrid sedan and Corolla Fielder Hybrid wagon we are very pleased and privileged to bring you.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -143

Today, Toyota launched its hybrid version of the Corolla in Tokyo. It was done in the trademark frugal style of Toyota JDM car launches: A sparse meeting room in the building that houses Japan’s auto manufacturer association JAMA, a PowerPoint projector, a small bottle of water per reporter, that was it. No smoke, no dancing girls, the cars had to be viewed outside in the driveway. If you are used to the hullabaloo of American car launches, you would have been shocked. If you are part of the Tokyo press corps, you don’t know it any other way. TMC’s hefty profits have a few reasons, and cutting out of muda, elimination of the dreaded waste, is one of them.

Toyota’s 11th generation Corolla was launched onto the Japanese market in May 2012, with a spiffier and bigger U.S. model following a few months ago (this time with American aplomb). Much to the chagrin of parts of the media, no hybrid versions of the Corolla were offered. Today, with as little fanfare as possible, this was changed. At least as far as the Japanese market is concerned.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -096When the new Corolla was launched in 2012, the thinking at TMC went that 21.4 km/liter for the Axio sedan with idling stop (stop-start) was frugal enough. The Japanese customer, however, had a different opinion, and demanded a hybrid powertrain, Toyota’s deputy chief engineer Hiroshi Nakamura tells me on this hot and muggy Tokyo morning. Toyota went on a crash program. In a record one year and two months, the Corolla had a hybrid powertrain, and the demanding Japanese customer sees its wishes fulfilled.

Equipped with Toyota’s 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter THS II hybrid system with reduction gear, both the Axio sedan version and the Fielder wagon variant of the Corolla achieve a fuel efficiency of 33.0 km/liter under Japan’s (notoriously optimistic, we spare you the EPA conversions) JC08 test cycle. The results come very close to the Prius c (sold in Japan as the Aqua), which sports a 35.4 km/l rating.

TMC’s engineers shrunk the formerly bulky hybrid system down to a compact package that easily fits into a compact car without taking up precious space, leaving interior room and trunk space unimpeded by the hybrid system. Hybrid battery and fuel tank are tucked away under the rear seat. The tank lost only 6 liters (1.6 gallons) versus the all-gasoline model, and it wasn’t much of a sacrifice. The theoretical range of the hybrid Axio is 1,188 km (738 miles) on a single tank, 289 km (179 miles) more than the all-gasoline model.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -124The cost of the hybrid system has come down, but it still comes at a premium. When the regular Axio went on sale last year, it started at 1,357,000 yen. The hybrid version costs upwards from 1,925,000 yen, remaining below the psychologically important 2 million yen (US$20,000) barrier. The Hybrid G Aerotourer WxB special edition Corolla Fielder with a stylish black interior and a faux carbon fiber dash costs 2,340,000 yen.

It may have taken Toyota only a year and two months to react to the market forces, but they have been evident for a while. Toyota’s Prius has been on top of Japan’s sales charts since 2009. It recently has been toppled by its Aqua sibling, which is sold in the U,.S. as the Prius c. In the first seven months of the year, the Aqua sold 160,993 units in Japan, followed by the Prius with 155,539 units. Taken together, the Prius and the Aqua, a.k.a. Prius c, sell three times more than the 3rd-placed Nissan Note in Japan. In the much larger U.S. market, all Prii together sold 138,477 units January through July, that’s less than half of the Japanese volume. The market share of all hybrid cars wallows in the 3 percent range in the U.S.

This may be the reason why the hybrid Corolla should remain a Japanese phenomenon until further notice. Toyota’s spokesfolk said today that there are no plans to sell a hybrid Corolla outside of the country, and that the Prius is seen as carrying the hybrid flag for a while. As the example of the Corolla shows, these opinions can change with the market, and with sinking price premiums of the hybrid system.

The hybrid Corolla will be built in Toyota’s Miyagi plant, which assembles hybrid cars for the first time. 2,500 units of the monthly run rate of 8,000 JDM Corollas are expected to sell with the hybrid power-train. The car can use a little lift in Japan. The global bestseller is an also-ran at home in Nippon. On the January through July Japanese sales chart, the Corolla sits in rank 8.

Corolla Hybrid JDM Launch - Bertel Schmitt -116

Article and all photos by Bertel Schmitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota Harrier 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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