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.

Akio Toyoda teases 2012 Toyota Camry… headlight

Besides the recalls aftermath and, now, the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, a third commonly cited cause for the recent downturn in Toyota, Lexus and Scion sales is an uneven new product launch cadence that left the 2010 and 2011 model years sorely lacking in all-new models. The upcoming 2012 model year, however, marks a turning point in addressing the latter situation. Thus far, we’ve seen Toyota’s larger Prius (Prius Alpha/v/+, depending on what part of the world you’re in) and the 3rd-generation Yaris, as well as a preview of the 4th-generation Lexus GS in the LF-Gh concept, and the twice-delayed Scion iQ should certainly appear as a 2012 model. Eco-weenies Fans of “green” vehicles will no doubt be pleased by the appearance of the Prius plug-in hybrid, the smaller Prius c, the Scion iQ EV and the Toyota RAV4 EV. Yet, probably the most crucial new 2012 launch for Toyota isn’t any of the above, but, rather, the 7th generation of the Toyota Camry, still the U.S.’s biggest-selling car.

At the Wednesday 29 June 2011 Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Annual National Dealer Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) President Akio Toyoda stated that

The all-new 2012 Camry and Camry Hybrid is designed to meet the changing needs of the 21st Century driver, and the new Camry will provide technologically advanced features, a contemporary design inside and out, improved performance and refined ride and handling.

Beyond that, though, Mr. Toyoda also appears in a brief, 44-second YouTube video that affords a quick glimpse of a headlight (also shown at the top of our story) that is seemingly taller and narrower than that of the current, outgoing 6th-gen model, and, to this author’s eye, is somewhat reminiscent of the latest European Toyota Avensis.

From earthquakes and a tsunami to…tornadoes!? *UPDATED*

Lately, it seems that Toyota can’t catch a break from Mother Nature’s wrath and fury. We’ve certainly been diligent in reporting on the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the tsunami and aftershocks that followed, and now, half a world away, another Toyota facility is down but not out because of a natural disaster. A swath of tornadoes that hit the southeastern United States on Wednesday 27 April and winds that reached speeds of 200 mph (322 kph) struck particularly hard in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama area that is the home of a number of foreign carmakers’ U.S. assembly facilities. With major U.S. news outlets such as the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg rightfully focused on general news from the impacted areas, it is trade paper Automotive News that brought us an initial and follow-up report on the aftermath of the tornadoes insofar as carmaking facilities. The tornadoes that claimed at least 339 lives across seven states, including at least 248 in Alabama, caused no direct damage to Hyundai’s plant in Montgomery (well south of the Tuscaloosa area) nor to Honda’s facility in Lincoln (in the eastern part of the state). Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Vance, just north of Tuscaloosa, ultimately suffered just minor siding and roof damage, and with electric power on in that area, the company has announced that production of GL, M, and R class SUVs and crossovers will resume on Monday 2 May.

Slightly more affected is the engine-making Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama (TMMAL) facility in Huntsville that currently assembles 4-liter 1GR-FE V6 as well as 4.6-liter 1UR-FE and 5.7-liter 3UR-FE V8 engines for Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma pickups and Sequoia SUV. While the plant itself saw minimal damage, the tornadoes ripped down utility lines in the vicinity and, as of Friday 29 April, the TMMAL facility remained without power. This may be a moot point for now, however, given Toyota’s current no-production-on-Mondays schedule in the aftermath of the Japanese natural disasters. As in Japan, though, it remains to be seen how local automotive parts suppliers have been affected, although early reports cite, at worst, a Toyota-like situation of minimal-to-no-damage with a lack of electric power.

Although Alabama’s travails appear to be notably less severe than Japan’s, we can’t help but wonder if the plan to start assembly at the TMMAL facility of 2.5-liter 2AR-FE and 2.7-liter 1AR-FE 4-cylinder engines (as found in Toyota Camry, RAV4, Scion tC and Toyota Highlander, Venza and Sienna) by summer 2011 (as noted in Toyota’s USA and Global Newsrooms) has been pushed back. As an aside, we’d like to note that the Alabama engine plant is the only facility outside Japan that builds Toyota V8 engines.

Photo Credit: CBS News

Saturday 7 May UPDATE:

The Toyota USA Newsroom informed us on Thursday 5 May that Toyota will make a $1 million contribution to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts for victims of the recent outbreak of tornados in the Southern, Midwestern and Eastern regions of the United States. In addition, Toyota will match employee contributions to the American Red Cross. The company will also provide additional support and assistance to those Toyota employees who have lost their homes.

Informed Speculation: 7 or 11? The other 4 upcoming Toyota and Lexus hybrids.

No sooner had this author posted our Informed Speculation: The 7 new Toyota and Lexus hybrids due by the end of 2012 story that co-editor Flipside909 stumbled upon a Yahoo News/AFP story stating that Toyota would, in fact, release 11 new hybrids by the end of calendar year 2012. Barring miscommunication between Toyota’s Japan and U.S. branches, yours truly speculated that the U.S. specified “all-new (not next generation) hybrids”, whereas Japan simply mentions 11 new hybrid models, meaning that Japan might be counting four existing hybrid models that will be thoroughly overhauled and succeeded by a new-generation version within that time frame. This theory was confirmed by no less than Automotive News‘ esteemed and well-informed Asia editor Hans Greimel in a story he wrote that also appeared on AN‘s sister AutoWeek site.

So what, precisely, are the four existing Toyota and Lexus hybrids that will be revised by the end of calendar year 2012? Here are our thoughts:

Lexus GS h
With its expected debut no more than a year from now, the 4th-generation Lexus GS is probably the first of the four revisions to current hybrids to publicly appear. Expect a carryover 2GR-FSE 3.5-liter V6 plus hybrid motor powertrain as on the current outgoing GS 450h that would also serve as a de facto replacement for the GS 460 V8. A less likely possibility is sacrificing some performance at the altar of fuel economy with a GS 400h using the slightly smaller 3GR-FSE 3-liter V6 from the 2006 Lexus GS 300 with the addition of hybrid motor and batteries.

Toyota Camry Hybrid
With the 2012 Detroit Auto Show the likeliest venue for its debut, the 7th-generation Toyota Camry will, naturally, include the second iteration of the Camry Hybrid. Although it may carry over the current 2AZ-FXE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine plus hybrid motor powertrain from the current Camry and Lexus HS 250h, we would hope that, by that time, its overdue, more modern successor, the 2AR-FXE based on the newer 2AR-FE 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine from the current non-hybrid Camry, Toyota RAV4 and Scion tC would finally appear.

Lexus LS h
With an expected debut at the end of 2012 for the 2013 model year, the 5th-generation Lexus LS barely squeaks into Toyota’s timeframe for 7 all-new with no predecessor and 4 next-generation of existing hybrids by the end of 2012. While Lexus is justifiably proud of its V8 hybrid-as-V12 alternative strategy that led to the LS 600h, only BMW with its ActiveHybrid7 followed Lexus in hybridizing its V8. Mercedes-Benz, instead, opted to hybridize its S-Class sedan by using the 3.5-liter V6 as the basis for its S 400 Hybrid, with benefits in both fuel economy and cost control. This could, conceivably, lead to an LS 450h for Lexus.

Toyota Estima Hybrid
The name may be unfamiliar to many, but its alternate badging as the Toyota Previa should bring things into focus. While in North America the Previa/Estima (or Tarago in Australia) gave way to the Sienna in 1998, the old rounded front mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive minivan soldiered on for a couple of more years until, in the year 2000, the 2nd-generation Estima/Previa/Tarago, now a front-wheel-drive Camry offshoot, debuted in markets outside North America. Its Japanese Domestic Market hybrid variant was the world’s first hybrid minivan. The 3rd-generation Estima, debuting in 2006, saw the model depart from the European market that moved en masse to smaller people movers such as Toyota’s own Verso. A hybrid variant of this 3rd-generation Estima, powered by the 2AZ-FXE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine plus hybrid motor powertrain from the current Camry Hybrid and Lexus HS 250h, is available only in Japan and Hong Kong. That 2006 debut puts the Estima on a roughly similar model cycle timeline as the Lexus LS, thus barely putting it in the now-2012 time frame.

Other possibilities
Other current hybrids, such as the Lexus RX and Toyota Highlander Hybrid aren’t due for a full makeover before 2012, and it’s an open question if Lexus’ HS will even see a second generation, let alone be renewed within that time frame. Within the Japanese Domestic Market, two other hybrid models remain: the Toyota Crown Hybrid and another minivan, the Toyota Alphard Hybrid. The Crown was just renewed for 2008, and its latest hybrid version has already been released. The Alphard (and its Veilfire twin) also saw a new generation for 2008. Curiously, though, the first Alphard was offered as a hybrid, while the second-gen, as far as we can surmise, isn’t. This, then, is a dark-horse possibility in case either the Toyota Estima or Lexus LS re-dos are bumped back beyond 2012.