A RWD 5-door Toyota hatchback as baby GT-86?! Yes, please…

Toyota Rush Green

…but we’ll believe it when we see it.

The notion of a sub-GT 86 rear-wheel-drive sports Toyota is hardly a new one, and is one we previously discussed as recently as October 2012 and as long ago as August 2010, and the particulars remain much the same as we noted then: mechanical bits from Toyota’s sole remaining small and inexpensive rear-wheel-drive platform lurking under the Daihatsu Be‣go, Daihatsu Terios and Toyota Rush small SUVs which also formed the basis of the Gazoo Racing/MN FR Hot hatch and TES Concept T-Sports Tokyo Auto Salon projects.

The latest rumors in this regard come to us via Japan-based Australian journalist Peter Lyon, who occasionally showns the rumormonger sensibilities of, say, Auto Express or Japan’s Best Car. The twist in this latest story (as reported on Motor Trend‘s website) is that the sub-GT 86 RWD Toyota would not be a 150″ long (think 7″ shorter than the current Mazda MX-5 Miata) sports coupe powered by the Toyota Rush’s 1.5-liter, 109 bhp 3SZ-VE inline-4 engine mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox – as the 2010 rumors went – but rather, as Lyon notes, it will be a

…new fun-to-drive car (with) four seats, five doors, a 1.5-liter engine developing around 150 hp, and be aimed at a global audience no sooner than 2016. The new car will totally redefine the company’s entry-level sporty cars by taking on a new hatchback-style shape, a rear-drive platform and a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine…the car will employ a sleek hatch-style silhouette and be priced around $20,000. A source told us that the hatch will employ a revised version of Toyota’s Rush mini-crossover pictured above but that the new iteration will employ a lower ride height and four-wheel independent suspension.

Certainly sounds like a true spiritual successor to the cult classic KP61 Toyota Starlet hatchback. And 100 hp-per-liter from a naturally-aspirated engine? None of Toyota’s current 1.5-liter engines (the aforementioned, Daihatsu-designed 3SZ-VE, the North America Yaris’ 1NZ-FE and the cheapo, VVT-i-less 2NR-FE from the India and Brazil-built Etios) produce anywhere near that much power. Sounds like, short of developing an all-new engine, the plan may well be to apply Toyota’s D4-S direct+port dual injection and give a high-revving, low-torque character to one of the existing 1.5-liter mills.

Some of the commentary on the Motor Trend forums cited fears that this hatchback would turn out to be heavier than the Toyota GT 86 / Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ. Not necessarily, we say, if they made it small enough, and we’ll cite the fact that the B-segment Mazda2 hatchback, at 2306 lbs (1045 kg) is 141 lbs (63 kg) lighter than the lightest version of the current Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster. A bigger issue, though, might be a ridiculously tight back seat if Toyota goes too small with a RWD hatchback.

Maybe we’re getting carried away here, and, much as we’d love to see this become reality, we’re taking this rumor with a bagful of Kosher rock salt. Even Peter Lyon seems unsure, as he hedges his bets noting that

Whether such a car will make it from the drawing board all the way to showrooms around the world – or in the U.S. – remains to be seen, but we’re hopeful Toyota can prepare an rear-drive four-door hatch for about the same price as a base Toyota Camry.

Sure, we’re hopeful, too, and we would certainly love to see this become a reality. But we’re not holding our breath…

Tetsuya Tada rekindles more Toyota sports car talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit 1: Joel Strickland

Lexus and Toyota at the 2012 Paris Motor Show: what to expect

As the 2013 model year international auto show season kicks off, the current even-numbered 2012 calendar year means that the action starts in early autumn in Paris, France (odd-numbered years see Frankfurt, Germany as the fall kickoff, and the Tokyo Motor Show in December that is absent on even-numbered years). In the runup to the Paris preshow press conferences to be held on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 September, most carmakers have already tipped their hand and given clues as to what they will be unveiling, and Toyota and Lexus are certainly no exceptions.

TOYOTA
Internationally, the Toyota brand’s first major unveiling for late summer/early fall 2012 is the 2nd-generation of the Auris C-segment line. A Toyota Corolla derivative roughly analogous to North America’s Matrix 5-door hatchback, the Auris is the third of the 11th-generation (E160) Corolla variants to debut in 2012, behind the Japanese domestic market’s Corolla Axio sedan and Corolla Fielder station wagon models. The Japanese version of the Auris debuted on August 20, with 2 engine options echoing those of the Corolla Fielder: the 1NZ-FE 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine as used on the current Toyota Yaris and the 2ZR-FAE 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine (essentially a more powerful yet economical version of the current Corolla’s 2ZR-FE engine benefiting from the addition of the Valvematic mechanism that continuously controls the intake valve lift volume). Unfortunately, the Auris’ Japan-only Blade fraternal twin, which included the intriguing Blade Master model powered by the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6, was discontinued in April without a 2nd-generation successor.

For its European debut, the British-built iteration of the Toyota Auris offers a different – and far more extensive – range of engine options. The two gasoline-powered European models offer 4-cylinder engines that have smaller displacements than their Japanese counterparts: 1.33 liters and 1.6 liters. The former is clearly the carryover 1NR-FE, but it is unclear at this point whether the latter is the 124 hp, Dual VVT-i-only 1ZR-FE or its peppier 130 hp Dual VVT-i plus Valvematic 1ZR-FAE variant. Those preferring 4-cylinder diesel power have a choice (according to an official Toyota Europe news release) of 1.4-liter or 2-liter displacements. Given that Toyota won’t begin to purchase diesels from BMW until 2014, we’re certain that these are Toyota’s current 1ND-TV and 1AD-FTV, respectively. Finally, the Auris Hybrid returns for the new generation (and is shown above right), powered by the carryover 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline-electric powertrain shared with the Toyota Prius, Prius v and Lexus CT 200h. Auris fans may note that the current generation offers several more powerful gasoline and diesel options than the quintet listed above, but bear in mind that the new Auris has a lower (0.28) coefficient of drag, lower height and center of gravity, 10% stiffer body structure and, most crucially, is as much as 40 kg (88 lbs) lighter than its predecessor. This, combined with revised steering and suspension – including wider availability of a double-wishbone rear suspension – should make the new Auris a more compelling drive.

It is uncertain whether or not the slow-selling 3-door Auris body style will return with the 2nd-generation, but we’re inclined to say no, for reasons outlined back in January 2011. On the other hand, a 5-door station wagon body style alternative has become de rigueur in the European C-segment, where 25% of sales in the class are wagons. Even such familiar models as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Buick Verano/Opel Astra and Hyundai Elantra/i30 offer station wagon variants unavailable in North America. Thus, Toyota felt compelled to add a second Auris Touring Sports body style. Shown as a darkened teaser (which was lightened and enhanced by Autocar in the photo shown above left) it will be fully unveiled at Paris later this month. The Auris Touring Sports will be available with the regular Auris hatchback’s full suite of 5 powerplant options, thus making it Europe’s first wagon in the segment available with a full hybrid powertrain. Quite notably, Toyota is predicting an even 1/3 gasoline / 1/3 diesel / 1/3 hybrid split in European Auris sales for the new generation when it goes on sale in early 2013 as a hatchback, followed by the wagon during the second half of the year.

Toyota debuts for the 2012 Paris Motor Show extend beyond the newest iteration of the Auris. The carmaker proudly trumpets a “new Verso“, as teased in the cropped, highlighted and enhanced Carscoop picture shown at right. For the uninitiated, the Verso is Toyota’s entry in the hotly contested European MPV (C-segment mini-minivan) category. In the United States, the sole class representative currently in new car showrooms is the Mazda5, while, north of the border, Canadians may also choose a Kia Rondo or Chevrolet Orlando. Another way to describe the Toyota Verso is as a rebodied, non-hybrid version of the Prius v/Prius +/Prius Alpha wagon with shorter rear overhang and a 3rd-row seat. In fact, both sit on the same 2780mm (109.4″) wheelbase. In this case, however, take the “new” with a grain of salt, even though Toyota Europe’s official news release describes “(a) new design language with a clear family identity, an improved interior, a revised 2.0 D-4D (1AD-FTV diesel) engine with improved performance and lower CO2 emissions, and enhanced driving dynamics and reduced NVH levels”. Given that the current Verso was introduced in March 2009 at the Geneva Motor Show, expect a mid-life refresh akin to that received by the Toyota Avensis last year, and not an all-new generation.

Also debuting in Paris is a new Yaris Trend edition featuring, in Toyota’s words, “unique exterior styling and model-specific interior finishes, textures and colours to attract young, urban-based, design-focused customers”. Carscoop offers us far more insight, however, as the Yaris Trend was actually launched in the United Kingdom on August 8. Essentially, this is the top-of-the-line sporty Yaris SR (which includes fog lamps, part-leather upholstery, a rear roof spoiler and lowered suspension) with the addition of 16″ Podium anthracite machined alloy wheels, chrome tailpipe finisher and a Jaguar XJ-inspired blacked-out C-pillar, in a choice of Tyrol Silver or Cirrus White exterior paint. And, we should add, some goofy swirling pinstripes along the front fenders and doors.

For the hardcore European enthusiast, however, the best news is the Continental debut of a full suite of TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Performance Line Accessories for GT86. This is a comprehensive range of exterior, interior and mechanical components that enhance style, aerodynamics and performance, all offered individually, as opposed to being grouped or bundled into packages. Also of interest is a GT86 Racing Simulator, a fusion between a real Toyota GT86 and an advanced computer simulation system. The driver steers, shifts, brakes and accelerates the GT86 using the original controls. The simulator then uses a state-of-the-art motion system to respond to driver input and deliver an un-paralleled realistic driving experience. The windshield is a Full HD monitor for the drivers and a Lucas Arts THX Surround system is used to supply sound from the racetrack.

The Toyota stand at the 2012 Paris Motor Show will also feature the Yaris Hybrid, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the TS030 Le Mans prototype (LMP1) racer which recently saw its first podium finish and the FCV-R Fuel Cell Vehicle concept, the latter perhaps in anticipation of the European Hydrogen Road Tour 2012. All this detailed information, needless to say, leaves little to no room for surprise at the Toyota press conference which will take place at Pavillion 4, Stand 114 at 8:30 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September.

LEXUS
In stark contrast to the above, Lexus has, thus far, been more elusive and coy as to its 2012 Paris Motor Show plans, except for a brief news release promising the reveal of “a brand new concept car” alongside the Western European premiere of the all-new LS 600h F SPORT shown at left at 8:45 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September (15 minutes after the Toyota press conference) at Pavillion 4, Stand 120 next to Toyota.

Naturally, the blogosphere has been rife with speculation as to what, precisely, this new Lexus concept will be. We can certainly rule out the second iteration of the Lexus LF-LC sports coupe, since that is earmarked for an Australian unveiling in mid-October. What, then? Kevin Watts of the Lexus Enthusiast posted a poll with ten distinct possibilities: Compact Crossover, City Car, CT-Based Variant, Four-Door Coupe, GS Coupe, GS F, IS Coupe, IS Sedan, LF-LC Convertible or the eternal catchall “Other”. This author concurs with most pundits that it’s a tossup between an IS Coupe predictor and the long-awaited sub-RX, RAV4-derived compact crossover that everybody refers to as CX but is far likelier to wear the TX prefix in production.

Even this concept will not be a true “Paris surprise”, as Lexus has promised to reveal further information and pictures on Monday 17 September at 8:00 AM Central European Time, 10 days ahead of the actual press reveal.

And what about Subaru?
In 2010, Subaru didn’t even bother to appear at the Paris Motor Show. The carmaker will be there in 2012, at Pavillion 3, Stand 215. As of this writing, however, it does not appear that they will unveil anything new, nor that they have even scheduled a press conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Article & Photos by: Flipside909

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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