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.

TMC’s Environmental Technology Development update: a peek at Toyota and Lexus’ powertrain future (Part 1)

On Monday 24 September, what was ostensibly the press preview for the (very limited) production version of the battery electric variant of the Toyota iQ soon became, in the words of Bertel Schmitt of The Truth About Cars, “the strangest product launch I have ever seen”. Given how much information the usually reticent Toyota revealed regarding its future powertrain plans, press coverage was equally strange, veering between overly simplistic and sensationalist sound bites. Toyota to Launch 21 New Hybrids and a New Fuel Cell Vehicle in the Next Three Years! Toyota drops plan for widespread sales of electric car! Toyota kills electric car plans, says ‘capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs’! Ultimately, only a trio of accounts of what transpired at the Universal Design Showcase of Tokyo’s MegaWeb are truly worth reading: the aforementioned Bertel Schmitt of The Truth About Cars‘ “you-are-there” report, Hans Greimel’s Automotive News/Autoweek story for its large number of exclusive tidbits of information and, if you’re really pressed for time, Jake Holmes of Motor Trend‘s summary of the full TMC Announces Status of Its Environmental Technology Development, Future Plans Toyota Global newsroom PDF document. If, however, you prefer deep-dive analysis, commentary, interpretation and informed speculation of the sort Kaizen Factor thrives on, stay with us as we deconstruct Toyota’s newest revelations.

A new 2AR-FXE with D-4S engine variant
The “enhanced engine for use in hybrid vehicles, based on the 2.5-liter AR gasoline engine, (adopting) the Atkinson cycle and D-4S system” is none other than a new D-4S (dual direct+port injection) variant of the 2AR-FXE 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle hybrid engine used on the current Toyota Camry Hybrid and Lexus ES 300h. The existence of this engine was actually revealed a week earlier, in a Lexus USA Newsroom press release for the Lexus LF-CC concept. In a story for the my.IS website, yours truly figured that it would produce something in the vicinity of 220-225 total system horsepower (versus 200 total system horsepower for the port injection-only 2AR-FXE). Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development news release adds a couple of new bits of information. For one, the 2AR-FXE with D-4S achieves the world’s highest maximum thermal efficiency (38.5%), which translates into the engine producing more power and using less fuel, while wasting less heat.

Hans Greimel also informs us that this iteration of the 2AR-FXE engine will receive Denso’s newly-tweaked D-4S injectors that already appear in the 4th-generation Lexus GS and Scion FR-S/Toyota GT 86. In comparison to the original D-4S injectors that date back to 2006, the new ones use a slit-shaped (as opposed to the previous multihole) injector opening. This creates a richer fuel mixture inside the cylinder and results in 1% better fuel economy.

Toyota reveals that this engine will go on sale sometime during calendar year 2013 in an undisclosed vehicle. Greimel, however, suggests that the Japanese domestic market’s Toyota Crown Hybrid will be the first recipient of the new powerplant. Makes sense, as this would allow for some closer-to-home experience before exporting it in the Crown’s platform-mates, the rumored (and trademarked) Lexus GS 300h and IS 300h versions of the 4th-gen GS and 3rd-gen IS, respectively. Given current rumors that the IS 300h, like the outgoing IS 200d and IS 220d, will only be sold in Europe, expect a debut for the Lexus variants at either the 2013 Geneva Motor Show (press previews on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 March) or, later in the year, at the Frankfurt Motor Show (press previews on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 September).

Beyond its initial applications in Toyota’s new rear-wheel-drive N-platform (launched with the 4th-generation Lexus GS and expected to spread to the upcoming 3rd-generation Lexus IS and 14th-generation [S210 or S220] Toyota Crown), will the 2AR-FXE with D-4S hybrid powertrain eventually migrate to the myriad front-wheel-drive K-platform Toyota Camry derivatives that use the AR 4-cylinder engines? Could be…

A turbocharged 3AR-FTE or (better yet) 3AR-GTE?!
In what is perhaps the biggest surprise of the Environmental Technology Development announcement, Toyota informs us that

Starting 2014, TMC plans to launch a vehicle with a new 2.0-liter, turbo-charged AR engine, also based on the 2.5-liter AR gasoline engine. The new engine’s smaller displacement will provide higher fuel efficiency while the turbocharger will improve output.

In other words, Toyota is meeting the challenge laid down by Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler/Fiat, among others, in going the smaller displacement with a turbo route, all the better to “game” the U.S. EPA fuel economy cycle (and its European and Japanese counterparts) into producing lower consumption numbers realistically achievable only if you drive 24/7 like Grandma on a day she forgot to eat her breakfast. Step on it, spool the turbo up to full boost, and you’ll use more gas than in the naturally-aspirated 2.5, but I digress…

As we noted back in December 2011,

When looking back at Toyota’s boosted gasoline powerplants, the company’s history is akin to Audi’s, with a mix of turbocharging (Supra, 2nd-generation MR2, Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo/GT-Four) and supercharging (1st-generation MR2, TRD aftermarket kits and Australia’s Aurion TRD). The new millennium, however, has seen nothing but superchargers.

Thus, it’s a 180 degree, back-to-the-future turn for Toyota to turbocharge, as opposed to supercharging, its AR 4-cylinder engine.

Deducing what engine code the new 2-liter AR turbo will use is a fairly straightforward matter. As is the case for Toyota and Lexus’ GR V6 engine family, the smaller the first number, the larger the engine displacement, and vice-versa. The 1AR-FE is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine that debuted in Toyota’s current Venza and Highlander, made a brief appearance in the current Sienna minivan and is also available in the Asian-market Lexus RX 270. The 2AR-FE is its smaller 2.5-liter variant (shown above left) that is available in Toyota’s RAV4 and Camry, the Scion tC coupe and the new throwback-badged Lexus ES 250 for the Chinese market. The 2AR-FXE, of course, is the hybrid version we discussed earlier. Thus, a 2-liter version will be a 3AR. The “F”, per Wikipedia, denotes an economy narrow-angle valve DOHC (dual overhead camshaft) head, while a “G” would make it a performance wide-angle valve DOHC. A “T” for turbo is, of course, obligatory, as is the final “E” for electronic fuel injection. Thus, it would be a 3AR-FTE if it’s more economy-oriented or a 3AR-GTE if it’s performance-oriented. Sure, we definitely prefer the latter, but should also note Toyota GT 86 chief engineer Tetsuya Tada’s thoughts on boost (again from our December 2011 article):

Tada-san favours the supercharger approach because it is simpler to achieve than increasing engine size and doesn’t wreck throttle response as turbocharging might. Indeed Toyota says that turbocharging along with four-wheel drive and wide tyres are what make sports cars boring to drive.

In other words, we suspect a more economy-oriented 3AR-FTE is likelier. As to what 2014 vehicle gets the honors of launching this engine, it’s anybody’s guess, but this author suspects some sort of obscure, low-production variant of the Corolla for the Japanese domestic market. I know our co-editor Flipside909 is rooting for it to power a Volkswagen GTI-rivaling son-of-Corolla FX16 GT-S. Or, perhaps, a non-hybrid Lexus CT 200t sporty hatchback with a proper manual transmission?

Another compelling question is whether or not the so-called 3AR-FTE will use D-4S dual direct+port injection. We suspect not, given the historical issues with aftermarket boost for Toyota’s GR-FSE V6s and how Subaru went direct injection-only when turbocharging the FA20 flat 4.

Toyota’s small ND diesel gets a reprieve for Europe
In our first article on the BMW/Toyota alliance, we figured that Toyota wouldn’t bother to reengineer its aging diesel engines to meet upcoming Euro 6 standards. It turns out we were wrong, at least insofar as the smallest of them all, the 1.4-liter 1ND-TV. As the carmaker informs us,

The adoption of newly developed exhaust gas cleaning technology enabled the engine to pass the Euro 6, one of the most stringent exhaust emission standards in the world. Vehicles equipped with the new diesel engine are planned for launch starting 2015.

Thus, expect the 1ND-TV to soldier on in Toyota’s Yaris, Auris, Corolla, iQ, Ractis/Verso-S and Urban Cruiser (Toyota ist/Scion xD) lines, as well as in India-built versions of the Etios and Etios Liva models. On the other hand, the press release is silent on the ultimate fate of Toyota’s medium-sized AD 4-cylinder diesels. Expect those to be replaced by BMW diesels as of 2014.

i-ART: another Toyota/Denso fuel injection breakthrough
Throughout this article, D-4S, the first-ever dual direct+port injection system pioneered by Toyota and automotive supplier Denso, has been a recurring theme. Flying under the radar, however, the latter (itself a member of the Toyota Group conglomerate) announced, in December 2011, the creation of i-ART (intelligent-Accuracy Refinement Technology) the world’s first autonomous closed-loop diesel fuel injection control system. In essence, this system equips each injector with a pressure sensor that communicates its fuel pressure to the engine ECU and, in doing so, significantly reduces exhaust emissions and increases fuel efficiency, compared with the conventional open-looped technology that does not have feedback function from the injectors. i-ART-equipped versions of the 3-liter 1KD-FTV 4-cylinder diesel debuted in the Brazilian market version of the Hilux pickup truck in April 2012. Given the ease with which a 2-liter diesel i-ART test unit met upcoming Euro 6 emisions standards, we wouldn’t be surprised if this technology spread throughout the KD diesel engine family (including the smaller 2.5-liter 2KD-FTV) and to other Toyota truck-based lines such as Land Cruiser Prado and Third World models such as Fortuner, Innova and Hiace. And, if this technology is so emissions-friendly, wouldn’t it be cool to see these diesels in North America’s expansive truck-based Toyota line, not to mention in Lexus’ GX as a rival to the German luxury diesel SUVs? Then again, 3 liters is awfully large for a 4-cylinder engine, and the Germans use 6 cylinder diesels in this size segment, at least in North America, so the KD might be a bit crude for Lexus duty…

Arrghh! Toyota’s CVTs spread beyond hybrids, Europe and Japan
As Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update shifts its focus from engines to transmissions, discussion begins with one of this author’s pet peeves: CVTs, or continuously variable transmissions. I’m still regretting the way in which the traditional manual transmission with a clutch pedal is becoming a dinosaur of an endangered species, but at least modern torque-converter automatic transmissions and so-called single and dual-clutch (but no clutch pedal) transmissions purport to maintain some level of driver control via “manumatic” modes, gates and paddle shifters. CVTs, on the other hand, are far less likely to offer these options. As of now, dissatisfaction with the “manual mode” paddle shift feel on the Lexus CT 200h’s CVT transaxle led to a decision to limit this option to the Japanese domestic market. Indeed, the so-called “rubber band feel” of CVTs and the way they hold high revs while the car barely seems to move is off-putting to many.

Yet, CVTs also have their virtues, fuel efficiency chief among them. They are also the best way to manage hybrid powertrains, as tepid reviews of hybrids with torque-converter automatics such as the Infiniti M and the Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima fraternal twins can attest to. At any rate, a number of carmakers, such as Nissan and Subaru have staked their future on the CVT, and Honda and Audi also use them on some models. We certainly hold out hope that diligent engineering will result in future CVTs that…er…don’t suck, as Nissan seems determined to do.

Perhaps we’re dismissive because, in North America, the Scion iQ is the sole non-hybrid Toyota product using a CVT, whereas Japan and Europe offer a plethora of CVT-equipped models. In the latter market, so-called Multidrive (M/D) and paddle shifter-equipped Multidrive S (M/D S) models use the CVT. These, by the way, should not be confused with Multimode Manual Transmission (M/M) models that use a type of sequential manual transmission consisting of a traditional manual gearbox with an electronically controlled clutch (but no clutch pedal). The Environmental Technology Development press release touts

TMC’s newly developed continuously variable transmission, Super CVT-i, (that) has achieved both superior fuel efficiency and smooth acceleration due to its unsurpassed transmission efficiency, improved integrated engine control and reductions in both size and weight. The transmission, first installed on the Corolla for the Japanese market in June 2012, is planned for use on additional models, particularly in the compact segment.

Perhaps those additional models include the upcoming North American version of the 11th-generation (E160) Toyota Corolla.

From the folks that brought you the world’s first 8-speed automatic transmission, the world’s first 8-speed automatic transaxle
Back in 2006, Japan’s automatic transmission manufacturer Aisin AW rocked an automotive world accustomed to 4, 5 and 6-speed automatics by designing the TL-80SN, the first-ever 8-speed automatic transmission. Suitable for rear-wheel-drive applications, it debuted in the 2007 XF40 (4th-generation) Lexus LS 460. The AA80E transmission, as Toyota calls it, soon spread through their V8 car lineup, namely the Lexus IS F, the late, lamented Lexus GS 460 and the Toyota Crown Majesta. Nearly 2 years later, German automotive supplier ZF countered with its own 8-speed longitudinal automatic transmission, the 8HP. After launching with the 5th-generation (F01/F02) BMW 7-Series, the 8HP quickly spread to other brands such as Audi, Bentley, Chrysler, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce. Hyundai, meanwhile, developed its own 8-speed automatic for use in the Genesis and Equus lines.

Notice, though, that even the highly flexible ZF 8HP unit is a longitudinal transmission, used by Audi only in its longitudinally-engined lines (A4 thru A8), and not in its smaller (A3 and below, plus TT) transverse-engine models. Leave it, again, to Toyota and Aisin to follow up the pioneering TL-80SN / AA80E with the world’s first transversely-mounted 8-speed automatic transaxle, the U880F which premiered on the all-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350 F Sport SUV for the North American market in August 2012. And, stay tuned, for Toyota strongly hints that the U880, presumably in “regular” (front-wheel-drive) and F (AWD) iterations, should eventually spread throughout Lexus and Toyota’s FWD-centric models.

21 new hybrid models between now and the end of 2015
Among the numerous revelations contained in Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update, the claim you see above is among those that has been most widely reported and generated the most buzz. Yet, to our knowledge, no one has attempted to name the 21 vehicles. And, frankly, we’re not about to either, at least not in the in-depth manner in which we dared to guess at the 7 all-new hybrids, 4 revised existing hybrids and 19 new or revised models for North America due by the end of calendar year 2012. The nearly 3½-year time frame and the global (including Lexus) nature of this list makes even Kaizen Factor‘s crystal ball go all blurry and erratic. Further confusing things is what Toyota means by “now”. The Monday 24 September 2012 date of Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update? Or the August 2012 date mentioned in a couple of Toyota’s footnotes? This seemingly picayune point is key in determining whether or not the Lexus ES 300h, which went on sale in the United States and Canada during August 2012, is part of the list of 21.

Hans Greimel of Automotive News did note, however, that 14 will be either all-new nameplates or hybrid versions of vehicles that don’t currently come with an electric-gasoline option, leaving 7 next-generation, or full-model changes to existing hybrids. The latter are easier to guess at, and we figure that next-generation hybrid versions of Toyota Auris, Toyota Prius, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Estima (a primarily Japanese domestic market minivan that is a bit smaller than the Sienna), Toyota Crown, Lexus RX and Lexus LS are the likeliest 7.

And what about the 14 all-new nameplates or hybrid versions of vehicles that don’t currently offer an electric-gasoline option? These run the gamut from the obvious (The Toyota Avalon which will go on sale by the end of 2012 and the trademarked Lexus IS 300h) to the safe bet guesses to the flat-out speculative. And, speaking of Lexus, do rumored additional, alternate-engined versions of existing hybrids (think Lexus CT 300h, Lexus GS 300h or Lexus LS 450h) count separately among the 21?

Our previous Informed Speculation articles suggested hybrid versions of Toyota Avensis, Toyota Sienna, Toyota RAV4 and, perhaps, Toyota Venza. With the 11th-generation (E160) Corolla already available in Japan in a couple of variants and its Auris offshoot already hybridized, don’t be surprised if a Toyota Corolla hybrid becomes available. Don’t expect, however, a future version, hybrid or otherwise of the Toyota Matrix, which will die at the end of the 2013 model year.

Talk of a potential RAV4 hybrid reminds us that its upcoming 4th-generation (XA40) is expected to sire a Lexus sibling, which could wear the Lexus TX 300h moniker. And might the brand’s two recent hybrid concept coupes – LF-CC and LF-LC – lead to production versions bearing, say, Lexus IC 300h and Lexus LC 600h badges?

And what about the Toyota/Ford collaboration on a “new co-developed hybrid system ready for use later this decade on…rear-wheel-drive light trucks and SUVs”? Does that mean we’ll see hybrid Toyota Tundra and Toyota Sequoia models by the end of 2015? Hard to say, since the original Toyota Global and USA news releases from 22 August 2011 not only fail to mention any prospective production dates but promised to move from Memorandum of Understanding to formal production agreement “by next year” – meaning 2012 – yet, with less than 3 months to go before year’s end, nothing has happened. Might an announcement be forthcoming at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show press conferences on Wednesday 28 or Thursday 29 November?

Finally, Lord knows what obscure Japanese domestic market-only hybrids Toyota will come up with. For example, this author vaguely recalls reading something about possible hybrid versions of the oddball, asymmetrical door (single slider on the left, two regular doors on the right) Toyota Porte/Spade twins. Not much of a stretch, really, since they share their underpinnings (read NBC, or New Basic Car platform) with Yaris and Prius c/Aqua.

Thus ends Part 1 of our in-depth analysis and commentary on Toyota’s Environmental Technology Development update, which corresponds to the Initiatives for Energy Conservation section of the news release, focusing on improvements to conventional gasoline, diesel and hybrid powertrains. Stay tuned for Part 2, which will feature our thoughts on Initiatives for Fuel Diversification, as Toyota describes various degrees of electrification such as plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles and fuel cells. This will conclude with a Beyond the News Release section featuring additional background information, much of it from journalists that attended the actual press event in Japan.

Toyota Prius Alpha finally goes on sale in Japan. Or does it? *UPDATED*

If the Toyota Prius Alpha sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s because back in November 2010 it was predicted in a number of reports as the model name given to the new “squareback” larger Toyota Prius variant. Frankly, this author questioned the name, given its potential for confusion with Alfa Romeo. And, indeed, that line of thinking appeared to be vindicated as the Prius v for North America and Prius+ for Europe names were unveiled. Alas, in a classic example of the old “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” cliché, Toyota has just revealed that the Prius Alpha name will indeed be used, albeit only in Japan, as of now. Still unconfirmed is which denominator (v, + or a, as the Alpha is actually badged in Japan) will be used in Asian markets outside Japan and in Oceania (Australia and New Zealand).

On March 4 we first reported on the Japanese Domestic Market’s version of the larger Prius, including the revelation that they would offer both variants (a 5-passenger model with a nickel-metal hydride battery hybrid system and a 7-passenger model with a lithium-ion battery hybrid system), as well as some pricing information and a predicted on-sale date of late April 2011 (with April 24 given as the date by some accounts) in Japan. Then, exactly a week later, the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck, and, on March 23, Toyota officially announced the postponement of the larger Prius’ launch. Although at the time we called it the first new model launch delay as a result of the Japanese earthquakes, it was actualy the second, after the Honda Fit Shuttle that was originally scheduled to roll out on March 18.

Given how the restart of Toyota production in Japan has been a gradual process, the thought of adding a new model to the mix was far from many minds, yet today, a Toyota Global News release appeared, announcing the launch in Japan of Prius Alpha and revealing a cadre of new information, such as pricing for all 7 JDM variants, the selection of 8 exterior colors including new Clear Stream Metallic and a monthly sales target for Japan of 3000 units. The Toyota Japan consumer website also got into the act with a dedicated Prius Alpha page with multiple links.

Notably missing from the first Toyota Global news release, though, is indisputable confirmation of an on-sale date for Japan. (Although it does mention a Prius v launch planned for North America this summer and a Prius + launch planned for Europe in mid-2012, hewing to the originally-planned schedule). Further muddying the issue is an enigmatic follow-up Toyota Global News release forecasting an unavoidable delay in delivery of the Prius α, newly launched in Japan, due to the ongoing effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake on production, followed by apologies and a figurative Japanese deep bow.

Adding to the confusion, a Reuters story gushingly reported that “Toyota…said it had received 25,000 orders for the Prius Alpha…in Japan before sales start on Friday (13 May)…That is equivalent to more than eight times its monthly sales target of 3000 units”, followed by a vague “Toyota said customers will have to wait longer than usual for delivery due to the ongoing disruption to production” notation.

Leave it to Bertel Schmitt of The Truth About Cars to truly live up to his site’s name and bring us the full scoop from the Prius Alpha press preview in Japan. Here are the most pertinent passages from his report:

The (Prius Alpha) will be available in a distant future, in April 2012. No typo. 11 months from now. Next year.

When asked today when the car will be delivered, Chief Engineer Hiroshi Kayukawa said: “Well, we are trying to get our production up and into order, and having received so many orders in advance, we want to do this as quickly as possible, and it looks like it’s going to be April 2012.”

Instead of a tsunami, a ripple ran through the audience…“You said April twothousandtwelve?” asked an incredulous reporter. “Is that related to the earthquake crisis kind of thing? Is that the problem?” Under fire, the Chief Engineer says: “Well, ok, now, originally we were planning to launch this in late April. The launch event has been set back a couple of weeks. So in that sense, there is a direct relationship to the natural disaster. However, in terms of actual production, we have all the parts lined up, we are ready to make it.” More flabbergastedness.

Here is what we could unearth at the sidelines of the first launch event of a car that will become available a little less than a year later: The Prius Alpha will be made at the Tsutsumi plant in Toyota city on line 1. On the same line, the Prius and other sedans are being made. There is such a backlog of orders for the Prius and other cars that the fabulous new guy Prius Alpha will have to take a number and wait for its turn.

Thus, don’t expect that earlier on-sale prediction for Prius v to be an ironclad guarantee set in stone unless Toyota plans to figuratively elbow aside its Japanese clientele in favor of us North Americans. For what it’s worth, Kayukawa-san revealed an initial target of 2000 monthly Prius v sales in the United States and 2000 monthly Prius+ sales in Europe. And here’s hoping that a Japanese Prius Alpha launch on Friday the 13th doesn’t turn out to be some sort of prescient omen…

UPDATE: An Associated Press report by Yuri Kageyama implies that limited supplies of the lithium-ion batteries for 7-passenger Prius Alphas are the main cause for the year-long delay predicted for some customer deliveries. The article also cites Toyota executive Satoru Mouri in clarifying that the 3000-per-month forecast for Japan is based on 1000 units of the 7-passenger version and 2000 of the 5-seaters per month. Also, the 25,000 advance orders in Japan break down as 18,000 for the 5-passenger model with nickel-metal hydride batteries, and 7,000 for the 7-passenger model with lithium-ion batteries.

One Millionth Prius sold in the USA!!!

2010 - 2011 Toyota Prius 001Amidst the recalls and drama that plagued Toyota and their #1 selling hybrid icon, they have announced the sale of their 1 Millionth Prius in the United States. This is a huge milestone in the Prius’ 10+ year existence in the US! The Prius has literally become the next “Corolla” as their best selling “hybrid” vehicle in the world. With the future expansion of the Prius line up, Toyota has set the standard for hybrid vehicles. Now the million dollar question is, who bought this lucky Prius and which dealership sold it? Hats off to Toyota for the outstanding accomplishment.

Press Release:

April 06, 2011

Toyota Sells One-Millionth Prius in the U.S.

TORRANCE, Calif., April 5, 2011 – Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., today announced the one-millionth sale of the Toyota Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid gas-electric vehicle, in the United States. It is the third milestone for Toyota’s hybrid lineup in the last six months that started with the announcement of worldwide Toyota Prius sales topping two million in October 2010 and overall global Toyota hybrid sales passing three million last month.

“Since the Prius went on sale eleven years ago not a year has gone by when it hasn’t been the number one selling hybrid vehicle in the U.S,” said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager. “Prius has become synonymous with the word hybrid and as we see fuel prices starting to rise again, it has accounted for more than 60 percent of hybrid passenger car sales so far this year. Prius paved the way for hybrids and while it is still the hybrid leader in sales and fuel economy, I’m proud to say that since its introduction, 13 other auto brands have seen the benefits of hybrid technology and joined the hybrid market.”
The third-generation Prius topped the EPA’s list of the Most Fuel Efficient Vehicles for 2011. It has been named the Best Overall Value of the Year for the last nine years in a row by IntelliChoice, and has the highest owner loyalty of any mid-size vehicle for four of the last five years according to R.L. Polk.  More than 97 percent of all Toyota Prii sold since 2000 are still on the road.
Since it was introduced in the U.S. in 2000, Prius, when compared to the average car, has saved American consumers more than an estimated 881 million gallons of gas, $2.19 billion in fuel costs, and 12.4 million tons of CO2 emissions.
In January 2011 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Toyota debuted the Prius v, the first vehicle to be debuted as part of the Prius family marketing strategy. Prius v, which goes on sale in third quarter of 2011, is a mid-size vehicle that provides more than 50 percent additional interior cargo space than the current Prius. In early 2012 Prius will launch two more Prius family members – the Prius c compact hybrid vehicle and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid vehicle.

 

As Toyota further extends its Japan shutdown, a picture emerges on which models will run out first

To hardly anyone’s surprise, Toyota has announced yet another extension of its vehicle-production halt at all plants in Japan (including subsidiary vehicle manufacturers) until at least Saturday 26 March (a previously-scheduled Saturday production day), as reported on Toyota’s USA and Global Newsrooms. This newly extended shutdown brings the estimated loss of production units to about 140,000 since the earthquakes and tsunami struck. About 60% of those vehicles, or 84,000, would have been export bound. This was followed by cautionary warnings of likely production interruptions in North America of indeterminate location or duration. A Reuters article, citing Toyota spokesman Craig Mullenbach, suggests that the company’s San Antonio, Texas plant that builds slow-selling Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks is the likeliest North American production facility to be idled.

In better news, the previously-announced resumption of replacement parts production on Thursday 17 March and of parts for overseas production facilities on Monday 21 March was reaffirmed, along with word that all 13 North American vehicle and engine plants are, for now, running normally, although overtime has been curtailed to conserve parts that come from suppliers in Japan.

Meanwhile, a story from the British-based (and limited access) just-auto.com site brings us an update from Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM), Toyota’s importer, assembler and distributor in India. Sandeep Singh, TKM’s deputy managing director informs us that most parts are sourced from from Thailand and Indonesia and there would be no immediate threat to the Indian operations as stocks for the current month are sufficient and components ordered earlier are also on the way. Still, he cautiously adds that “We are still assessing the situation and would likely be in a better position to comment on that in the next few days”.

Also reporting updates is the Guangzhou Toyota operation in south China via a Reuters story. The company states that, given 90%-95% Chinese content of locally-built Toyota Camrys plus current stocks of Japanese-sourced parts, they should be fine until mid-April. The article also estimates that current inventory of Lexus vehicles in China is sufficient to sustain sales for two months.

A recent iteration of the Toyota USA Newsroom’s earthquake and tsunami statement ends by saying that “Regarding dealerships in the U.S., inventories remain generally good”. While that may certainly be the case at present, most pundits think that by the time April ends, the situation may be very different, especially insofar as Toyota and Lexus models sourced from Japan. The uncertainty and pessimism hinges around two basic facts. For one, while the majority of Toyota factories and their larger (Tier 1) suppliers are based around the Tokyo and Toyota City areas that are hundreds of miles from the major earthquake and tsunami epicenter, that is not necessarily the case with smaller, almost mom-and-pop Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers and machine shops. Depending on the vehicle and who you listen to, a modern car has somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 individual parts, and if even one of them is missing, you certainly can’t produce the vehicle. Honda and Nissan have reported difficulties or an outright inability to contact over 40 of these small suppliers, and it’s most likely that Toyota is in this same situation. The second issue, as Michael Smitka, professor of economics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia said in a Bloomberg article, “You can’t get trucks in and out of the area affected by the disaster. In some cases, a road or bridge may be open, but with only one lane available. Are you going to try to put through a shipment of machinery at the expense of getting through a shipment of food?” Oh, and don’t forget to add the disruption added by rolling power blackouts due to the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant drama.

Although predicting the future supply situation of any given vehicle is an imprecise guessing game, two articles provide valuable data that sheds a faint light on the subject, not just for Toyota but for Japan’s major automakers. The first of these was written by Bill Visnic of Edmunds AutoObserver, and was already cited as a source for our recent Subaru update. The second is a study by Hans Greimel of Automotive News of the 20 top-selling Japan-built models sold in the United States and their recent sales numbers. Combining data from these two sources, plus a sprinkling of information from other articles allows us to compile this cautious and admittedly hazy snapshot of what to expect supply-and-demand-wise from a number of imported-from-Japan Toyota and Lexus models in the coming months:

Toyota Prius
With 140,928 units sold in 2010, plus a further 24,174 units in January and February 2011, the Prius is currently Toyota’s best-selling Japanese import vehicle in the United States. Given its rise in popularity concurrent with the rise in gasoline prices, it is often cited alongside the Nissan Leaf and Honda Fit as one of the three vehicles most threatened by low supply and high demand, a situation further exacerbated by one of three Toyota/Panasonic Primearth EV battery-making facilities being among the most affected by the Japanese natural disasters.

A report from Edmunds AutoObserver from Monday 21 March affirms that consideration of the Prius among online shoppers is up more than 30% since the beginning of the year, triple the 11% increase in consideration of all hybrids and of all small cars in general, with one Pennsylvania dealer reporting a quadrupling of interest. Yet, at this point, supply still seems reasonable (with California’s Longo Toyota reporting about a 30-day supply) and there are few if any reports of over-MSRP selling. Some dealers are selling Prii at MSRP, while Tony Gmitrovic of Elmhurst Toyota in the suburban Chicago, Illinois area reports that “while Prius hybrids are still going out the door at below MSRP, instead of at $700 to $800 below we’re seeing them go at $400 to $500 under.” Two days later, the Detroit Free Press quoted TrueCar.com‘s Jesse Toprak as stating that, “American consumers are paying at least $2,000 more for a Toyota Prius than they would have paid before the crisis began… Prius went from selling about $300 under invoice three weeks ago to selling right at the MSRP since the earthquake.”

This may be a short-lived situation, however, as the Toyota USA Newsroom has just announced that on Monday 28 March Toyota will restart production of the Prius at the Tsutsumi plant in Toyota City.

The Prius’ larger Prius v/Prius+ sibling’s launch in Japan, originally slated for late April, has become the first new model debut postponement as a result of the Japanese earthquakes, a fact announced via a Toyota USA Newsroom press release. Seemingly unaffected, at this point, are the late summer 2011 U.S. release of Prius v and the “first half of 2012″ on-sale date for Prius+ in Europe.

Toyota RAV4
Given that the RAV4 has been made in Canada since 4 November 2008, it may seem odd to see it listed here. A glance at Toyota’s February 2011 sales chart, however, reveals that just over 23% of RAV4s sold in the U.S. thus far in 2011 are imported from Japan. It remains to be seen if the Canadian plant has the capacity to take up the slack from Japan, or if, to the contrary, a lack of parts will also bring Canada to a halt. We should also note that the current RAV4 is due for a next-generation makeover no later than the 2013 model year.

Lexus ES
Perennially Lexus’ best-selling car (as opposed to crossover SUV), the ES is cited by Edmunds AutoObserver as being among the company’s models most at risk of low supplies by the industry’s Days to Turn metric. Defined as the average number of days vehicles were in dealer inventory before being sold during the month(s) indicated, the ES’s 26-day supply for February 2011 and a probably lower-than-average additional supply for March may translate into serious shortages as soon as mid-April.

The fact that the current Lexus ES isn’t even offered in either the Japanese Domestic Market nor in Europe, with the bulk of its production destined for North America, as well as its strong under-the-skin kinship with the made-in-America Toyota Camry, and it is little surprise that every time a fiscal or political U.S./Japan crisis flares up, rumors start to run amok regarding North American Lexus ES production. The great Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 may well be the tipping point that finally makes this happen.

Toyota 4Runner
With all the talk of the traditional body-on-frame, truck-based SUV such as the 4Runner being an endangered species, it comes as something of a surprise to see it appear so prominently on these lists. Yet, with a notable sales upturn for the 5th-generation model that debuted for the 2010 model year, the 4Runner is #10 among the top 20 best-selling Japanese-built vehicles in the U.S., and its 35-day supply on February 2011 implies that getting one after late April could be a dicey proposition.

Toyota Yaris
Predictions surrounding the Toyota Yaris are probably the most complex and convoluted you’ll find in this article. Edmunds AutoObserver informs us that the current Yaris Days To Turn figure in the U.S. is well over 100 days, thus hinting that current inventory won’t sell out until as late as July. Things are not that simple, however, as another spike in gasoline prices as a side-effect of the current war in Libya (or further spread of Middle East unrest) coupled with dwindling Prius stocks could well drive renewed demand for one of the U.S. market’s most fuel-economical non-hybrid vehicles.

Also, the current, 2nd-generation Yaris is winding down its last model year, and its 3rd-generation successor went on sale in Japan in late December 2010, as well as appearing as a Yaris HSD Hybrid concept for Europe at this month’s Geneva Auto Show. With the Prius v/Prius+ Japanese launch already delayed, the same fate may well behold the 3rd-generation Yaris launch outside Japan. Even worse for the U.S. market, the bulk of current Yaris sedan production (also sold as Toyota Belta or Vios in other markets), as well as 3rd-generation Yaris for North America and the Middle East is or would be served from the Central Motor Company facility in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai, ground zero for the tsunami of Wednesday 9 March. While the plant is located back near the mountains, away from the shoreline where the tsunami made landfall, and reported damage to its wall and some pipes but no major structural or equipment problems, the state of its nearby infrastructure imply that this may well be Toyota’s last Japanese plant to reach any semblance of normal production. Toyota is surely brainstorming alternatives, and radical possibilities include sourcing Yaris production for North America from Europe’s Valenciennes, France plant or even this author’s suggestion that Yaris be built in Mexico.

Toyota Corolla
Another unexpected entry in the list is the Toyota Corolla. Its situation is much like that of the RAV4 mentioned earlier, with Canadian output supplemented by Japan-built vehicles that comprised just over 24% of U.S. Corolla sales. Again, it remains to be seen to what extent the Canadian plant has the capacity to take up the slack from Japan, or if a lack of parts will eventually bring Canada to a halt. Probably mitigating the Corolla situation, however, is on-again construction of Toyota’s Blue Springs, Mississippi factory, tentatively slated to begin production of the Corolla this coming fall.

Lexus IS
The overall 15th best-selling Japanese-built vehicle in the U.S. for 2010, Lexus’ smallest rear-wheel-drive sports sedan line currently has a 31-day Days To Turn figure in the U.S. for the IS 250, a bit over the ES’s 26-day figure. Thus, Lexus ISs could start becoming scarce by the end of April.

Lexus RX
You may be forgiven for wondering why Hans Griemel’s Automotive News article ranks the Lexus RX below its ES and IS stablemates as the 19th-best-selling Japanese vehicle imported into the United States for 2010 (and outside the top 20 for 2011) when it is, in fact, the marque’s best-selling vehicle here. The answer, again, is the same as for the Toyota RAV4 and Corolla: a mix of Canadian and Japanese sourcing. The latter comprises 30% of all Lexus RXs sold in the U.S., including all hybrid RX 450h models.

Does Lexus have the capability of sourcing RX Hybrids from North America as well? Tentatively, yes, but the logistics may not be all that easy, given that only the Cambridge, Ontario plant is geared to Lexus levels of fit-and-finish and quality, while only Kentucky has hybrid powertrain assembly expertise with the Camry.

Lexus LX
Although a niche, low-volume model, Lexus’ top-of-the-line SUV currently has but a 26-day supply on hand at dealers as of February 2011, just like its ES sibling. This implies that stocks could begin running seriously low as soon as mid-April. It would be interesting to see how that figure compares to the very similar Toyota Land Cruiser.

Lexus LS
The luxury carmaker’s flagship sedan, the Lexus LS, though far from being the marque’s volume leader, currently reports a 34 Days to Turn inventory, which probably means meager selection at U.S. Lexus dealers by the time the end of April rolls around.

Lexus CT
The Japanese natural disasters couldn’t have come at a worse time vis-à-vis the launch of Lexus’ newest volume model line, the premium compact hybrid CT. With the bulk of Lexus’ advertising and marketing initiatives for 2011 (some of them quite unorthodox and youth-oriented) directed towards the CT 200h, many feared that it would all become a monumentally wasted effort. Indeed, anecdotal evidence coming out of California already conveys tight CT supplies for the demand that’s out there. Fortunately, The Lexus CT is one of a trio of vehicles (along with the Toyota Prius and another Lexus that we’ll discuss shortly) that will see a resumption of production in Japan on Monday 28 March. Thus, Lexus’ Kyushu plant joins the Toyota Tsutsumi plant in Toyota City as the only two of the automaker’s facilities producing vehicles in the motherland.

Frankly, it makes all the sense in the world for Lexus to put its current diminished resources behind CT. After all, this is the vehicle that is expected to exponentially increase the marque’s sales in Europe, and interest in North America has also been heightened by the recent runup in gasoline prices.

Lexus HS
Toyota’s decision to prioritize Japanese production of Prius and Lexus CT, as noted earlier, is a sound one that may well be described as a no-brainer. Much more puzzling, however, is awarding this vaunted status to Lexus’ HS 250h. After all, this is a model that isn’t offered in Europe, was ultimately turned down by Australia and has sold well below expectations in North America. Granted, it’s Lexus’ best-selling model in the Japanese Domestic Market, but who in Japan would currently have their mind on car-shopping? Yet, the fact that it is built alongside the Lexus CT in Kyushu, its degree of platform and component commonality with Prius and CT, plus a possible decent supply of parts probably made a case for its inclusion in the upcoming reopening of Japanese production. Hopefully, parts inventories and logistics permitting, the Kyushu plant is flexible enough to adjust CT vs HS production. Or, perhaps, HS will finally begin to gain some sales traction in the U.S. It may already be doing so in California, at any rate.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1:
Bertel Schmitt – The Truth About Cars
Other Photos: Toyota USA Newsroom

The Prius wagon in Japan

The 2011 auto show season has brought us Toyota’s somewhat unexpected two-pronged approach to the first additional member of the “Prius family”: the 5-passenger Prius v with a nickel-metal hydride battery hybrid system for North America, and the identically-bodied 7-passenger Prius+ with a lithium-ion battery hybrid system for Europe.

We were left to wonder, however, just what approach Toyota would take for the Japanese Domestic Market. Now, a Nikkei story via Reuters informs us that both versions will be available there. More importantly, the article contains the first pricing predictions we’ve seen for the newest Toyota. While the least expensive current Prius “fastback” in Japan is the Prius “L” with a base price of 2,050,000 yen (just over $24,785 at today’s exchange rate of 82.7 yen per U.S. dollar), they expect the 5-passenger Prius wagon with NiMH batteries to start at 2,350,000 yen ($28,405) and the 7-passenger Prius wagon with Li-ion batteries to start at 3,000,000 yen ($36,255). It is probably that almost $8000 jump in pricing for the third seat and the concominant lithium-ion battery pack that is making Toyota USA hesitate in offering the Prius+ here.

An official English-language Press Release from Toyota Japan also notes that the Prius wagon will go on sale there in late April 2011, ahead of the late summer 2011 U.S. release of Prius v and the “first half of 2012″ on-sale date for Prius+ in Europe. Left undisclosed at this point, though, is what name(s) the new Prii will wear in Japan.

2011 Geneva: FT-86, Hybrids and more!

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


FT-86 II Concept

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

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

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

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

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

Yaris HSD Concept

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

More photos of the Yaris HSD can be found HERE.

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

Prius +

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

More photos of the Prius+ can be found HERE.

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


EV Prototype

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

Images & Video : Toyota Europe

 

Toyota and Subaru at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show: what to expect

With January 2011’s Detroit Auto Show relegated to history and next week’s Chicago Auto Show expected to reveal little news except for the Lexus Five Axis Project CT 200h Concept, we look forward to March and the Geneva (Switzerland) Auto Show, which should be more compelling in terms of new model debuts.

The big news, of course, is the debut of the final concept versions of the “Toyobaru twins” before the expected debut of the production versions at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Show in December. The much-discussed and anticipated collaboration between Toyota and Subaru on a (hopefully) lightweight rear-wheel-drive Subaru-powered sports coupe will see a second, presumably closer-to-reality Toyota FT86 II as well as Subaru’s first concept preview, the lengthily-titled Subaru Rear-Wheel Drive Sports Car Technology Concept.

Now, via a Toyota Europe press release comes word on the rest of Toyota’s agenda at Geneva. Given the 3rd-generation Toyota Vitz (Japan’s Yaris counterpart, and Toyota’s largest-selling model in Europe via its assembly in Valenciennes, France) debut last December, something Yaris-related was certainly to be expected. Toyota has now confirmed the Toyota Yaris HSD Concept that “anticipates Toyota’s intention to bring full hybrid technology to the B segment, the biggest volume segment in Europe… Incorporating several hybrid-specific styling cues, the Yaris HSD concept introduces a new, forward-looking design execution”. Expect this “concept”, then, to be a barely-disguised version of the upcoming French-built 3rd-generation Yaris and its Yaris HSD variant. That Yaris HSD, by the way, may well be Europe’s sole Toyota B-segment hybrid, since some British pundits rightfully predict that the production version of Detroit’s smaller Prius c concept will not be sold in the Old Continent because the current strong yen/weak Euro exchange would make importing Prius c from Japan a money-losing proposition.

The third officially-announced Toyota debut is no real surprise, either. The Toyota Prius+ is essentially the larger Prius v that debuted last month in Detroit with the third-row +2 seat it deserved all along. As such, Toyota Europe proudly notes that “The Prius+ is the first car to offer European customers the versatility of 7 seats combined with a full hybrid powertrain (and) the lowest fuel consumption of any 7-seat MPV on the market”. As to why the third row is unavailable in North America, we can only guess that our general intolerance of vehicles with sub-10 second 0-60 mph acceleration times is at least partly to blame, as that third seat may add another hundred or two pounds to the curb weight and burden its 1.8-liter hybrid powertrain.

As to Subaru, in addition to the Rear-Wheel Drive Sports Car Concept, it will mark the European debuts of the Subaru Impreza Design Concept that first appeared at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2010 and is hailed as a predictor for the next-generation Impreza due around the 2013 model year; and of the Subaru Trezia, a rebadged Toyota Ractis/Verso S that marks a rare export outing for one of the many small Japanese Domestic Market front-wheel-drive Subarus that are, in reality, renamed Toyotas and Daihatsus. The Euro Subaru Trezia even shares the Toyota Verso S choice of 1.3-liter gasoline or 1.4-liter turbo diesel engines.

Prius V vs Prius v: potential for confusion?

With abundant leaks and advance teasers both official and unofficial, there was really not much suspense in the official debut of the so-called “large Prius” at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, except, perhaps, what badge it would wear. We reported earlier speculation that the “Prius MPV” would wear either Prius Alpha or Prius Verso badging, but, even days before the official unveiling, there was talk of the final name being Prius V. This author dismissed such talk as nonsense, given the potential for confusion between the Prius V top-of-the-line trim level for the original “fastback Prius” and the new “squareback” model. (I’m channeling Volkswagens from the mid-1960’s, aren’t I?) Yet, as Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation and Bob Carter, Group Vice President & General Manager of Toyota Division USA unveiled the new vehicle, we learned that it would be named… Prius v!

Officially, Toyota explains that the new larger Prius is Prius vee (and, yes, the letter “v” is to be italicized and in lower case) and stands for versatility. On the other hand, the top-of-the line version of the current 3rd-generation Prius is Prius Five, and uses the Roman numeral V to denote this. It is interesting to note, however, that, as of this writing, the official Toyota USA consumer website still lists the 2010 Prius in II, III, IV and V guises, while page 5 of the 2011 Prius Product Information PDF document in the Toyota USA Newsroom lists Prius One, Two, Three, Four and Five. (Prius One, we suspect, is a stripped-down fleet sales-only version for taxis and the like). And that, probably, is how Toyota will solve the V vs v conundrum: by using the written-out number name (or the Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) going forward for the Prius trim levels, or, possibly, ditching the system for 2012 and going with either package names (such as Convenience, Comfort, Leather, Premium) or trim level denoters (such as base, LE, SE, XLE, Limited).

The powertrain? Same ol’-same ‘ol
As we predicted back in November, the Prius v powertrain is the tried-and-true 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and CVT transmission from the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris HSD and Lexus CT 200h. Unfortunately, the hoped-for power increase never materialized, and the vital numbers remain at 98 engine horsepower, 80 hp electric motor power output, which combine for a hybrid system net power rating of 134 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. Thus, with Prius v being the largest and, presumably, heaviest application yet for this powertrain, we’d be surprised if 0-60 mph acceleration times remained barely below 10 seconds as they do for the current Prius and Lexus CT. Expected EPA fuel economy numbers, too, take something of a hit at 42 mpg city/38 mpg highway/40 mpg combined, versus 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway/50 mpg combined for “fastback” Prius and 43 mpg city/40 mpg highway/42 mpg combined for Lexus CT 200h.

The resin Panoramic View moonroof: having your cake and eating it, too
Over the years, the desire for some semblance of open-air, let-the-outside-in motoring without the perceived drawbacks of an actual convertible has evolved from smallish, body-colored sunroofs to larger, full-length glass skylights with opening portions and shades to keep out direct sunlight. And, while both the general public and automotive stylists love them, hardcore purists bemoan the concept of adding extra weight atop the car, thus raising the center of gravity and adversely affecting handling agility. Heck, this pundit would mandate carbon fiber roofs as on the BMW M3 and M6 coupes if he could. Yet, for those who love this concept too much, the official “Prius family” press release informs us that Prius v‘s optional resin Panoramic View moonroof with power retractable sun shades provides an open atmosphere in the cabin with a 40-percent reduction in weight as compared to conventional glass roofs of the same size, along with excellent heat insulation performance.

Toyota Entune debuts here
One of the many factors in Ford’s continuing ascent in the automotive industry in recent years is its alliance with Microsoft that, back in 2007, led to the creation of SYNC, a factory-installed, fully integrated in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that allows users to make hands-free telephone calls and control music and other functions using voice commands, using a series of applications and user interfaces that run on the Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive operating system. With the Ford/Microsoft exclusivity agreement expiring in November 2008, the next major Microsoft carmaker alliance led to Kia’s UVO. Toyota, however, did something of an end-run around Microsoft with its take on the concept: Toyota Entune.

Detailed in a 4 January 2011 press release, Entune is a multimedia in-car communications and entertainment system that leverages the customer’s mobile smartphone and conversational voice recognition capabilities to fully integrate access to Pandora internet radio, High Definition (HD) Radio, XM satellite radio, and iHeartradio, as well as a CD player and Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The Microsoft juggernaut is inescapable, though, for the software giant’s Bing for Mobile and Bing Maps is also part of the Entune suite of features.

Although initial information did not delve on vehicle availability information for Toyota Enform, we now know that Prius v will be one of the first Toyotas to offer this handy feature.

Stretching the MC platform
Although Toyota, in the end, rejected the notion of giving the newest model a Prius Verso nameplate, the new Prius v does share something vital with the European market’s larger Verso model: a 2780mm (109.4″) wheelbase, which, incidentally, they also share with the Japanese Domestic Market’s Toyota Venza look-alike, the Mark X ZiO. Yes, we’re seeing Toyota MC platform (or architecture) ubiquity at its finest. More familiar in its 2600mm (Corolla and Matrix) and 2700mm (Scion tC, Prius “fastback”, Lexus HS) wheelbase iterations, the longest version (to our knowledge) of MC underpins Prius v. Stay tuned for an upcoming Kaizen Factor story that will delve further into this ultra-flexible vehicle architecture.

Other Prius v vital figures are an overall length of 181.7″, overall width of 69.9″, overall height of 62″, ground clearance of 5.7″, a coefficient of drag of 0.29, standard 16″ and optional 17″ alloy wheels (the latter the attractive 10-spoke with star center design shown at left).

What about third-row seating?
Although Prius v is seemingly attractive and comfortable enough, this author’s disappointment is two-fold: the carryover weakling powertrain and the lack of third-row seating, which would’ve made this a strong contender in the slowly resurging 3-row seating mini-minivan segment against the Mazda5 and upcoming Ford C-MAX (Grand C-MAX outside North America). After all, the latter has a 0.3″ longer wheelbase and is 3.7″ shorter, yet manages to squeeze in a third row of seats. Perhaps the space occupied by Toyota’s relatively bulky nickel-metal hydride batteries would’ve rendered a third row of seats downright uninhabitable, as opposed to child-only friendly and, notably, the hybrid versions of Ford C-MAX (C-MAX Hybrid and the plug-in C-MAX Energi) build off the smaller two-row C-MAX (with an even shorter 104.2″ wheelbase and 173.6″ overall length).

While major English-language automotive press pundits have remained silent on the lack of third-row seating, internet commentary has been anything but, ranging from anger on Autoblog Green to hopes that the Japanese and European markets will offer a “+2″ third row option on

Toyota’s “Big Daddy Prius” to be unveiled in Detroit.

In just a few short weeks, Toyota will be debuting their latest hybrid vehicle which is part of the “Prius” family of vehicles. At last year’s NAIAS 2010, Toyota teased us with a mini Prius concept called the FT-CH concept. The FT-CH is a dedicated full hybrid vehicle featuring a compact exterior with maximum interior space.  For 2011, Toyota will finally unveil their latest Prius creation which will have the the same basic recipe as the original but in a larger more versatile package. This is no surprise to us as this is a part of Toyota’s strategy with new hybrids by 2012. The latest “Big Daddy Prius” is geared towards those with an active lifestyle as this new car has 50% more cargo space than the current Prius! So who would like something like this? X-Games championship skateborder, Bob Burnquist would. He talks about his active lifestyle, his Prius, and the next big talk of the town:

Toyota to Reveal Prius Family of Vehicles at the North American International Auto Show

Following on the first and second official Toyota teaser shots of the “big daddy Prius”, here’s the third one, which appears to rule out third-row seating:

TORRANCE, Calif., Dec. 23, 2010 – Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., will stage the world premiere of the Prius family of vehicles at a press conference at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  In addition to the current third-generation Prius and Prius Plug-in vehicle (PHV), the first all-new addition to the Prius Family will debut along with a Prius concept vehicle.

The press conference will be held on Monday, Jan. 10 at 1:05 p.m. EST in the Riverview Ballroom at Cobo Center. A live Webcast will be available at ToyotaNewsroom.com.

Courtesy: Toyota