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.

Coming to Geneva: Toyota’s FT-Bh concept and more…

Just as the 2012 Chicago Auto Show (whose Toyota-centic highlights were the U.S. debut of the facelifted Land Cruiser that is becoming ever more redundant versus the Lexus LX 570; pricing for the new Prius c; plans to bring all Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid production to Princeton, Indiana in time for the expected 3rd-generation’s late 2013 debut; a speech by Toyota Motor North America President & COO Yoshi Inaba; and a Monopoly board game-inspired Hybrid Ride Experience) opens to the public, Toyota and Lexus’ European arms are looking forward to the next major stop on the international auto show calendar: Geneva.

The centerpiece (and, to date, only unexpected surprise) of the show for the Toyota brand revolves around the enigmatic sketch you see at the top of the story: a teaser for the FT-Bh concept. This author, quite frankly, is still grappling with the disconnect between the long, sleek lines of the teaser sketch that recall the recent NS4 and FCV-R concepts (pictured at upper right and lower right, respectively) that will make their European debuts at Geneva and a Toyota Europe press release that describes FT-Bh as

demonstrating a total vehicle approach to reducing emissions for an affordable compact city car (and) is an ultra-lightweight, full hybrid vehicle study, designed to achieve low emissions within an economically viable production framework. The techniques and thought processes demonstrated in the concept avoid the use of exotic and expensive materials or complex procedures, using only those already commonplace in the automotive industry.

The “B” in the concept car’s name suggests a B-segment (think Toyota Yaris) vehicle, while AutoGuide‘s Colum Wood notes that the “compact city car” description might make it even smaller, say, Toyota/Scion iQ size. FT-Bh’s avoidance of exotic and expensive materials in favor of the commonplace implies a realistic, rather than pie-in-the-sky concept, oddball sketch notwithstanding.

Speaking of Yaris, the second Toyota world debut at Geneva 2012 besides the FT-Bh concept is the Yaris Hybrid shown at left. The European market’s counterpart to Japan’s Toyota Aqua and North America’s Prius c combines the slightly shorter 4-door 3rd-generation Yaris body with Aqua/Prius c‘s powertrain (a reworked version of the 2nd-gen Prius’ 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter 4 cylinder engine) and space saving (and center of gravity-lowering) batteries and gas tank that reside under the rear seat. Combating the strong yen/weak euro exchange rate that is slaughtering Toyota’s profits, the Yaris Hybrid (or Yaris HSD) will be built alongside its non-hybrid sibling in Valenciennes, France with hybrid components brought in from Deeside, Wales in the United Kingdom.

Completing Toyota’s European debuts are the enigmatic Fun-Vii from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show now renamed Toyota diji, and the highly acclaimed GT 86 sports coupe going on sale in Europe this summer. The Toyota press conference will be held on Tuesday 6 March at 10:15 AM Central European Time (which works out to 4:15 AM Eastern Time / 1:15 AM Pacific Time).

…and what about Lexus?
Judging by Lexus Europe’s media site, the 2012 Geneva Motor Show appears to be almost as quiet as Chicago for Toyota’s luxury marque. There’s the European debut of the LF-LC concept, and a reminder that the newest GS 450h which already had its world and European debut at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show in September goes on sale this summer. Yet, the press release also mentions an “Expanded F SPORT Model Range” including two new vehicles to be launched in 2012. In our recent Informed Speculation: the 19 new Toyota, Lexus and Scion models to launch during 2012 article, we noted Lexus USA comments of three new F Sport models, with GS being the first. Might this be a hint that a facelifted 3rd-gen RX and RX Hybrid, including a much-rumored new F Sport variant will be unveiled in Geneva? We’ll know for sure right after the Toyota press conference, when Lexus Europe Vice President Andy Pfeiffenberger ends the suspense and speculation at 10:30 AM Central European Time / 4:30 AM Eastern Time / 1:30 AM Pacific Time.

Toyota Prius c / Aqua illustration and info leaks from Japan

In the Internet age of automotive journalism, it has become something of a cottage industry to scan and post press brochures and internal training and information material ahead of their official release. This author certainly recalls the pivotal role played by World Car Fans in leaking the Lexus CT 200h press brochure a week ahead of the car’s 2 March 2010 world debut at the Geneva Auto Show. Now Carscoop has similarly obtained, via tipster i-Ryuji, 33 pages’ worth of scans of what appears to be illustrations and specifications of Toyota’s upcoming Aqua a.k.a Prius c, some of which also appear in this article.

Curiously, none of the otherwise detailed illustrations nor any of the Japanese text show any sort of badge or model name for this clearly hybrid Toyota, but there’s a 90+% likelihood that it’s Prius c / Aqua we’re looking at. Accurately described by Sebastián Blanco of AutoblogGreen as looking like a Toyota Prius / Nissan Leaf mashup with the barest hint of the original Prius c concept, the newest Toyota hybrid is attractive enough for a B-segment 5-door hatchback (except for the overwrought taillights), if lacking the absolute aero hybrid look of its big brother Prius.

Among the more intriguing bits to emerge is the trio of trim levels (G, S and L, from most basic to best-appointed) for the Japanese domestic market and a selection of exterior colors that includes new shades of white (082), red-orange (4V7), and a light aqua bearing either the 3V7 or 8V7 color code, plus the 2009-10 Yaris sedan’s 8T7 Blue Streak Metallic and the eye-popping 5A3 High Voltage yellow from the current Scion tC Release Series 7.0 (are you listening, ToyotaReference?)

Yet another image reveals specifications that include a 2550mm (100.4″) wheelbase that matches the outgoing Toyota Yaris sedan’s (as opposed to the 3rd-gen Yaris hatchback’s 2510 mm/98.8″), a 3995mm (157.3″) overall length, 1695mm (66.7″) width and 1,445mm (56.9″) height. Mention of a 1496cc 4-cylinder engine could be a tacit confirmation of this author’s earlier prediction that Prius c / Aqua would use the 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter 4-cylinder powertrain from the 2nd-generation Toyota Prius, itself a hybridized version of the 1NZ-FE engine used on all past and current Toyota Yaris models sold in North America. Unless, of course, Toyota’s North America operations decide on a zippier Prius c powered by the current larger Prii / Lexus CT 200h’s 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE powertrain.

As to the Prius c / Aqua’s debut, Carscoop is predicting a world debut at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show this coming December (where it threatens to get lost amidst the expected FR-S / BRZ hoopla) an on-sale date of January 2012 and a North American debut in Detroit (a possible world debut for the Prius c-badged version) that same month. In an unexpected 180-degree turn from their January 2011 prediction, Autocar now believes that Prius c stands a chance of being sold in Europe alongside the expected Yaris HSD, and predicts a European debut at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show in March. Curious, given the potential for cannibalization from the cheaper (yet, probably, more profitable in Europe) hybrid Yaris.

The full Carscoop gallery includes more goodies such as interior shots, alternate wheel styles and even a couple of accessory body kits (perhaps to be sold as Modellista, TRD or G Sports items in Japan, and as a Prius PLUS body kit in North America)

Toyota Europe production to return to normal in June

Toyota’s Global and USA Newsrooms recently informed us that post-earthquake Toyota and Lexus production boosts in Japan and North America would happen sooner than expected, starting in June instead of July and August as earlier predicted. But what about Europe? Fortunately, news from there is even better, as a press release from the Toyota Motor Europe Corporate Site informs us that production there will return to 100% normal, pre-earthquake levels in June. To be more precise:

The plants returning to 100% production volume on June 1 are Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK (TMUK, producing Avensis, Auris and Auris HSD in Burnaston, Derbyshire and engines in Deeside, Flintshire), Toyota Motor Manufacturing Turkey (TMMT, producing Auris and Verso), and Toyota Motor Industries Poland (TMIP, producing engines). Toyota Motor Manufacturing France (TMMF, producing Yaris) had previously announced a return to normal from May 16. TME had temporarily adjusted production volume in late April and May.

On reporting this welcome bit of news, Toyota Motor Europe’s President and CEO Didier Leroy had this to say:

“This is great news for our customers and for our team members. I want to thank our suppliers for working hard to resolve the supply issues caused by the earthquake and our customers for their patience and understanding.

Even though this catastrophe has had a significant impact on Japan’s economy and Toyota’s operations, we are strongly committed to overcome it. In Europe, our product offering is excellent and market demand is strong – we intend to do all we can to catch up and increase our sales from last year. I believe that fighting to increase sales, profit and market share is the best way to support Japan as it recovers from this dramatic event.”

Indeed, Toyota’s European operations in 2011 still aim to exceed the Toyota and Lexus brands’ combined sales there of 808,311 vehicles during 2010. Of those, roughly 460,000 were built in Europe, as Japan’s Nikkei via The Truth About Cars remind us. They note, however, that European production slowdowns during April and May cost the carmaker some 40,000 vehicles for this year.

With the Toyota brand’s first scheduled launch for the 2011 calendar year, the Prius Alpha already delayed (and rumors circulating of delays for its North American Prius v counterpart as well), we can’t help but wonder if the European debut of the 3rd-generation of the Yaris might be postponed as well. The surprisingly quick return of full European production, however, is a welcome sign that its debut (likely at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show press conferences on Tuesday 13 September or Wednesday 14 September) will go on as scheduled.

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