For fans of aftermarket tunes, mods and tweaks, be they mild or wild, to factory-stock vehicles, each major car-producing continent offers an annual blowout show that showcases the newest and, some times, most outrageous offerings by carmakers and aftermarket firms alike. In the Americas, it’s the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers’ Associaton) Show held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada here in the U.S. in early November, and is the show that generally garners the most ink, bytes and attention. Conversely, flying under most radars is Germany’s Essen Motor Show, which is held roughly a month after SEMA. Falling somewhere between the two in prominence, and held each year around mid-January, is the Tokyo Auto Salon, Asia’s entry in the major aftermarket/tuner show derby.
And yet, with a couple of notable exceptions, U.S. automotive media, by and large, ignored the TAS. Autoblog merely reproduced an official Toyota press release or two. Looking for Car and Driver, Road & Track, Automobile and AutoWeek coverage? Don’t bother. You won’t find it. The websites for the major tuner magazines, such as Super Street and Modified? Ditto (at this point, anyway). Us? Sorry, but this little start-up sideline hobby blog is quite far from being able to pay our way to Tokyo, much as we’d love to. Thus, the best we can do is offer our admiration and mad props to a couple of publications that did make the extra effort to cover the goings-on at the Tokyo Auto Salon: Motor Trend, who sent their ever-active Asia correspondent Peter Lyon (Lyon’s reporting, you may recall, is the foundation for a trio of Kaizen Factor stories); and, most especially, AutoGuide, who sent the seemingly tireless Colum Wood to Tokyo and, in the process, elevated the Canadian site’s stature by several notches. (Full Disclosure: This author is also the Editor or Co-Editor for a trio of AutoGuide-owned Autoforums sites: my.IS, LexusFforum.com and CT200hForum.com)
In his write-up for Motor Trend magazine, Peter Lyon informs us that the Tokyo Auto Salon has actually become larger than the more traditional and general-interest biennial Tokyo Motor Show, with TAS handily filling all three cavernous halls of the Makuhari Messe, a feat the 2009 TMS was unable to duplicate. Unlike the SEMA Show, Tokyo Auto Salon is open to the general public and, as such, ranks as the world’s largest public customized car exhibition of its kind. And, for the 2011 edition, Toyota was, by far, the largest exhibitor, with 17 official vehicles (5 of them Lexus-badged), a figure that excludes independent, vendor or aftermarket-stand vehicles. This article covers half of the Toyota-branded dozen, with the upcoming Part 2 covering the other six.
Toyota Sports EV-Twin (by Toyota Technical College, Tokyo)
An epic past/future mashup of Back to the Future or Janusesque proportions, the Toyota Sports EV-Twin was assembled by a team from Toyota Technical College in Tokyo. From what we can surmise from a Google translation of the TTCT Japanese-language website, this is a Toyota-owned technical college offering studies in service technician (or service engineer, as the site calls them) positions, including body shop/crash repair and hybrid and electric vehicle powertrain disciplines. The latter group certainly played an integral part in putting together the Sports EV-Twin, as its middle initials so strongly imply, as did a group of Toyota Technical College gradute students, who worked on the project for over a year.
In essence, as Ben of the excellent Japanese Nostalgic Car magazine and website informs us, the folks from TTCT took a circa 1965 Sports 800, Toyota’s first-ever two seat sports car and removed its standard “flat-twin” (two horizontally-opposed cylinders) 790cc 2U engine, replacing it with a pair of electric motors driving the rear wheels via lithium-ion batteries and a four-speed transmission (a manual in an electric car? For real?) The lightweight (700kg, or 1543lbs) Sports EV-Twin has a top speed of 160kph (100mph) and a driving range of 100 kilometers (62 miles) on one charge. You gotta love, though, how the underhood layout echoes and pays homage to its original horizontally-opposed two-cylinder configuration, as shown in the AutoGuide photo above.
Ben of Japanese Nostalgic Car also goes on to remind us that this is hardly the first alternative-power Toyota Sports 800, for a red example became the basis for the Toyota Sports 800 GT Hybrid. The GT in this instance, though, does not stand for Gran Turismo, but for Gas Turbine. Indeed, this was Toyota’s first-ever hybrid concept vehicle, although historians are hazy whether it was at the 1977 or 1979 Tokyo Motor Show that it made its debut. Its series hybrid powertrain consisted of a 30 hp gas turbine with series powering an electric generator, which in turn charged the hybrid’s batteries and powered an electric motor that turned the driveshaft of a 2 speed gearbox. While a far cry from current Toyota and Lexus hybrid powertrains, its use of a gas turbine in a hybrid foreshadowed by a good 3 decades Jaguar’s 2010 Paris Auto Show-stealing C-X75 concept.
The Toyota Technical College Tokyo website also notes that the Sports EV-Twin was awarded the ECO Award for Excellence over 40 other vehicles.
TES Concept T-Sports (by Toyota Engineering Society)
The history of Toyota 2-seaters has certainly proceeded in fits and starts. The aforementioned Sports 800 was only built from 1965 to 1969, and its 2000GT big brother saw an even briefer 1967-1970 lifespan. The longest-lived Toyota 2-seater is the MR2 line, built in 3 distinct generations from 1984 to 2007. But what, for the sake of argument, would a spiritual successor to that original Sports 800 be like? The TES Concept T-Sports may well be a viable answer.
About a couple of years ago, the late, great Hiromu Naruse asked young Toyota engineers what kind of car they really wanted to drive. Of course, more than a hundred ideas cropped up, but the overriding theme was for a 1,500,000 yen (about $18,265 at today’s exchange rate) FR (front engine, rear-wheel-drive) sports car that channeled the spirit of the KP-61 Toyota Starlet. Naruse-san’s merry band of engineers set out to raid the Toyota parts bin, and the result was the Gazoo Racing FR Hot Hatch Concept, which debuted at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon. Around that point, the Toyota Engineering Society (a 30,000 member-strong voluntary organization created back in 1947 for Toyota engineers to enhance the technical skills and talents of its members and to promote camaraderie) posed Naruse-san’s question to its members, and received a similar answer: an affordable sports car. This time, though, the focus was on creating a true rear-wheel-drive two-seat sports car.
The FR Hot Hatch and TES Concept T-Sports parallels continue under the skin, given that both share underpinnings from the small rear-wheel-drive-centric Daihatsu Be‣go/Terios/Toyota Rush SUV (front suspension) and Toyota Altezza/1st-generation Lexus IS (rear suspension), but, beyond this, the two small front engine/rear wheel drive concepts part ways significantly.
While hardcore Toyota fans will pick up on the “T” front grille insert that pays homage to both the Toyota 2000GT and the original Mk I Celica Supra, many Internet pundits look at the front end styling and think Star Wars Imperial Stormtrooper helmet. The Lexus IS-Fesque vertical front fender side vents and ample sheetmetal expanse in front of the doors reaffirm that this is a front-engined (or front-mid-engined) car. Speaking of doors and mid(dles), the entire cabin (save for the addition of Recaro racing seats with 5-point harness belts), both inside and out, plus the taillights are sourced from the Daihatsu Copen a kei-segment retractable-hardtop convertible that, in its original form, this author would describe as the offspring of a night of wild drunken debauchery between an Audi TT Roadster and a Lexus SC 430, that was then zapped by the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids electromagnetic shrink ray. As to the centrally-mounted, stacked dual exhaust, it can be construed as an offbeat Lexus LFA or IS F homage.
The engine, too, is sourced from export versions of the Daihatsu Copen as well as a handful of Japanese Domestic Market Daihatsus and Toyotas: the K3-VE 1.3-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine. Available in various states of tune, the TES Concept T-Sports uses the most powerful naturally-aspirated 108 bhp (81 kW; 109 PS) variant as used in the Rally versions of the 1998-2004 Daihatsu Storia and Toyota Duet. Pity they didn’t go whole-hog and use the rare K3-VET 138 hp turbo version.
Contrary to Motor Trend‘s Peter Lyon’s claim, the TES Concept T-Sports does not “sit on an MR-S (Toyota MR2 Spyder) platform”. The Concept T-Sports sits on a 98.4″ (2500mm) wheelbase that is almost 2″ (51mm) longer than the MR2’s, yet is 3″ (76mm) shorter, 1.7″ (44mm) narrower and almost 4″ (80mm) taller than the MR2. As to curb weight, the TES Concept T-Sports’ target weight of 1985 lbs (900 kg) undercuts the MR2 Spyder’s by 210 lbs (96 kg). Yet, the number crunchers among you will quickly realize that a stock MR2 Spyder has a more favorable power-to-weight ratio than the TES Concept T-Sports, and the latter’s Frankensteinish looks and proportions are nothing to write home about, but all the criticism would be missing the point. Ultimately, the TES Concept T-Sports is a shoestring project done on the cheap by a group of enthusiastic Toyota engineers past and present in their unpaid spare time that exemplifies both imaginative use of Toyota’s deep parts bin and proves that the enthusiastic Toyota that once designed the 2000GT, Supras, AE86 Corollas, Celica All-Trac and MR2s isn’t dead, but merely dormant.
Toyota GRMN iQ Racing Concept (by GAZOO Racing tuned by MN)
A little help deciphering the alphabet soup above might be in order. GR stands for GAZOO Racing, by far the most compelling and hardcore enthusiast-oriented of Toyota’s multiple GAZOO sites. Toyota describes it as “A project of the GAZOO.com website that involves a team of test drivers (led by TMC’s master test driver Hiromu Naruse) who participate in races, develop automobiles, and support motorsports activities”. As to GAZOO.com itself, it is a Japanese e-commerce marketplace (also described as a “customer-participation car portal”) founded by Akio Toyoda and Shigeki Tomoyama back in 1998 devoted primarily but not exclusively to Toyota and its affiliates and divisions. A May 2000 BusinessWeek cover story titled Toyota Unbound, though dated in many regards, is still an informative read explaining GAZOO’s original mission statement. The portal contains links to numerous affiliated sites such as the Edmunds.com or Kelley Blue Book-like U-Car, the seemingly travel driving-oriented Gazoo Mura, the car video streams of Gazoo TV and the virtual online gaming community of the Gazoo Metapolis cityscape.
What about the MN? The above subtitle’s tuned by implies a who, and there are two schools of thought about who the who is. Most pundits believe that MN stands for Master (of the) Nürburgring, a reference to the late legendary Toyota Master Test Driver Hiromu Naruse, while Paul Horrell of Top Gear instead claims that MN stands for Morizo Naruse. Morizo is actually the name of Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda’s pet dog (itself named after a green shrub that was a mascot of Japan’s 2005 World Expo in Aichi Prefecture, where Toyota is based). More significantly, though, Morizo is Akio Toyoda’s screen name on GAZOO.com and the pseudonym under which he drove the Lexus LFA in the 2009 24 Hours of the Nürburgring race. Paul Horrell wryly notes that the Morizo alter-ego also allows Toyoda to be “free to be rude about Toyota’s duller cars on the Gazoo blog”.
The iQ, naturally, is Toyota’s smallest self-branded vehicle. Publicly introduced as a concept at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show and followed in March 2008 by its production version at the Geneva Auto Show, it went on sale in Japan in October of that year and launched in Europe in early 2009. As to North America, the car that Scion vice president Jack Hollis so aptly described as “smarter” and minier” will finally be available this coming summer. The iQ has been a particular favorite of the GAZOO Racing folks, as they have created no less than four separate projects off the 3+1 micro-mite, each progressively upping the performance ante.
What Toyota refers to as the iQ GAZOO version started out as a bone-stock iQ 100G model powered by the 3-cylinder, 1-liter, 67 hp 1KR-FE engine and Super CVT-i automatic continuously variable transmission. The modification and design process began in early October 2008, followed by mid-month testing of its suspension mods and Modellista body kit fitment. Yet, even as the build was barely under way, the marketing machine was turned on as the iQ GAZOO appeared on the Toyota Metapolis website. To cap off October 2008’s activities, the exterior graphics were applied. A homage to the earlier Altezza RS200 racer that competed in the 2007 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, the seemingly random brushstrokes follow a dice-like motif. The interior, meanwhile, received Recaro seats with a 4-point harness. After a mid-November shakedown drive, the GAZOO iQ made its first public appearance on 23 November 2008 at the Toyota Motor Sports Festival at Fuji Speedway. In the interim, numerous tweaks, such as revised graphics and different multi-spoke wheels were applied before its appearance at the 2009 Tokyo Auto Salon. After a European showing at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring race in May 2009 came the much-anticipated announcement of a limited production version.
The production iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN went on sale in Japan only on 20 August 2009, and its entire limited run of 100 cars sold out within a week. Fortunately, something of a power upgrade was made possible by the introduction of the iQ 130G, powered by the 4-cylinder, 1.3-liter, 97 hp 1NR-FE engine. As befits a sporting enthusiast model, the CVT transmission was ditched in favor of the Europe-only 6-speed manual transmission, stiffer sport suspension that lowers its ride height by 30mm (1.2″), rear disc brakes, RAYS 16×5.5-in aluminum wheels on 175/60R16 tires, enhanced brakes, a stiffening brace, tachometer, aluminium pedals, a rear spoiler and a sport exhaust system.
Never ones to leave well enough alone, the enthusiasts at GAZOO Racing longed for an even more sporting version of the little iQ. As Hiromu Naruse reflected on the iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN, “The only thing that wasn’t perfect is that some of the people commented that the car would be even more enjoyable if it has just a little bit more power. Others commented that it has just the right amount of power — it was kind of fifty-fifty. Based on that, we determined that a higher-power version could also be a good idea. That is why we decided to build this special concept.” And this special concept turned out to be the iQ+Supercharger Concept, which debuted at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon. Its spec sheet coyly suggested a 20% increase in both horsepower and torque over the stock 1.3-liter 1NR-FE four, implying 116 hp (vs 97 hp naturally aspirated) and 109 lb/ft of torque (vs 91 lb/ft of torque naturally aspirated). Further modifications over the production iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN include larger 17″ wheels, sports seats and “original aero parts and underfloor covers”. The supercharger and larger wheels and tires added a scant 30kg (66 lbs) to the naturally-aspirated model’s 950kg (2090 lb) curb weight.
This brings us to the fourth and latest tuned iQ you see here that debuted at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Salon. It is, in essence, a more extreme take on last year’s iQ+Supercharger Concept, bedecked with a much larger adjustable rear roof spoiler, flared fenders, 17″ BBS wheels, roll cage, racing seats with harnesses and a central gauge pod with boost pressure, engine oil temperature and water temperature gauges. A Google-translated spec sheet reveals 124 hp and 130 lb/ft of torque. Alas, no word on where curb weight now stands.
Toyota Prius G Sports Concept (by G Sports)
Last year’s Tokyo Auto Salon probably produced more memorable and significant Toyota vehicles than this year’s iteration (in this author’s humble opinion the MR2 Spyder-derived GRMN Sports Hybrid Concept, GRMN FR Hot hatch Concept, FT-86 G Sports Concept and Mark X G Sports Concept, in particular, were more interesting and compelling than anything from this year’s show), and the latter two were part of a significant new initiative: the launch of Toyota’s new G Sports (or, more succinctly) G’s line. Wikipedia informs us that “G Sports is a range of enhancements to some cars manufactured by Toyota. The enhancements include body kits, interiors, wheels, suspension and drive-line components”. Toyota’s official press release goes into more detail, but leaves unanswered the question of how G Sports and the older Modellista and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) groups compliment or overlap with each other. A number of pundits, such as Edmunds Inside Line‘s Ed Hellwig, Car and Driver‘s Mike Sutton and Super Street‘s Evan Griffey grappled with that question and reach a consensus of sorts that Modellista would focus more on cosmetics and body kits, TRD on all-out performance mods and G’s would focus more on suspension and interior upgrades. Yet, as it currently stands, there is much overlap between them, especially between Modellista and G’s. Call their differentiation or “nicheification”, then, a work in progress.
As to the significance of the letter G itself, get your minds out of the gutter, for it has nothing to do with G-strings or G-Spots. Rather, it is a nod to the glorious sports Toyotas of the past such as the 2000GT and Celica GT-FOUR.
Among the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon G Sports Concepts is the horrific fender-skirted Prius you see at right, looking more like an engineering university’s contender for a maximum fuel-economy prize than a sporty tuner car. Fortunately, its 2011 counterpart is far more mainstream normal-looking. The 2011 modifications are of a largely cosmetic nature but include a new front bumper, 18″ wheels and performance tires, a modest 15mm suspension drop, chassis brace, sport seats and G’s “ribbon” graphics.
Toyota Vitz G Sports Concept (by G Sports)
The just-released in Japan 3rd-generation Toyota Vitz (the JDM version of the Yaris) is a quick beneficiary of the Gs treatment. The new front bumper sans upper grille with triangular small grilles growing from the LED-adorned headlights certainly changes the car’s look quite a bit, giving it an aggressive hawklike visage that, in an odd roundabout way, brings to mind its Tercel predecessor (Tercel being the British English word for a male falcon). Other modifications echo the G’s Prius above, such as larger wheels and performance tires (17″ in this case), a modest 15mm suspension drop, sport brake pads, chassis brace and G’s “ribbon” graphics. The rear gets more attention, with an aggressive race-inspired rear diffuser and a subtle spoiler over the rear hatch, while the interior décor includes leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter boot with contrasting red stitching and carbon fiber and piano black accents throughout.
Toyota Noah G Sports (by G Sports)
Notice that, unlike the Prius and Vitz, the third G Sports vehicle, the Noah minivan you see above, does not have a “concept” suffix to its name. As such, it is among the first if not the first G Sports model to enter production. For us in North America, the notion of a sporting, enthusiast-oriented minivan is, generally, an odd one, bordering on oxymoronic. The late 20th century saw sporadic and lame efforts such as Sport and ES versions of the Dodge Caravan, a handful powered by turbo 4-cylinder engines; a couple of Dodge Caravan R/T concepts that never went anywhere; supercharged Toyota Previa S/Cs; and Pontiac’s Trans Sport SE version of GM’s “Dustbuster” minivan as alternate take on the “Cadillac of minivans” Olds Silhouette. As we entered the new millennium, attempts at sporty minivans completely died, only to be brought back to life by the game-changing Toyota Sienna SE “Swagger Wagon” and, finally a proper rival in the just-launched Dodge Grand Caravan R/T “Man Van”. Yet, in Japan, the notion of sporty vans is old news, and they are a genre as quintessentially Japanese as “bippu” VIP luxury sedans and cars running insane amounts of camber.
As with the 2011 Toyota Prius G Sports, the current Noah G Sports was foretold by a 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon concept predecessor. Or two. Yes, last year Toyota and G’s showed concepts of both the Noah itself and its alternate badge-engineered fraternal twin, the Voxy. The production Toyota Noah G Sports rides on 18″ wheels shod in 215/45R18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tires over brakes with “sport pads” and lowering springs good for a 30mm (almost 1¼”) drop. A well-integrated body kit includes a neat row of LEDs in the lower grille’s brushed metal upper bar and a rear bumper diffuser. The interior includes leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob with contrasting red stitching and piano black accents throughout. The exterior is available in white, black, silver and gray, with black and red-bordered lower striping recalling that of the limited-edition iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN.
Don’t expect much get-up-and-go, though, given that this 3564 lb. minivan is propelled by the stock (save for the addition of a dual exhaust system) 3ZR-FAE 2-liter, 4-cylinder direct injection engine, producing 154 hp at 6200 rpm through a Super CVT-i transmission.