Bob Carter’s baffling riddle (or, the mystery of the 19th new Toyota for 2012)

Coinciding with the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, trade publication Automotive News held its annual World Congress of car industry executives. Among the events on 10 January 2012 was Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.’s Group Vice President and Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter’s speech, which was already amply dissected and discussed in our previous Kaizen Factor story. One particular passage of his speech, however, particularly stood out, equal parts baffling riddle and informative teaser that broadly hinted at a new and possibly unexpected Toyota hybrid. Given its expansive nature and need for more in-depth analysis, we felt that the 19th new Toyota product coming in 2012 deserved its own separate article and discussion.

Without further ado, here’s the teaser in question:

Then, later this year we’ll introduce a hybrid that has more room than a BMW X5…is faster than a VW TDi…has higher MPG than a Fiat 500…and lavish features rarely found in near-luxury vehicles…yet comes with the price and value of a Toyota.

I can’t provide any details today…but it’s coming and it WILL make waves.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

More room than a BMW X5
Finding out what the current BMW X5’s interior volume is should be a simple, straightforward matter, right? Wrong! A visit to the BMW USA site’s X5 Specifications page reveals a lack of interior volume information (or, for that matter, no legroom figures, a common BMW and MINI omission). What about the BMW USA News site? Their X5 page includes a link to a Specifications PDF document that, while more informative than the BMW USA consumer site, still fails to mention the EPA interior volume figures that the government uses to determine a vehicle’s size class. Well, then, how about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Fuel Economy Guides? Not there, either, and most if not all crossover and SUV interior volume information is absent.

A Google search, however, reveals a consensus from Car and Driver, Vehix and cars.com that the number in question is 102.4 cubic feet of interior volume. Of the trio of largish Toyota models currently lacking a hybrid variant, the current Avalon’s EPA-rated 107 cubic feet and the Venza’s 108 cubic feet both handily beat the X5 bogey. And the Sienna? C’mon, that’s a minivan… As to the RAV4, a fourth possibility, its current 108.2 cubic feet also qualify, but, as we recently noted, Toyota may well be inclined to distance the next RAV4 from the Highlander and make it a more compact, more direct Honda CR-V rival just like it was back in the day.

Faster than a VW TDi
The question here is, which Volkswagen TDi turbodiesel vehicle is Toyota using as its performance target? The smaller of the two TDi turbodiesels VW offers in the U.S. is the 2-liter, 4-cylinder, 140 hp and 236 lb/ft of torque mill available in the Golf, Jetta and Passat models, while the larger Touareg SUV offers a 3-liter V6 producing 225 hp and a crushing 406 lb/ft of torque. Although the official Volkswagen USA website and their US Media Newsroom both fail to offer 0-60 mph acceleration times for the new Passat TDI, it does offer figures from the other models, ranging from 7.9 seconds for the Touareg TDI to 8.6 seconds for the Golf TDI to 9.1 seconds for the Jetta TDI. One would assume that Toyota is going for the easiest, lamest target of 0-60 mph in 9.1 seconds, but the new 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 200 hp 2AR-FXE hybrid powertrain, as outfitted to the 2012 7th-generation Toyota Camry Hybrid sprints from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds, thus outpacing VW’s V6 turbodiesel!

Higher MPG than a Fiat 500
Again, a multitude of numbers are at stake. The least economical Fiat 500 is the automatic 500 Cabrio with its sardine can-like roll-back mega sunroof. This model is EPA rated at 27 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 29 mpg combined. The regular, steel-roof 500 automatic does a smidge better, at 27 mpg city / 34 mpg highway / 30 mpg combined. Just as Toyota outpaced the fastest VW turbodiesel, let’s assume that it will also outdo the most economical Fiat 500, the 6-speed hardtop manual, with 30 mpg city / 38 mpg highway / 33 mpg combined. Again, the new-for-2012 Camry Hybrid powertrain pulls through, with EPA ratings of 43 mpg city / 39 mpg highway / 41 mpg combined ratings for the lighter, less equipped LE version and 40 mpg city / 38 mpg highway / 40 mpg combined for the heavier, more upscale XLE trim level that would more closely approximate this new hybrid, given all the talk of “lavish features rarely found in near-luxury vehicles”. Given this clue, and after viewing the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 450h’s fuel economy figures that are hard-pressed to exceed 30 mpg, we can safely rule out any possibility that this new hybrid will be powered by the 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6.

A Toyota Avalon Hybrid?…
It is notable that all the pundits that have played this guessing game, from Christie Schweinsberg of WardsAuto to Andy Boxall of Digital Trends to Ben Timmins of Motor Trend to Alan Oshman of Bloomberg BusinessWeek are unanimous in their belief that Bob Carter was hinting at a Toyota Avalon Hybrid. Are they right?

…or something else?
Other theoretical possibilities, as mentioned earlier, are hybrid versions of Toyota’s RAV4, Venza or Sienna. In fact, this author suggested the latter possibility in a November 2010 story. Yet, even back then, the suggestion of a Toyota Sienna Hybrid was described as “the iffiest long-shot”, and tempered by the suggestion that other large Camry-based offshoots such as Toyota Avalon and Venza may, instead be the beneficiaries of hybridization. Thus, after reviewing the evidence, this pundit concurs with his colleagues in predicting a Toyota Avalon Hybrid.

It WILL make waves
This may be a final throwaway clue of sorts, given that Avalon is a mythical island in Camelot / King Arthur lore. And islands are surrounded by wave-making water, right?

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2 thoughts on “Bob Carter’s baffling riddle (or, the mystery of the 19th new Toyota for 2012)

  1. As far as I’m concerned, the riddle hasn’t been answered yet.

    Just because Lexus chose to debut the new ES 300h alongside the 6th-generation ES 350, as opposed to Toyota revealing only the non-hybrid Avalon at the New York Auto Show doesn’t automatically mean that Toyota won’t reveal an Avalon Hybrid later. In fact, with Lexus ES now an Avalon derivative as opposed to a Camry derivative as it was for the 5 previous generations, I’m more convinced than ever that an Avalon Hybrid will be revealed no later than at this fall’s Los Angeles Auto Show’s press days (November 28 and 29).

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