The PlayStation Gran Turismo 6 Lexus, Subaru and Toyota vision concepts

GT6 Toyota

Back in 1992, Kazunori Yamauchi, along with a group of 7 other individuals, set out to develop the original Gran Turismo racing video game for the Polyphony Digital subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment. Five years later, the initial game, for the original PlayStation game console finally went on sale to favorable reviews and an adoring public.

As part of the 15th Anniversary celebration of that late-1997 original release, Yamauchi-san issued an Olympian challenge to the world’s carmakers with a single question: “Would you be willing to design your rendition of Gran Turismo for us?” The videogame’s name “Gran Turismo” (GT) refers to a 2-door sport car, known as a Grand Touring car in the English-speaking automotive world. As the official Gran Turismo 6 Vision GT page reveals, 23 car brands, 3 Italian carrozzeria (Bertone, Italdesign Giugiaro and Zagato) and even 2 sporting apparel brands (Jordan and Nike) answered the call.

Mercedes-Benz has taken it one step further and, on Wednesday 20 November 2013 at the Los Angeles Auto Show press conferences, unveiled the actual, physical Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo Concept, albeit as a 1:1-scale model with no powertrain. (In the game the 3053-lb mid-front engined coupe is powered by a 577 horsepower, twin-turbocharged V8 producing 590 lb/ft of torque).

That Mercedes is hardly expected to be the only GT6 concept to make the jump from virtual presence on a video screen to physical, palpable reality, for the rumor mill suggests that the second will be from no less than…

TOYOTA
Two weeks after the Mercedes Vision GT6 concept reveal, new Vision GT renderings from a number of carmakers, including Toyota and Subaru, were first brought to our attention via Autoblog. Toyota’s rendering, shown at the top of the story, has a silhouette that seems to foretell a much-rumored Mark V Supra. Fanning the flames of the rumormill is no less than Joe Clifford of the official Toyota United Kingdom blog, who, on Thursday 12 December 2013 wrote that

This is the only image available at the moment but any talk of Toyota and new sports cars always leads to speculation on the introduction of a spiritual successor to the Supra.

We never comment on speculation but it’s clear that there are familiar proportions in the shape of the silhouette…

Yours truly’s gut feeling and suspicion is that the Toyota press conference at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show (to be held on Monday 13 January 2014 at 8:50 AM Eastern time) will reveal a Toyota Supra Vision Gran Turismo Concept of some sort.

GT6 Subaru

SUBARU
The closest thing to a Gran Turismo coupe that Subaru has ever built for production is the Thunderbirdesque, Giugiaro-designed SVX. The Vision GT Subaru shown above, however, recalls a far more recent concept from the carmaker: the Cross Sport Design Concept that debuted at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. The bare-bones teaser blurb Subaru released 3 weeks before its unveiling hardly hinted at this cladding-bedecked BRZ shooting brake that, for this author, was probably the biggest unexpected surprise of the show. The second attempt (after the FT-86 Open concept) at expanding the BRZ / GT 86 / FR-S body style repertoire beyond the production coupe has seemingly been made sleeker and, thankfully, lost the side cladding and pseudo-SUV soft-roader styling cues from the Cross Sport Design Concept. Or are we, possibly, seeing some hints around the nose at what a mid-life facelift or even next-gen model of the Toyobaru coupe might look like?

GT6 Lexus

LEXUS
Although the big Wednesday 4 December 2013 reveal unveiled the bulk of the Vision GT teaser renderings from the participating brands, a number of them remained unseen at that point. Among them: Lexus’, which quietly appeared later in December and is shown above. A number of its design elements, such as the triangular layout of the 3-dot headlights, the roofline and the particular shade of red recall the much-praised LF-LC Concept, albeit in a super-wide-body rear quarter variant with cartoonishly large rear tires. Are exaggeratedly wide rear fenders becoming a new Lexus concept car fetish?

…and Daihatsu, too
Among the 7 Vision GT teaser renderings that, as of this writing, remain unseen is Daihatsu’s. Frankly, we can’t help but wonder what this not particularly enthusiast-oriented small car and SUV specialist – majority-owned by Toyota – is doing here. Their only loosely GT-ish model is the Copen retractable-hardtop 2-seat roadster kei microcar that went out of production last year. The colorful trio of Kopen concepts the carmaker unveiled at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show should probably provide the basis or inspiration for Daihatsu’s baby GT.

Advertisements

Subaru BRZ Turbo rumors resurface… in vain

Earlier this week, a story by J.P. Vettraino of Automotive News announcing a rumored Subaru BRZ Turbo for the 2014 model year made quite a few waves (and led to much commentary and copy-and-paste reposts) throughout the Internet. All the buzz, in fact, even made our May 2012 story on the Subaru FA20 turbo engine our most popular story of the week by a significant margin.

For this author, the most eyebrow-raising aspect of the story is the reported 280 hp and 250-plus pounds-feet of torque for the BRZ Turbo, versus the 296 hp and 295 lb/ft of torque output of the first production application of the FA20 Turbo in the Japanese domestic market’s 2013 Subaru Legacy 2.0GT DIT. Why the drop in power? Myriad possibilities emerge, from that lower output being the most the chassis can handle without upsetting the BRZ’s meticulously tuned handling balance to Japan’s less stringent vehicle emissions standards to U.S. market engines being tuned for California’s 91 octane premium fuel, as opposed to the 93 octane elsewhere in the U.S. (not to mention slightly higher octane premium gas available outside the U.S., including in Japan).

Then we have the transmission issue. In our February 2012 analysis of the Aisin AZ6 transmision that evolved into the production Subaru BRZ’s TL70 unit, we noted that

A cursory glance at all the vehicles that have used the Aisin AZ6 reveals that the torquiest of the lot is the S15 Nissan Silvia Spec-R, producing 202 lb/ft. All other AZ6 users produced somewhere between 124 and 163 lb/ft of torque, with stock BRZ / FR-S / GT 86 rated at 151 lb/ft. Notably, when the North American market demanded a manual transmission option for the Lexus IS 300 and its 2JZ-GE 3-liter inline 6′s 218 lb/ft of torque, the Aisin AZ6 (or J160 in Toyotaspeak) was deemed to be too weak. Instead, a W55 variant of the W58 5-speed manual from the naturally-aspirated Toyota Supra and Lexus SC 300 was used.

In other words, the BRZ’s TL70 manual transmission can’t handle the torque produced by the FA20 turbo, and making a BRZ Turbo automatic-only would be a moronic oxymoron.

Lost amidst the excitement and hoopla is this sobering bit of information when Luke Vandezande of AutoGuide.com did the obvious and reached out to Subaru for commentary:

(Subaru of America’s National Manager of Product Communications) Dominick Infante flatly denied the rumor, saying “we have no plans to offer a turbocharged BRZ.” Instead, he said the engine, as previously reported, is the powerplant being developed for the next WRX.

For those of you disappointed by this denial, we bring you Vandezande’s astute observation:

Ramping the car’s power up by 80 hp could improve its straight line performance, but it may tamper with the car’s elegant handling.

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

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

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

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

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

Subaru debuts a turbo version of the FA20 engine

Yes, you read that right. But, before you get too excited, please note that it is not going under the hood of the Subaru BRZ nor any of its Toyota/Scion-badged siblings any time soon, if ever. Indeed, this groundbreaking piece of news was not obviously spelled out, but implied and buried in a superficially nondescript Subaru Global newsroom release on the Japanese iteration of the Legacy facelift that had its world debut at the 2012 New York Auto Show just over a month ago.

The title headline of that news release trumpets a 2.0 liter Direct Injection Turbo Boxer Engine. But which of Subaru’s two distinct new-school 2-liter flat fours is it based on? Is it the FA20 from the BRZ (1998cc, with 86mm bore and 86mm stroke) or the FB20 (1995cc, with 84mm bore and 90mm stroke) from the new 4th generation (GP/GJ) Impreza and 2011+ Japanese Domestic Market 3rd generation (SH) Forester? As Wikipedia reminds us, the FA shares little in common with the FB engine, with a different block, head, connecting rods, and pistons. In fact, one pundit claims that a few bolts are all the FA20 and FB20 have in common. While the aforementioned news release doesn’t specifically spell out which of the two the refreshed JDM Legacy and Outback will use, a comment that “the engine bore/stroke was made square (86mm x 86mm)” at the top of page 4 makes it crystal-clear that the FA20 is the first of the “F” series flat fours to be turbocharged. Yes, Subaru has yet to market a turbocharged version of the FB engine family (although it did show a turboed variant of the smallest FB – the 1.6-liter FB16 – at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show). What about the 2-liter turbo Subarus still available in Europe and Japan? Those are myriad variants of the older EJ20 family of flat fours.

The numbers
The Subaru Global news release is similarly semi-secretive when it comes to power output figures, with a small footnote mention of 221kW (300PS) power output and 400N・m (40.8kg・m) torque at 2000rpm. This translates to 296 hp and 295 lb/ft of torque, which boosts (pun half-intended) the FA20’s specific output from 100 hp/liter in naturally aspirated BRZ tune to 148 hp/liter.

The official Subaru Japan website and Wikipedia further reveal the use of a twin scroll turbo (for faster throttle response without giving up any top end), a 10.6:1 compression ratio (versus the naturally aspirated FA20’s 12.5:1), and word that maximum power output occurs at 5600 rpm, with maximum torque occuring between 2000-4800 rpm. Although not specifically mentioned in any text we’ve seen, expect Subaru’s signature top-mounted intercooler and a functional hood scoop. Most surprisingly, as the illustration above implies, an apparent 6000 rpm redline seriously alters the character of the FA20 from high-revving, low-to-medium torque naturally aspirated screamer to a much slower-spinning, yet far torquier engine. That, however, is just the beginning of the changes the FA20 has undergone on its road to turbodom.

Subaru DIT: a far cry from Toyota’s D4-S
The DIT acronym features prominently when describing the newest Subaru turbo powerplant, not only throughout the press release, but on a badge in the trunk lid and even atop the engine itself, as shown in the lower right photo. The initials, obviously enough, stand for Direct Injection Turbo. And that’s all the FA20 gets, not the Toyota-developed D4-S dual direct + port injection combo as applied to the naturally aspirated version of the FA20 engine. This is enormously significant, and has a number of repercussions. For one, it may be yet another tacit admission of the difficulty in boosting D4-S-endowed engines, an issue very familiar to tuners attempting to do so with the 2GR-FSE V6 and UR-FSE/UR-GSE V8s. Or is this simply another manifestation of Toyota’s own reluctance in allowing other companies to use their signature dual direct + port injection, as was the case with Lotus? The glass-half-full optimists, however (such as Car and Driver Backfires commentator Chris) will wonder if there will be people swapping the head from the FA20 turbo to remove the port injection on the BRZ/FRS/GT86 and make tuning easier and maybe get better flow through.

An unfortunate down side to many a direct injection-only engine, however, is carbon-clogged intake ports, a malady afflicting Volkswagen/Audi, Mazda, Hyundai and even Lexus’ direct injection-only 4GR-FSE V6 IS 250. Will Subaru’s FA20 DIT also be a victim of this? Not necessarily. For one, this is not a universal occurrence. As FT86Club.com member arghx7 reminds us:

People assume that just because VW and some other early adopters of mass production DI had valve deposit problems, they all must have valve deposit problems. There are a lot of different air/oil separator designs that have been introduced for use with direct injection over the past few years. Jaguar, for example, has a more sophisticated system to limit the amount of gas flow and oil sent back to the intake side under different conditions. Heated and cyclone-type crankcase ventilation systems also mitigate the problem. All these solutions cost money, though–development hours and higher part costs.

And Subaru, it seems, has expended the extra effort, for, as the always-knowledgeable NASIOC member Cocoa Beach Bum informs us:

(Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries) has submitted a US patent application which was published last month for “an engine breather apparatus that separates oil mist from blowby gas that is led from the crankcase toward the air intake system.” The original Japanese patent application was filed Sept 30, 2010, which was over a year and a half ago.

Or, as FT86Club.com member OrbitalEllipses so aptly put it:

A while ago, it was theorized on NASIOC that DI could be done without port injectors while still preventing carbon buildup on the valves through the use of a properly designed air/oil separator and valve timing. Voilà, a Subaru patent for what sounds like an air/oil separator!

A CVT transmission only?! What the…?!
In our recent Forester factor story, we lamented the loss of the enthusiast-oriented Legacy with the death for the 2013 model year of the 2.5GT turbo manual sedan in the U.S. Unfortunately, this is also happening, to some extent, in Japan. Sure, the Subaru Global news release mentions the 2.0GT DIT’s “SI-DRIVE” with Sport# (S#) mode allowing the driver to shift between 8 steps and an exclusively-tuned chassis with “reinforced suspension rigidity for better stability during high speed driving” and “vehicle sway (that) was minimized due to damper tuning and enlarged stabilizer diameter” for “superior stability when changing lanes and cornering”, not to mention standard “gun-metallic” 18-inch aluminum wheels and most enthusiast-oriented VTD (Variable Torque Distribution) all-wheel-drive system, but running this exemplary-seeming engine exclusively through a continuously-variable transmission?! Totally ridiculous, unless you’re one of the handful of CVT fans that are intrigued by the notion and engineering exercise of what is arguably the most powerful engine ever mated to such a Lineartronic (as Subaru calls it) transmission.

Beyond the Legacy 2.0GT DIT
Just take the little rant above as venting and fearing the worst, because, in reality, we’re quite pumped and optimistic about the potential for this new FA20 turbo engine. Perhaps Subaru is simply holding back for a few months or a year or so before we see a new iteration of the Legacy spec.B that combines the FA20 turbo with a proper 6-speed manual. And most pundits fully expect this engine to be the basis for the upcoming next-generation WRX and STI (possibly with yet another groundbreaking piece of new technology, an electric turbocharger). Why not use it to power a return of the cult-following Forester STI? Most of all, why not a proper, turboed BRZ STI?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Article & Photos by: Flipside909

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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