New Toyota Hot Hatch: Yaris Hybrid R Concept

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Taking an econobox 3 or 5 door hatchback, popping in a high output motor mated to a manual transmission and a taut tuned suspension was a recipe for fun. It’s been many years since the Toyota built great hot hatches like the Corolla FX-16 and the Corolla RunX. With Toyota’s rich motorsports heritage, it is possible for Toyota to have fun-to-drive, desirable cars again.

tmg-logo_color_completeTMG (Toyota Motorsport GmbH), Toyota’s European tuning house was responsible for Toyota GT-One, sports car racer and the Toyota Formula 1 team. Last year, TMG re-entered sports car racing with the Toyota TS030 the first race car entered into the FIA WEC with Hybrid technology. Being a pioneer in Hybrid tech, TMG has taken Toyota Hybrid to a new level incorporating their motorsports expertise into hot hatch form. The Toyota Yaris Hybrid R Concept is the Toyota hot hatch we’ve been waiting for and it debuts at the 2013 Frankfurt Motorshow today.

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GRE_2__midThe Yaris Hybrid R Concept features trickle down tech from the TS030 Hybrid race car. A 300hp 1.6L Turbocharged (Turbo Garett GTR2560R ) 4 cylinder GRE (Global Racing Engine) powers the front wheels and two 60 hp electric motors powering each of the rear wheels which equates to a max output of 420hp. That’s more than the Lexus IS F! Like the TS030 racer, KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) will power up a super capacitor which resides in the rear seat. A third electric motor will help modulate traction to rear wheels during acceleration and harness power into the super capacitor during deceleration.A six speed sequential transmission is mated to the petrol motor.

_SEB7157DEF4__midOn the inside, two-tone Recaro seats are clad with black leather and blue Alcantara surfaces. The dash and door panels will also have complimenting blue Alcantara trim. The sport steering wheel also clad in Alcantara and will feature a two mode drive selector button for “Road” and “Track” modes. A set of brushed aluminum sport pedals are borrowed from the GT 86 sports car.

 2013_Yaris_Hybrid-R_EXT_05__midOn the outside, this concept may look like an ordinary 3-door Yaris. But if you look closely, this hatchback is a lot more prominent than the norm. An aggressive front fascia with a larger grille and blacked out headlamps and two large air intakes with blue LED running lamps accented by blue striping to match the Toyota Hybrid theme. The flared wheel housings are filled with special 18″ TRD wheels wrapped in sticky 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires. Six piston fronts and four piston rear brakes help stop this hot hatch. A rear roof spoiler and rear bumper diffuser help streamline airflow. 

Although just a concept for now, we hope Toyota will bring this Yaris Hybrid R Concept to production in the near future. Even if the Yaris Hybrid R doesn’t make it to production, at least bring the motorsports driven GRE tech to future Toyota and Lexus sports vehicles. How does Supra Hybrid R sound?

Check out the Toyota Yaris Hybrid Concept video:

Key TMG Global Race Engine Specifications
Engine Size: 1595 cm3
Fuel System Type: Direct Injection (up to 200 bar)
Air System Type: Turbo Garett GTR2560R (max boost pressure : 2.5 bar)
Air restrictor: 33 mm
Max. Power: + de 300 ch at 6000 rpm
Max. Torque : 420 Nm
Max. RPM : 7500 rpm

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 Source: [Toyota Europe]

Should Toyota be considering a Yaris-derived, sub-RAV4 crossover SUV?

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Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, Toyota almost singlehandedly created 2 vehicle segments which would go on to become of pivotal importance in the automotive universe and spawn a plethora of imitators and competitors. The first of these is the compact crossover SUV, by definition a mix of sport utility vehicle (tall, station wagon or hatchback body with high ground clearance and all-wheel-drive at least optional) and car (unibody construction and car-like handling and fuel economy) attributes in a roughly C-segment size (4250mm-4600mm/167″-181″ overall length), pioneered by the Toyota RAV4 that made its debut in Japan and Europe in 1994, and began sales in North America in 1996. The following year, Toyota’s upmarket brand Lexus took the concept almost to the next-up D-segment size, added the marque’s typical luxury touches and meticulous construction and created the RX.

Successful as these models were, its creators in a sense rested on their laurels and, as the RAV4 and RX grew ever-larger with each successive generation, their many rivals saw opportunity in going smaller. After many years of hopes and rumors, Lexus finally saw the light and green-lighted the upcoming sub-RX, RAV4-derived NX 200t and NX 300h models to tackle the Acura RDX, Audi Q3, BMW X1 and upcoming Mercedes-Benz BLK. The Toyota brand itself, on the other hand, is seemingly oblivious to the fact that the RAV4’s upsizing march (the original 4-door, at 4150 mm/163.4″ overall length, was at the upper end of the mini/subcompact crossover segment, while the just-introduced 4th-generation version, at 4570mm/179.9″, is almost mid-sized and barely smaller than the Highlander) has opened the door for many of its competitors to plan the upcoming release of mini/subcompact crossovers derived from B-segment (think Toyota Yaris) models.

Among those leading the charge, curiously enough, is General Motors, with the Korean and Chinese-built Buick Encore due out next month, this being essentially a rebodied Chevrolet Sonic/Aveo for North America and China. Lest you think the Buick badge is too upmarket, Europe will see this as the Opel or Vauxhall Mokka, and its least expensive variant, the Chevrolet Trax will be sold in Mexico and Canada, but, notably, not in the United States. Ford has sold the “baby Escape” EcoSport in Latin America since 2003, and with the just-launched 2nd-generation version, the EcoSport joins the “One Ford” global initiative and branches out beyond Latin America and into India, for starters. Chrysler, meanwhile, is rumored to be planning a Fiat Panda-derived, Italian-built Jeep for the mini/subcompact SUV segment, perhaps replacing the Fiat Sedici (itself a rebadged Suzuki SX4) overseas.

Japan, too, has seen its share of rumblings and rumors. Honda has confirmed the appearance of a compact “Urban SUV Concept” vehicle at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. Given Honda’s penchant for so-called “concept vehicles” that are just thinly-disguised upcoming production models, this is widely predicted to be a peek at an upcoming sub-CR-V, Fit-derived mini crossover to be built in Mexico for the 2014 model year. Per Auto Express, Mazda is rumored to be working on a Mazda2-derived CX-3. And Nissan? Many pundits (including Wikipedia) figure it’s already there with the unexpectedly successful oddball mini SUV/rally car/hot hatch mashup Juke.

From Europe, the most prominent entry in this segment is, arguably, the MINI Countryman. Too much of a stretch from the original MINI ethos? This author certainly thinks so, yet it at least shows more effort than what often passes for a B-segment crossover SUV in Europe and Brazil: take a regular hatchback, raise the ride height, add black bodyside cladding and fender flares, throw in some faux skid plates front and rear, and you have Volkswagen’s current entry in this segment: the CrossPolo. Yet, VW seems to realize that it will eventually need a dedicated crossover SUV in this segment, as attested by the Taigun concept that debuted at Brazil’s São Paulo Motor Show.

And Toyota? Does it currently have anything to offer in this segment? Yes and no. At the March 2006 Geneva Auto Show, Toyota introduced a reportedly Yaris-based Urban Cruiser concept (shown at the top of this story). Once this admittedly clever model name (a play on the seminal Land Cruiser) saw production 2 years later, however, it was applied to a 2nd-generation Toyota ist (Scion xD in North America) with raised ride height and a bare minimum of pseudo-SUV styling cues. Granted, an all-wheel-drive diesel option gives it some added “SUV cred”, but its sales in Europe have been less than stellar, and a number of markets there (such as Spain and Great Britain) have declined to offer the Urban Cruiser altogether.

Oddly enough, Wikipedia considers the shorter 2-door versions of honest-to-God, truck-based, body-on-frame SUVs such as the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Land Cruiser 150 Series/Prado to be mini-SUVs, but this author doesn’t altogether agree, citing their heavier and beefier construction, and larger engines which makes them a class or two removed from lighter-duty, more economical car-based crossovers such as those we’ve mentioned earlier. Going even smaller, Toyota affiliate Daihatsu offers the Terios (or Be‣go) rear-wheel-drive-centric SUVs, with rebadged Toyota Rush versions available in a handful of countries. Again, these run counter to current preferences for front-wheel-drive-centric crossover SUV platforms, but we love the fact that their RWD underpinnings have led to fun Tokyo Auto Salon projects like the Gazoo Racing/MN FR Hot hatch and the TES Concept T-Sports.

By serendipitous coincidence, as this author was well along writing this piece, and planning to end with a plea to Toyota to “wake up and smell the coffee” and not continue to ignore this growing segment, came word, through an Automotive News via Autoweek article that the company was planning to do just that. It cites Toyota Division Group Vice President and General Manager William D. Fay as saying that

Toyota has no plans to add a crossover below the RAV4.

“The RAV is as small as we want to get,” he said. “I am confident with where Toyota is with that. It meets all or most of our customer needs in that segment. We’re fine.”

We’re not so sure, but perhaps Toyota figures the mini/subcompact crossover segment is still in its infancy in North America, and that it’s wiser to sit back and see how things go for its rivals first. Quite a change from 15-20 years ago, when Toyota and Lexus were unafraid to lead and create new vehicle categories.

Lexus and Toyota at the 2012 Paris Motor Show: what to expect

As the 2013 model year international auto show season kicks off, the current even-numbered 2012 calendar year means that the action starts in early autumn in Paris, France (odd-numbered years see Frankfurt, Germany as the fall kickoff, and the Tokyo Motor Show in December that is absent on even-numbered years). In the runup to the Paris preshow press conferences to be held on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 September, most carmakers have already tipped their hand and given clues as to what they will be unveiling, and Toyota and Lexus are certainly no exceptions.

TOYOTA
Internationally, the Toyota brand’s first major unveiling for late summer/early fall 2012 is the 2nd-generation of the Auris C-segment line. A Toyota Corolla derivative roughly analogous to North America’s Matrix 5-door hatchback, the Auris is the third of the 11th-generation (E160) Corolla variants to debut in 2012, behind the Japanese domestic market’s Corolla Axio sedan and Corolla Fielder station wagon models. The Japanese version of the Auris debuted on August 20, with 2 engine options echoing those of the Corolla Fielder: the 1NZ-FE 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine as used on the current Toyota Yaris and the 2ZR-FAE 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine (essentially a more powerful yet economical version of the current Corolla’s 2ZR-FE engine benefiting from the addition of the Valvematic mechanism that continuously controls the intake valve lift volume). Unfortunately, the Auris’ Japan-only Blade fraternal twin, which included the intriguing Blade Master model powered by the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6, was discontinued in April without a 2nd-generation successor.

For its European debut, the British-built iteration of the Toyota Auris offers a different – and far more extensive – range of engine options. The two gasoline-powered European models offer 4-cylinder engines that have smaller displacements than their Japanese counterparts: 1.33 liters and 1.6 liters. The former is clearly the carryover 1NR-FE, but it is unclear at this point whether the latter is the 124 hp, Dual VVT-i-only 1ZR-FE or its peppier 130 hp Dual VVT-i plus Valvematic 1ZR-FAE variant. Those preferring 4-cylinder diesel power have a choice (according to an official Toyota Europe news release) of 1.4-liter or 2-liter displacements. Given that Toyota won’t begin to purchase diesels from BMW until 2014, we’re certain that these are Toyota’s current 1ND-TV and 1AD-FTV, respectively. Finally, the Auris Hybrid returns for the new generation (and is shown above right), powered by the carryover 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline-electric powertrain shared with the Toyota Prius, Prius v and Lexus CT 200h. Auris fans may note that the current generation offers several more powerful gasoline and diesel options than the quintet listed above, but bear in mind that the new Auris has a lower (0.28) coefficient of drag, lower height and center of gravity, 10% stiffer body structure and, most crucially, is as much as 40 kg (88 lbs) lighter than its predecessor. This, combined with revised steering and suspension – including wider availability of a double-wishbone rear suspension – should make the new Auris a more compelling drive.

It is uncertain whether or not the slow-selling 3-door Auris body style will return with the 2nd-generation, but we’re inclined to say no, for reasons outlined back in January 2011. On the other hand, a 5-door station wagon body style alternative has become de rigueur in the European C-segment, where 25% of sales in the class are wagons. Even such familiar models as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Buick Verano/Opel Astra and Hyundai Elantra/i30 offer station wagon variants unavailable in North America. Thus, Toyota felt compelled to add a second Auris Touring Sports body style. Shown as a darkened teaser (which was lightened and enhanced by Autocar in the photo shown above left) it will be fully unveiled at Paris later this month. The Auris Touring Sports will be available with the regular Auris hatchback’s full suite of 5 powerplant options, thus making it Europe’s first wagon in the segment available with a full hybrid powertrain. Quite notably, Toyota is predicting an even 1/3 gasoline / 1/3 diesel / 1/3 hybrid split in European Auris sales for the new generation when it goes on sale in early 2013 as a hatchback, followed by the wagon during the second half of the year.

Toyota debuts for the 2012 Paris Motor Show extend beyond the newest iteration of the Auris. The carmaker proudly trumpets a “new Verso“, as teased in the cropped, highlighted and enhanced Carscoop picture shown at right. For the uninitiated, the Verso is Toyota’s entry in the hotly contested European MPV (C-segment mini-minivan) category. In the United States, the sole class representative currently in new car showrooms is the Mazda5, while, north of the border, Canadians may also choose a Kia Rondo or Chevrolet Orlando. Another way to describe the Toyota Verso is as a rebodied, non-hybrid version of the Prius v/Prius +/Prius Alpha wagon with shorter rear overhang and a 3rd-row seat. In fact, both sit on the same 2780mm (109.4″) wheelbase. In this case, however, take the “new” with a grain of salt, even though Toyota Europe’s official news release describes “(a) new design language with a clear family identity, an improved interior, a revised 2.0 D-4D (1AD-FTV diesel) engine with improved performance and lower CO2 emissions, and enhanced driving dynamics and reduced NVH levels”. Given that the current Verso was introduced in March 2009 at the Geneva Motor Show, expect a mid-life refresh akin to that received by the Toyota Avensis last year, and not an all-new generation.

Also debuting in Paris is a new Yaris Trend edition featuring, in Toyota’s words, “unique exterior styling and model-specific interior finishes, textures and colours to attract young, urban-based, design-focused customers”. Carscoop offers us far more insight, however, as the Yaris Trend was actually launched in the United Kingdom on August 8. Essentially, this is the top-of-the-line sporty Yaris SR (which includes fog lamps, part-leather upholstery, a rear roof spoiler and lowered suspension) with the addition of 16″ Podium anthracite machined alloy wheels, chrome tailpipe finisher and a Jaguar XJ-inspired blacked-out C-pillar, in a choice of Tyrol Silver or Cirrus White exterior paint. And, we should add, some goofy swirling pinstripes along the front fenders and doors.

For the hardcore European enthusiast, however, the best news is the Continental debut of a full suite of TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Performance Line Accessories for GT86. This is a comprehensive range of exterior, interior and mechanical components that enhance style, aerodynamics and performance, all offered individually, as opposed to being grouped or bundled into packages. Also of interest is a GT86 Racing Simulator, a fusion between a real Toyota GT86 and an advanced computer simulation system. The driver steers, shifts, brakes and accelerates the GT86 using the original controls. The simulator then uses a state-of-the-art motion system to respond to driver input and deliver an un-paralleled realistic driving experience. The windshield is a Full HD monitor for the drivers and a Lucas Arts THX Surround system is used to supply sound from the racetrack.

The Toyota stand at the 2012 Paris Motor Show will also feature the Yaris Hybrid, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the TS030 Le Mans prototype (LMP1) racer which recently saw its first podium finish and the FCV-R Fuel Cell Vehicle concept, the latter perhaps in anticipation of the European Hydrogen Road Tour 2012. All this detailed information, needless to say, leaves little to no room for surprise at the Toyota press conference which will take place at Pavillion 4, Stand 114 at 8:30 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September.

LEXUS
In stark contrast to the above, Lexus has, thus far, been more elusive and coy as to its 2012 Paris Motor Show plans, except for a brief news release promising the reveal of “a brand new concept car” alongside the Western European premiere of the all-new LS 600h F SPORT shown at left at 8:45 AM Central European Time on Thursday 27 September (15 minutes after the Toyota press conference) at Pavillion 4, Stand 120 next to Toyota.

Naturally, the blogosphere has been rife with speculation as to what, precisely, this new Lexus concept will be. We can certainly rule out the second iteration of the Lexus LF-LC sports coupe, since that is earmarked for an Australian unveiling in mid-October. What, then? Kevin Watts of the Lexus Enthusiast posted a poll with ten distinct possibilities: Compact Crossover, City Car, CT-Based Variant, Four-Door Coupe, GS Coupe, GS F, IS Coupe, IS Sedan, LF-LC Convertible or the eternal catchall “Other”. This author concurs with most pundits that it’s a tossup between an IS Coupe predictor and the long-awaited sub-RX, RAV4-derived compact crossover that everybody refers to as CX but is far likelier to wear the TX prefix in production.

Even this concept will not be a true “Paris surprise”, as Lexus has promised to reveal further information and pictures on Monday 17 September at 8:00 AM Central European Time, 10 days ahead of the actual press reveal.

And what about Subaru?
In 2010, Subaru didn’t even bother to appear at the Paris Motor Show. The carmaker will be there in 2012, at Pavillion 3, Stand 215. As of this writing, however, it does not appear that they will unveil anything new, nor that they have even scheduled a press conference.

Coming to America: The European Toyota?!

It is no secret that, as the multinational giant company that Toyota has become, its vast model lineup has seen some unexpected travels. It’s only natural that the Japanese carmaker would export many of its vehicles from its home base in Toyota City and environs, but the stubbornly strong yen has made this an increasingly money-losing proposition. Thus, we now see U.S.-built Toyotas exported to 19 countries around the world, including Camrys and Siennas to South Korea and Sequoias to several South American and Middle East markets; Canadian-built Corolla, Matrix and RAV4 units south to the United States; Australian-built Camry and Aurion (Camry V6) models to 13 markets in the Middle East, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands; British-built Avensis Tourer station wagons to Japan…the list goes on and on. Now, an official Toyota Europe press release informs us of a new and quite unexpected trade route for the company: from France to North America (United States, Canada and Puerto Rico) for the Toyota Yaris!

Beyond the expected happy-talk of what a privilege it is for Toyota Motor Manufacturing France (TMMF) to be building 25,000 cars a year for export to North America starting in May 2013, the news release also includes this more nuts-and-bolts informative passage:

Building the Yaris for customers across North America will represent an additional investment of EUR 8 million at TMMF. This investment is required to build the car to the specific requirements of the new market, including the installation of a North American specific 1.5-litre petrol engine, automatic transmission, differences in the rear bumper, as well as other items linked to specific local regulations. Only petrol versions of Yaris will be exported to North America.

Why?
Much has been written about Toyota’s conundrum-cum-dilemma about how the strong yen is hurting the company’s bottom line versus its commitment to building no less than 3,000,000 vehicles in Japan in order to support the motherland. In the greater scheme of things, we’d say that sophisticated hybrid technology and luxury Lexus models make the strongest case for remaining Japanese-built, while low-profit B-segment entry-level minicars like the Yaris are begging to be built outside Japan. And it seems that, with the Eurozone’s current roller-coaster financial downturn, the euro currency’s value is low enough that this move makes sense, France’s high labor costs notwithstanding.

Per Wikipedia, the Toyota Yaris is built not only in Japan and at the Valenciennes facility in France, but also in China, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand. While it would seem that any of those Asian locales would have lower labor costs than France, we suspect that equally lower in-car equipment, quality and materials levels probably made Toyota think twice before using those as Yaris sources. Perhaps Toyota also saw a moral imperative to somehow bolster its European operations amidst all the doom-and-gloom and plummeting sales so prevalent in the Old Continent nowadays.

As an additional trivia aside, this would make the Yaris the first French-built car to be sold in North America in over 20 years.

So much for Mexico…
With a sizable portion of North America’s A, B and C-segment cars (Chevrolet Spark, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda2, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Nissan Versa and Volkswagen Jetta) either currently built in Mexico or confirmed for assembly there in the near future, this author made his case for doing the same with Toyota Yaris back in December 2010. So why did Toyota opt for France over Mexico, in a reversal of the Battle of Puebla that led to all those Cinco de Mayo celebrations so popular along the Hispanic U.S.? Our best guess is that a combination of France being the quickest way of outsourcing Yaris production from Japan; the fact that building all-new Mexican assembly lines for Yaris would surely cost more than the US$10.4 million earmarked for North America-market adaptations to French-built Yaris and, possibly, fears of Mexican drug cartel violence tipped the balance in favor of France.

Still, don’t count Mexico out longer-term. Its labor rates are still much lower than Europe’s, Japan’s or the rest of North America. Further, Mexico’s invitation to join the budding Trans-Pacific Partnership and the fact that Toyota already has a production presence there at the Tacoma-building Tecate, Tijuana plant in Baja California are certainly factors not to be discounted. Google also reminds us that rumors of a second Mexican Toyota facility have been around for years, as recently as a January 2012 report which also suggests that the carmaker is considering a long-overdue decision to bring the Lexus brand to Mexico.

Will the French Yaris change?
The announced May 2013 date for the start of Yaris exports from France might mean an early 2014 model year designation. Would that coincide with a scheduled mid-life minor facelift? Not likely, as those tend to happen after the third year of production, and the current 3rd-gen (XP130) Yaris debuted for the 2012 model year. Also unlikely is North America getting any of the more upmarket options available in the European Yaris (unless the upcoming almost-$20,000 Ford Fiesta Titanium turns out to be an unexpected hit). With Yaris sales totalling 40,076 in 2010 and 32,704 in 2011 in the United States alone, it’s obvious that the 25,000 French-built Yaris units earmarked for the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are meant as supplementary units. In other words, we’ll most likely see a mix of Japanese-built and French-built Yaris, just as we see a mix of U.S., Canadian and Japanese-built units of such models as Corolla, RAV4 and Lexus RX 350.

One other dark-horse possibility is the fact that, between the death of the Yaris sedan (already relegated to fleet-only sales for 2012), the huge current popularity of the Yaris-derived Prius C and more profitable North American assembly of the next Corolla – possibly featuring new Camry-style value pricing, Toyota may expect Yaris sales in the future to drop below 2010-11 levels.

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.

Toyota Europe and Subaru U.S.A. announce production cuts

No sooner had we posted our 1-month anniversary update on the Japanese natural disasters’ aftermath and repercussions on Toyota and Subaru production that more news came our way. Here’s the latest information:

TOYOTA
Following on the Thursday 7 April cancellation of planned overtime at Toyota’s United Kingdom facilities, Toyota Europe announced that production would be stopped Thursday 21 April thru Monday 2 May, while noting that Friday 22 April was a previously-scheduled holiday for Good Friday. Affected by this order are carmaking facilities in Burnaston, England (Toyota Avensis and Auris); Adapazari, Turkey (Toyota Verso and Auris); and Valenciennes, France (Toyota Yaris); as well as engine manufacturing factories in Jelcz-Laskowice, Poland, and Deeside, Wales. Seemingly unaffected, at this point, is the Toyota Peugeot Citroen Automobile Czech (TCPA) joint venture that builds the Toyota Aygo / Citroën C1 / Peugeot 107 triplets in Kolin in the Czech Republic.

Automotive News cites Didier Leroy, Toyota Motor Europe CEO as saying that, “Even though most of our parts come from European suppliers, we are experiencing gaps in our supply chain due to the situation in Japan. By adjusting our production in Europe, we are adapting to the current situation whilst not completely interrupting our deliveries of vehicles to our customers.” The report also adds that the shutdown is being planned around upcoming public holidays or school holidays to make it easier for employees to take the time off.

SUBARU
After working 4-hour long half-shifts on Monday 4 April and Friday 8 April, Subaru’s Lafayette, Indiana facility that assembles Legacy, Outback and Tribeca models will undergo full-day shutdowns on Friday 15 April, Monday 18 April and Monday 25 April. In an Automotive News article, Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) spokeswoman Jennifer McGarvey states that during the three days of downtime, employees can choose to work full eight-hour paid shifts doing nonproduction activities such as training and maintenance.

Notably, this 3-day production shutdown brings Subaru in line with the Toyota Camry assembly line at the same Indiana facility, which had previously scheduled a shutdown that includes those same three days.

Photo Credit: Chris Paukert -Autoblog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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