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Lexus registers LC 500 and LC 500h trademarks

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My.IS‘s Canada national forum moderator k3vo has learned that, on Monday 24 November 2014, Lexus registered U.S. and Canadian trademarks for LC500 (U.S. Application 86462781 / Canadian Application No. 1704062) and LC500h (U.S. Application 86462851 / Canadian Application No. 1704063). On Tuesday 25 November, Lexus followed suit in Australia, according to Kevin Watts of the Lexus Enthusiast blog. Our esteemed friend and colleague goes on to analyze and comment on the significance and expected powertrain specifications of these future Lexus models. Most of what he states is right on the money, but yours truly couldn’t resist throwing his hat into the ring with a few additional observations.

LC, naturally, is the expected production version of Lexus’ much-lauded LF-LC 2+2 sports coupe concept, which was widely rumored to revive the SC badge once it went on sale to the public. Discard those notions, LC it is. Here’s what we can expect under the hood, based on those trademark filings:

LC 500
This is, rather obviously, Lexus’ familiar 2UR-GSE 5-liter V8. Yet, this would be the first time the “500” number is used in a Lexus model name, since, in previous applications, the 5-liter V8 has either been a hybrid with “the performance of a 6-liter V12” (LS 600hL) or a top-of-the-line F performance model (IS F, RC F and upcoming GS F). In its most powerful iteration – the current non-hybrid, dual Atkinson/Otto cycle RC F – the 2UR-GSE produces 467 hp and 389 lb/ft of torque, but Lexus’ true performance bogey is “let’s make it as powerful as possible while producing 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined on the U.S. EPA fuel economy cycle and thus barely avoid paying the Gas Guzzler Tax”. Those, by the way, are the numbers produced by the all-wheel-drive versions of the Lexus LS 460 (whose power output is 360 hp and 347 lb/ft of torque in a vehicle weighing between 4651 and 4894 lbs depending on equipment and length) and the recently departed IS F (416 hp and 371 lb/ft of torque and a curb weight of 3780 lbs). The newly-launched RC F, even while lambasted for its porcine 3958 lb. curb weight, manages to soundly surpass those power numbers and beat their highway fuel economy figures by 2 miles per gallon and combined numbers by 1 mpg.

The point of all that number-crunching? Although Lexus has never revealed the LF-LC concept’s dimensions nor curb weight, it’s safe to say that it appears to be a smaller and lighter car than the RC F, which is heavier than necessary because its super-stiff architecture was designed to accommodate a probably stillborn convertible variant. Also, an LC 500’s higher price point may allow for expanded use of aluminum and/or carbon fiber in its construction, further keeping weight down. And this, in turn, may allow for higher-than-RC F horsepower and torque figures while still avoiding the U.S. Gas Guzzler Tax.

LC 500h
To date, Lexus hybrids have skipped from 450h (3.5-liter V6 with the performance of a 4.5-liter V8) to 600h (5-liter V8 with the performance of a 6-liter V12), so a 500h implies a 4-liter V6 with the performance of a 5-liter V8. And, although Kevin Watts of the Lexus Enthusiast suggests “a new 4.0L V6 or V8…paired…to the hybrid system”, there is, in fact, already a 4-liter V6 in Toyota’s repertoire: the 1GR-FE, a truck engine which launched the GR V6 engine family back in 2003 in Toyota’s 4Runner and its Hilux Surf and Land Cruiser Prado siblings. Later, it spread to the FJ Cruiser, Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks, overseas Land Cruisers and one obscure Lexus application: the China-only GX 400.

The 1GR-FE 4-liter V6 is essentially the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6 from Lexus’ ES 350 and RX 350 (and a plethora of Toyotas) with its stroke increased from 83mm to 95mm (both engines share a 94mm bore). Toyota first introduced the 1GR with the VVT-i variable valve timing system on the intake cam only, with an output of 236 hp and 266 lb/ft of torque on 87 octane regular gasoline (239 hp and 278 lb/ft of torque on 91 octane premium fuel). 2010 saw an upgrade to Dual VVT-i (variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams) and an increase in output to 254 hp and 270 lb/ft of torque on 87 octane regular gas (285 hp and 289 lb/ft of torque on 91 octane premium fuel). By way of comparison, the Dual VVT-i 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 is offered in assorted states of tune ranging from 266 hp to 280 hp and torque output varying between 245 and 260 lb/ft on 87 octane fuel. In other words, the 1GR’s truck-friendly state of tune sacrifices horsepower numbers in favor of higher torque numbers, no doubt as an aid to increased trailer-towing capacity. One other difference between the 4-liter 1GR-FE and 3.5-liter 2GR-FE, as noted in Wikipedia, is that the latter features valves that are driven by roller-follower rocker arms with low friction roller bearings, and a unique, concave cam lobe design to increase valve lift over the traditional shimless lifter type system of the 1GR-FE.

A range-topping Lexus 2+2 hybrid sports car with a price tag likely to nudge into low 6-figure pricing in U.S. dollars, however, could hardly be expected to use a straight workhorse truck engine. Beyond more car-like higher horsepower numbers and a more 2GR-like valve lifter system, we would expect a full-on upgrade to dual direct + port injection and Atkinson cycle functionality as on the GS 450 Hybrid’s 2GR-FXE, thus creating a 1GR-FXE 4-liter V6 plus electric motors powertrain. Guesstimating such a system’s power output is not a task yours truly is even willing to speculate on, but bear in mind that the one specification Lexus has released for the LF-LC Hybrid concept is a 500 hp figure.

Of course, all of the above informed speculation could be wrong, and Lexus may indeed surprise us with an all-new 4-liter V6 or V8 for the production LC. Toyota and Lexus’ history of long-lived 6-cylinder engines augurs against this, though. The GR V6s’ predecessor, the MZ V6 engine family was offered in Toyota-produced vehicles from 1994 until 2010, and celebrated its 20th anniversary still in limited production for the fugly reptilian (or is it amphibian?) Mitsuoka Orochi 2-seater. Toyota’s original V6, the VZ, was in production for 16 years (from 1988 to 2004). And many of us still mourn the death of Toyota’s much-loved JZ inline 6 after 17 years in production. By comparison, the just over a decade-old GR V6 is still a child that has yet to reach adolescence.

Kevin Watts’ of the Lexus Enthusiast‘s other possible suggestion that “the next-generation hybrid system generates the equivalent of 1.5-litre of (extra) displacement and the engine remains as a 3.5L V6 engine” is certainly a viable scenario that cannot be discarded.

What about an LC F?
No, Lexus hasn’t registered a trademark for that one, but back in July, Motor Trend‘s Jonny Lieberman wrote about a possible 600-hp (at least) twin-turbo version version of the 2UR-GSE 5-liter V8 (a 2UR-GTE?) that would power a Lexus LC F. And we say “at least” advisedly, for that engine made its maiden public appearance in the one-off TMG Sports 650 version of the Lexus LS 460. That 650? It’s an allusion to its 650PS (or 641 hp) power output. If this rumor pans out, such a spiritual successor to the LFA will probably launch some time after the LC 500 and LC 500h, in very limited production and, like the LFA, would probably throw the no Gas Guzzler Tax edict out the window…

When can we expect to see a production Lexus LC?
This is a question that Lexus insiders are loath to answer directly at this point. Reading the tea leaves and Internet hints, we’d say it’ll be later rather than sooner. Going by Stephen Edelstein of Motor Authority‘s reminder that trademark applicants are typically allowed six extensions lasting six months each before actually putting a product with the trademarked name on sale, plus the late November 2014 LC 500 and LC 500h filings, we come up with a plausible 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show unveiling for the production cars. But it’s not necessarily that cut-and-dry simple. Autoblog‘s Greg Migliore tells the tale of Buick’s Electra. The nameplate itself was last used on a production car in 1990, yet corporate parent General Motors kept the trademark alive for 24 more years, until finally abandoning it on July 28 of this year.

In January 2013 Drive.com.au‘s Matt Campbell wrote that “The top-end coupe (LC) would be an all-new car, possibly built from a newly developed set of underpinnings. That means it would take around four years to make it to production, and would be extremely costly to establish”, again suggesting a 2017 calendar year time frame. And the 4 December 2014 Hybrid Conversations: Perfecting performance TEDPartners/YouTube video featuring Alex Shen, chief designer at Toyota’s Calty design studio and Paul Williamsen, national manager of global education at Lexus International ends with Mr. Williamsen proclaiming that “We’re all dying to see what a car like that would look like when we get it built. We’ll just have to wait a few more years for that”.

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