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Toyota, its affiliates and allies at the upcoming 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show (UPDATED)

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As the 2017-2018 auto show season kicks off in this author’s home town of Miami, closely followed by the first of the truly international “A-list” shows in Frankfurt, we find auto shows themselves in a state of flux. Shock-and-awe unexpected surprise carmaker unveilings are few and far between, a quaint memory of the past. (The Porsche 918 Spyder at Geneva 2010 and the Ford GT at Detroit 2015 are the most recent that come to mind). Internet leaks (be they truly accidental or “accidentally on purpose”) ahead of the show bring an unwelcome air of predictability and déjà vu once the actual press conferences roll around. Many carmakers find it more cost-effective to unveil new models at dedicated, stand-alone events rather than compete for attention amidst that seemingly endless stream of unveilings on the show floor. Some companies are questioning the expense of attending shows altogether, or picking-and-choosing to be at only those shows at which they have something truly new or worthwhile to reveal. The upcoming Frankfurt Auto Show (officially known as the International Motor Show Germany or IAA, for Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung [International Automobile Exhibition]) will see no fewer than 9 major brands skip the show altogether.

Much as we did for the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show, we’ll delve into what Toyota, its luxury Lexus division, its Japanese affiliates and European alliance partners will debut there. While most of it has been officially confirmed at this point, a fortnight ahead of the first press conference on Tuesday 12 September, the Toyota brand itself remains officially silent. Thus, we’ll put our Informed Speculation hats on and guess at what we can expect from them.

7096147021_f8b6eb06dcLEXUS: A 2-day, 18-hour press conference?!
Paradoxically, a number of major auto shows (especially those outside the United States) seem hell-bent on cramming 2 or even 3 overlapping or simultaneous press conferences at a time while minimizing the number of actual press days. A cursory early glance at the IAA Frankfurt 2017 press conference schedule revealed this to be the case. It also brought to our attention a curious anomaly: the Lexus press conference at its Hall 8.0 Stand A20 location was listed as “on-demand, anytime during press days” between 9 AM and 6 PM. It was several days later that clarification came via a Lexus Europe news release.

With nothing new beyond the NX mid-life refresh (already shown at the Shanghai Motor Show in mid-April) and a barely-perceptible second facelift for the aging CT, Lexus has, instead, decided to take, in its own words, “a radical new approach to the motor show press conference”:

In line with its pioneering spirit, Lexus is going to redefine the traditional press conference, with a radical new way of communicating news to the media at Frankfurt motor show.

Its new, disruptive approach is another example of how Lexus is applying the human-centred principles of Omotenashi – the best traditions of Japanese hospitality – to deliver the highest standards of service.

There will be no fixed time for a Lexus press conference during the busy press day schedule. Instead, media representatives can call at the Lexus booth at a time that suits them, equip themselves with a pair of augmented reality glasses and make a “guided tour” of the stand with commentaries and presentations by Alain Uyttenhoven, Head of Lexus Europe, and Lexus product specialists.

…The press conference presentation will be available on-demand at any time during the show’s press days (12 and 13 September).

Just hours after the original version of this article was posted, Lexus Europe issued a followup news release that better explains how the “Virtual Press Conference” concept works:

Accredited journalists are able to call at the Lexus stand at any time during the press days. After introducing themselves at the welcome desk, they will be given a pair of augmented reality glasses – the Microsoft HoloLens.

A virtual reality host will then guide them around the stand, viewing the exhibits while seeing and hearing speeches and insights from virtual speakers, together with information graphics, 3D animations and video content. The effect is similar to a car’s head-up display, in which information is projected on the windscreen within the driver’s field of vision.

The content, including the speeches by Alain Uyttenhoven, Head of Lexus Europe, and Lexus product specialists, is the same for each user. It includes a welcome from the communications team, information on the new CT and NX models, an update on Lexus’ business performance and a look ahead to what is coming next for the brand. In all, the presentation takes just 10 minutes.

There are, of course, a number of ways to spin this. Cynics and haters may view this as a desperate ploy to hide the fact that Lexus has nothing truly new to unveil at Frankfurt. Others will see this as a perfectly apropos worthwhile experiment in this technologically-driven day and age. If it works, Lexus will be hailed as an innovator or disruptor that will hammer yet another nail in the coffin of the traditional auto show press conference model. If it doesn’t, no harm, no foul. Or Lexus will pick itself up, learn from its mistakes and apply kaizen principles to improve on what didn’t work. Personally, I think that Lexus’ media representatives at Frankfurt will be twiddling their thumbs during most of the first press day, which is jam-packed with major carmaker press conferences. Perhaps towards the end of the first day and on the second day, when the schedule shifts towards suppliers and boutique car brands might the Lexus stand see some notable press activity.

A number of worn clichés also come to mind. Lexus could be said to be making lemonade out of lemons, given it has nothing truly new to show. The devil will certainly be in the details in seeing how this experiment will or won’t work. Time, of course, will tell, and we’ll certainly be watching what sort of press coverage (if any) this gets…

pl200924-toyota_emblems_blue_led_car_rear_logo_light_for_toyotaTOYOTA: Keep ’em guessing until the very end
Unlike Lexus, Toyota has scheduled a traditional, 15-minute press conference (between 8:50 and 9:05 AM Central European Time on Tuesday 12 September) at Frankfurt. And, also unlike Lexus, Toyota hasn’t dropped any hints or clues as to what it will be unveiling. Flashing back to Frankfurt 2015, we find that Toyota unveiled its one-and-only pre-show teaser (for the 4th-gen/XW50 Prius) barely a week ahead of its European debut. Thus, at this point we can only speculate on what Toyota will unveil.

A concept car? It would certainly be quite a coup for Toyota to unveil a new Supra concept just a couple of hundred miles from alliance partner BMW’s home. But we wouldn’t bet on it. Much more logical for this to debut at the Tokyo Motor Show on Wednesday 25 October. Perhaps a new iteration of the FT-4X Concept first shown in New York in mid-April? Or a concept preview of the next-generation Auris C-segment hatchback?

A production car, then? The latter two concept possibilities listed above hint at new production vehicles. But, again, we’d rule those out. It’s probably a year too early for a new, 3rd-generation Auris (sold as Corolla Hatch or Corolla iA in some markets). And it would make little sense to introduce a production version of the FT-4X concept (likely bearing the trademarked TJ Cruiser moniker) at this time. This would potentially cannibalize sales of the just-launched C-HR crossover, which is off to a strong sales start in most world markets. Given that a production TJ Cruiser would, in essence, probably be a boxier, rebodied C-HR with stronger off-roading bits, better to wait a couple of years or so when C-HR sales potentially die down. We remind you that 2 years elapsed between the concept and production versions of the larger FJ Cruiser.

So what, then, is the likeliest new production vehicle debut from Toyota at Frankfurt? A sizable chunk of their current European lineup is somewhere between almost due and overdue for a new-generation replacement, but if we had to choose one or two, it would be a 2nd-gen Prius+ (sold as Prius Alpha or Prius v outside Europe) MPV and a new iteration of its closely-related, non-hybrid platform-mate, the Verso MPV. Also rumored is a second facelift for the current, 4th-gen (J150) Land Cruiser Prado. GTspirit.com suggests a facelift for the current 8th-gen Hilux pickup truck, but, having been launched in May 2015, we think it’s a bit early for that.

Also worth noting is an upcoming press event for “a new Toyota sports car series geared towards Japan”, according to Hans Greimel of Automotive News. This will take place on Tuesday 19 September, per Bertel Schmitt’s Twitter feed, but perhaps Frankfurt will include some sort of preview or related European component. We initially wondered if further Yaris GRMN information might surface at Frankfurt, but with the limited-edition hot hatch officially sold out, this, again, isn’t too likely.

A final possibility is some sort of urban mobility or autonomous driving initiative or concept.

subaru-logoSUBARU and MAZDA: Toyota’s Japanese affiliates
Subaru has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday 12 September at 9:30 AM Central European Time in Hall 8.0 Stand D14. As revealed in early July, the subject is simply the European debut of the 5th-gen Impreza, which has been on sale since late 2016 in Japan, Australia and North America.

MazdaAs for Mazda, it is one of a number of carmakers (Ford being another example) that will be present at the show but will have nothing new and will not host a press conference.

BMW and PSA: Toyota’s European allies
Given that it’s a national show for BMW, it can definitely be expected to host a press conference. Or, actually, three. The BMW Group kicks things off for everyone with a marathon 45-minute session starting at 8:30 AM CET at its own dedicated Hall 11. Affiliated manufacturer/tuner Alpina hosts its own conference at 1:35 PM CET in Hall 5.0 Stand B07, and then it’s back to Hall 11 at 4 PM CET for a separate BMW Motorsports presentation.

Our expectations for the unexpected are very low, though. The official BMW at the IAA Cars 2017 in Frankfurt press release spells out much of what will debut: the 6th-gen (F90) M5 sedan; the all-new G32 6-Series Gran Turismo 5-door hatchback; the 7 Series Edition 40 Jahre celebrating the premium sedan’s 40th anniversary; a facelift for the i3 electric car that includes a new sporty i3s variant; and the 3rd-gen (G01) X3 crossover SUV.

On the concept car front, BMW has confirmed the Concept Z4 roadster unveiled this month at Pebble Beach and the Concept 8 premium coupe, while the Motorsports press conference is expected to center on the new BMW M8 GTE. BMW’s Motorrad (motorcycle) division is also expected to feature at the main, long press conference with the Motorrad Concept Link which builds on the Motorrad Vision Next 100.

That still leaves a number of rumored and unconfirmed debuts for the Bavarian carmaker. These include the widely-expected X7 Concept for the brand’s largest-ever SAV, the production version of the open-top i8 Roadster or Spyder and the final production version of the X2 crossover coupe. On the more “out there” front, GTspirit.com mentions something called a Nautor’s Swan Edition (!) of the BMW 7-Series, while other reports suggest Tesla-rivalling battery-electric versions of the 3-Series or 4-Series GT.

As to Alpina, GTspirit.com reckons that a D5 S tuned diesel version of the new 7th-gen (G30/G31) BMW 5-Series will be the subject of their press conference.

Conversely, the PSA Group’s Peugeot and DS brands are among the 9 brands opting out of the 2017 Frankfurt IAA show. Their sole representative, Citroën, won’t even bother to host a press conference. Presumably, their presence will be primarily to promote the new C3 Aircross crossover.

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