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Informed Speculation: The 7 new Toyota and Lexus hybrids due by the end of 2012

Coinciding with the public debut at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show of the Toyota RAV4 EV Demonstration Vehicle jointly developed by Toyota and Tesla, a press release in the Toyota USA Newsroom ends with this sentence: “Finally, by the end of 2012, Toyota will add seven all new (not next-generation) hybrid models to its portfolio”. Just what, precisely, are those seven vehicles? Toyota, naturally, isn’t saying at this point. But that never stopped a future product-obsessed übercargeek like yours truly from indulging in some intelligent guesswork and informed speculation on what those might be.

First, though, some ground rules. The aforementioned sentence in the Toyota USA Newsroom’s RAV4 EV press release is preceded by this passage: “Toyota has announced that coinciding with the arrival of the RAV4 EV in 2012 it will launch, in key global markets, the Prius PHV (plug-in hybrid) and a small EV commuter vehicle. It will also launch, in key global markets, its first commercialized hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in calendar year 2015, or sooner.” Thus, it is obvious that those vehicles are specificaly excluded from the seven all-new hybrids in question. Also, the “all new (not next-generation) hybrid” qualifier specifically excludes the hybrid variants of the 4th-generation Lexus GS and 7th-generation Toyota Camry that are due out within that time frame, given that their immediate predecessors already offer hybrid versons. Finally, the wording of that passage seems to allow room for Lexus-branded vehicles as well as for hybrid models that won’t be offered in North America but will be available in Japan and/or Europe. Here, then, is a listing, in no particular order, of what this Kaizen Factor author believes will be the seven all-new and unprecedented hybrids that will be released by the end of calendar year 2012 (thus allowing for a 2013 model year designation):

Toyota Prius MPV (also referred to as Prius Alpha or Prius Verso)
This is the first and most obvious of the seven new hybrids to be released. Already teased at the 10 Years of Prius Anniversary Celebration that took place on 10.10.10 in Malibu, California via the “Prius Puzzle” that was the subject of a YouTube video whose final shot appears above, it is widely expected to debut at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show on 10 or 11 January 2011. That photo implies that this new, taller Prius may well draw its inspiration from 2007’s Hybrid-X concept. At any rate, this is predicted to be a 3-row seating mini-minivan to rival the Mazda5 in North America and a plethora of such vehicles available in Europe.

Most pundits (this author included) believe that it will be powered by yet another application of the 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder powertrain from the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris HSD and Lexus CT 200h, albeit tweaked for a bit more power (some reports state 138 hp combined, versus the 134 hp of the aforementioned models). On the other hand, Road & Track‘s Nick Kurczewski states that this may be the vehicle to debut the long-overdue hybrid powertrain based on the 2AR-FE 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine from the latest Toyota Camry, RAV4 and Scion tC, possibly (but not likely) featuring a lithium-ion battery pack versus the current nickel-metal hydride batteries.

As to the precise model name, MPV is (Mazda’s use of the initials as a model name notwithstanding) an abbreviation for multi-purpose vehicle, the generic European name for a tall 2 or 3-row seating 5-door hatchback. A mini-minivan, in other words and, as such, unlikely to be used by Toyota. Prius Alpha, though reportedly the name according to several news outlets, is probably a nonstarter as well, given the potential for confusion with Alfa Romeo. Prius Verso is the likeliest name, given that Toyota has in the past used the Verso badge to denote MPV derivatives of the Yaris, Corolla and Avensis. Current policy of making Verso (and Verso-S) stand-alone badges in Europe may work against this, though, as well as potential confusion between Venza and Verso in North America.

Also pictured below is a teaser shot, posted on Facebook, of the “Prius MPV”‘s instrument panel center stack.

“Baby Prius”, based on Toyota FT-CH concept
Generally touted as the predictor for the third and smallest member of the Prius family, Toyota unveiled the FT-CH concept at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. Although stating that its overall length of 153″ (3895mm) is 22″ shorter than the current Prius 5-door while almost matching the larger car’s 68.7″ width, Toyota has been notably coy about revealing its wheelbase. Both and Consumer Reports, however, claim the magic number is 100″ (2550mm), or spot-on the Yaris 4-door sedan’s wheelbase. Frankly, this doesn’t really say much on whether the baby Prius will be based on a cut-down version of the Prius’ MC architecture or on the longer version of the Yaris’ NBC architecture (we suspect the latter), but this does provide a handy segue to…

Toyota Yaris HSD
With the 3rd-generation of the Toyota Yaris expected to debut during calendar year 2011 as a 2012 model and images already having leaked online, plus a story from the Mid-Japan Economist as reported by Reuters on 7 September of this year that Toyota plans to begin producing a hybrid version of the Yaris subcompact at its factory in Valenciennes, France, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that this is the third Toyota hybrid in question. Don’t expect to see it in the U.S., however, as here the Yaris is too much of an entry-level vehicle for the cost-conscious to withstand a hybrid’s MSRP premium, and, notably, Honda also decided against selling its directly-competing Fit Hybrid in North America .

Do expect, however, to see both the “baby Prius” and Yaris HSD to be powered by something smaller and more fuel-efficient than the current Prius drivetrain. Prominent German automotive journalist Georg Kacher once erroneously predicted that the Euro-only Toyota Auris HSD hybrid (a Corolla variant) would use the 1NZ-FXE 1.5-liter 4-cylinder powertrain from the 2nd-generation Toyota Prius. He may have been right, however, insofar as these new smaller models. After all, its non-hybrid, Otto cycle variant, the 1NZ-FE propels the current 2nd-generation Yaris in North America.

Toyota Avensis HSD
Given that the current, 3rd-generation Toyota Avensis is built exclusively at the Burnaston plant in Derbyshire, England alongside its smaller Corolla-derived Auris sibling; that the latter’s HSD hybrid variant’s powertrain comes from the nearby Deeside engine factory; that said new variant debuted as part of the current Auris’ mid-life facelift (the 3rd-gen Avensis has yet to see its own mid-life facelift); and that Toyota Europe rejected the Lexus HS 250h mostly for its proximity to the top-of-the-line Toyota Avensis T Spirit, and it’s just a matter of putting two and two together and figuring that history may well repeat and see a Toyota Avensis HSD variant within the now-2012 time frame.

Not so obvious, however, is the powertrain question. The most expedient solution would be to, again, use the 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder from the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris HSD and Lexus CT 200h. Given that the gasoline-only 1.8-liter Avensis is already about 50-100 lbs heavier than the Prius and CT 200h without the latter two’s hybrid battery pack, and it may be asking too much to use 1.8-liter hybrid power for the Avensis. On the other hand, the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Lexus HS 250h’s 2AZ-FXE powertrain is not only somewhat outdated but probably too large for displacement-conscious Europe. A handy and logical solution, it would seem, may be to create a 3ZR-FXE 2-liter 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain from the 3ZR-FE 2-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine that already powers the Avensis in some markets, and this might even work for the upcoming Toyota “Prius MPV”.

Toyota Sienna Hybrid
Of the seven vehicles here, this may, on the surface, appear to be the iffiest long shot. Yet, it wouldn’t be particularly difficult or far-fetched to imagine the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 450h’s 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6-based hybrid powertrain making its way to the Sienna minivan, the largest and roomiest of the FWD-platform V6 Toyotas. This would certainly give new meaning to the whole Swagger Wagon concept!


Lexus IS h
With the Lexus IS line the marque’s current strongest seller in Europe (albeit soon to be surpassed by the CT 200h) and a move towards a hybrid-only strategy for the Old Continent by 2013 (as confirmed by Vice President of Lexus Europe Andy Pfeiffenberger), at least one hybrid version of the 3rd-generation Lexus IS, (expected to debut during 2012 as a 2013 model) is certainly to be expected. This would seemingly be an IS 350h powered by the IS 250’s 4GR-FSE 2.5-liter V6 plus a hybrid battery pack, roughly equalling the output of a typical 3.5-liter V6. Markets outside Europe could, theoretically, also see more powerful IS 400h (3GR-FSE 3-liter V6 plus hybrid motor) and even IS 450h (2GR-FSE 3.5-liter V6 plus hybrid motor) variants.

Lexus ES h
The Lexus ES, like its Toyota Camry parent, is due for the launch of a new generation within the now-2012 time frame, and it would only make sense for the carmaker to use the occasion to create an ES h model. The only question is whether it would skew towards economy and borrow the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Lexus HS 250h’s 2AZ-FXE powertrain (or, more sensibly, a 2AR-FXE successor based on the newer 2.5-liter 2AR-FE 4-cylinder engine), creating, say, an ES 300h; or towards performance by using the Lexus RX 450h’s 2GR-FXE 3.5-liter V6-based hybrid powertrain and making for an ES 450h. We’d suggest the latter, especially with the Lexus ES’s traditional focus on smoothness and quietness and with HS and CT series already holding down the fuel economy fort.

Other possibilities
While we strongly feel that these are the seven likeliest all-new hybrids, there are, of course, other more remote possibilities. There has been some talk that the so-called “Prius MPV” may come in shorter 2-row and longer 3-row variants, echoing other carmakers’ offerings in this segment (Ford of Europe, Renault, Nissan and Citroën come to mind) and Toyota’s own current RAV4/Vanguard in the Japanese Domestic Market. If that turns out to be the case, they may count as two separate vehicles. With all the talk of the full-electric Toyota/Tesla RAV4 EV, a separate hybrid RAV4 is unlikely, but you never know. It could also be that larger Camry-based offshoots not mentioned above, such as Toyota Avalon and Venza may, instead be the beneficiaries of hybridization. Conversely, going smaller, a Toyota Corolla or Matrix Hybrid would dovetail neatly from its Auris HSD fraternal twin, but if it wasn’t released concurrently with its just-announced mid-term facelift, don’t count on it. And the release of its all-new successor probably falls just outside the end-of-2012 window for the seven all-new hybrid Toyotas. Finally, we can’t discount the possibility that those seven new models include obscure, low-volume models sold exclusively in Japan, such as the Lexus HS-derived Toyota Sai.

Published inESHybridInformed SpeculationISLexusPriusSiennaYaris


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