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Auto Buzz: Toyota plans wave of fresh models

There will be a wave of all-new models coming from Toyota in the next 18 months, and not just Scions new to Canada after their long availability in the United States.

Toyota confirmed at a recent U.S. dealer meeting that its all-new Camry and Camry Hybrid will be available as 2012 models, likely arriving this fall, along with the previously announced and more spacious Prius v hybrid. The vehicles will be available with a new smartphone-friendly Entune infotainment system in the U.S., a Microsoft-developed system that will be Toyota's answer to Ford's Sync system.

Entune offers drivers the ability to download smartphone apps that will work in the car, such as Microsoft's Bing search engine, as well as features such as reading a driver's text messages or wirelessly linking to the music on one's phone, as well as the usual Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calling.

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Canadian Toyota officials have not confirmed whether Entune is coming here, nor whether any of the full electric vehicles confirmed for 2012 in the U.S. – the RAV4 EV and Scion iQ EV – will also arrive in Canada, at the same time or at all. But the Canadian unit has confirmed the Prius v is set to arrive soon as part of an expansion of the Prius family.

That expansion will lead to the introduction of the smaller Prius c hatchback, in the spring of 2012. Toyota said in a release that it believed the Prius c "will be the most fuel-efficient hybrid in the U.S.," obviously not counting the Chevrolet Volt as a hybrid (as GM doesn't either), despite its dual electric and gasoline propulsion systems. A plug-in version of the current Prius hatchback will become one of the Volt's closest technical rival by the end of next year, though with less all-electric range than Chevy's trail-blazing but pricier Volt.

Although the new Camry will certainly have the largest sales impact, the most surprising news was that the all-electric version of the Scion iQ will also arrive in North America next year, with a small battery in the Smart-fighting three-seater. Its range will be relatively tiny at a max of 80 km, and much lower than the stated 135 km range of the Smart fortwo EV that will also arrive in 2012.

The RAV4 EV will go on sale next year in the U.S., and while there's no official word yet from Toyota Canada on whether it will be offered for sale here, the fact that the hybrid version of the Camry outsold the more efficient Prius for many years likely means that local execs realize there's an appetite here for cleaner alternatives wrapped in standard wrappers. Even though conventional RAV4 models are all built at Toyota's Woodstock, Ont., plant, as will the basic structure of the RAV4 EV, the Tesla-developed battery and associated components may be installed elsewhere.

Fight over tougher fuel economy standards

The Obama government and auto makers in the United States are wrangling over much tougher proposed fuel economy standards starting in 2017, potentially culminating in a required corporate average of 56.2 miles per gallon (4.19 litres/100 km) by 2025, or about double the current level. Such strict measures would require a radical redesign and likely shrinking – or at least major lightening and electrification – of the current vehicle fleet.

Such figures are far from cast in stone, a senior government official said in a New York Times report this week, as consultations with auto maker, dealer and environmental groups will continue this summer, before more finalized rules are expected in September. After public hearings on the proposed changes are held, final standards will be introduced early next year, barring any major delays.

But auto maker and dealer lobby groups question whether consumers will actually buy such smaller vehicles, which both sides admit will be considerably more expensive than current models. The argument is over how long before consumers see a payback in reduced fuel consumption.

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The U.S. National Auto Dealers Association points to the relatively minimal adoption of gas-electric hybrid or plug-in vehicles now, at less than 3 per cent of the overall U.S. market. The group estimates that a 56 mpg overall average will require about half of all new vehicles sold to be electrified to some degree, a figure disputed by various green groups.

The traditionally auto maker-friendly Centre for Automotive Research in Michigan estimated that this standard would add $6,714 (U.S.) to the average cost of a vehicle, compared to a 2008 vehicle as a baseline, when the overall corporate average fuel economy standard was 27.5 mpg. So the incremental cost to a much more fuel-efficient 2016 vehicle, when the CAFE will be 35.5 mpg, should be less, but the question is how much less.

Auto makers want assurances that any new standard won't face variations in California and other green-leaning states, so look for Canadian regulations to fall into line with such final measures as well.

Environmental groups are looking for limits on exceptions and loopholes to the standards, such as enviro credits for the use of ethanol-friendly engines, even when the vast majority of the country does not have access to ethanol pumps.

Targa Newfoundland at the Trailer Park

An hour-long special on Targa Newfoundland featuring two Trailer Park Boys debuts this weekend on TSN, where they drive a Porsche Cayman S through the gruelling yearly race that covers more than 2,200 km in stages during the five-day time-distance rally marathon.

The Motoring Targa Newfoundland documentary features Robb Wells and JP Tremblay, who play Ricky and Julian respectively on Trailer Park Boys. The show airs this Sunday at 11 a.m., as an extended version of the long-running Motoring series, and covers the ninth edition of the race, run last September.

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The 10th edition of the race starts Sept. 17, one of only three Targa rallies in the world, and the only one in North America.

Etherea concept to become new entry-luxury offering

Nissan's luxury brand will reportedly produce an entry-luxury compact based on its shapely Etherea concept, designed to compete with the Audi A3 and Lexus CT200h.

In Canada and most of the world, Infiniti's G series of vehicles are the brand's top seller. But company officials believe there is room for the small, entry-luxe market to grow, a market that sees most players compete with hatchbacks in North America, and the B-Class in Canada, which will become available in the U.S. at its next redesign.

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