One of Toyota’s best selling cars, with cumulative sales exceeding 3.5 million units since its first-generation launch in 1999, and with sales in more than 70 countries around the world, is the Vitz.
Well, Vitz is what the car is called in Japan. You will probably know it better as the Yaris. The first generation Vitz was sold as Echo in some markets. Now it’s Vitz in Japan and Yaris in most of the rest of the world.
Today, Toyota showed the 3rd generation Vitz (Japanese spec) to the Japanese press in Yokohama.
As I had already been in the neighborhood, I popped in and checked it out. Dozo.
About half of the worldwide production of the Vitz is sold in Japan. The Vitz is Toyota’s top-selling gasoline powered car in Japan (the top-top selling car is the Prius hybrid.)
In Japan, the Vitz is duking it out with Honda’s subcompact-class-leading Fit and Nissan’s March. With the new Vitz, Toyota wants to give Honda a fit.
With so much at stake, Toyota laid on a big event at the Osanbashi Hall, right on Yokohama’s cruise ship pier. Akio Toyoda himself, assisted by chief engineer Hirofumi Yamamoto and goateed design group manager Takeshi Goh introduced the car.
When asked what he thinks is the perfect car, Akio Toyoda answered: ”This is the topic of my life. But it is not for me to say. The perfect car is decided by the customer.” Toyoda’s solution to the dilemma? “That’s why we try to give the customer many choices.”
Goateed Goh has designed a little edgier Vitz/Yaris, with sharper corners than its slightly rotund predecessor. Goh praised the “smiling face” that becomes Toyota’s full frontal signature design. Goh talked about the challenge faced by A-Class designers around the world: How to build a car that is small on the outside but large on the inside. He managed to squeeze 35 mm (1.3 inches) more space into the Vitz.
Chief engineer Hirofumi Yamamoto had been faced with a much bigger dilemma. The Vitz/Yaris became infamous for its body roll, especially at higher Autobahn speeds. This trait coined two expressions in Toyota-speak: “Buru-buru” and “hyoko-hyoko.”
The former is translated in a dictionary as “walk with a tremor,” the latter as “unsteady steps.” Again, we are amazed at the frank and open words of a chief engineer with the national press corps in attendance, and his boss keeling over with laughter.
But not to worry, Yamamoto-san says that both “buru-buru” and “hyoko-hyoko” have been eliminated in the 3rd gen Vitz. Yamamoto has two years of European test drives to prove it.
Europe is the second largest market for the Vitz under the Yaris name. About 40 percent of the production is sold there. “The competition is tough in Europe, and the customers are demanding” says Yamamoto.
It will be a while until the Vitz-turned-Yaris will face the European competition and you can inspect the Yaris up close and personal. Although no official launch date is given, end of 2011 is probably a good guess. By that time, the Yaris should also be available in the U.S. and Canada. In Canada, the Yaris attracted quite a following, but nothing compared to Japanese and EU numbers.
In Japan, the Vitz has become the darling of the ladies. The new Vitz chases women even more than the previous generation model. That target group has become so important that Toyota established a special UV department, and its leader Ito-san praised the front windshield in the Vitz that filters out 99 percent of harmful UV rays. Japanese women are very protective of their skin, and use an umbrella more when the sun shines than when it rains. We doubt that that feature will make it to places where people are proud of their tan.
Two of the three Vitz trim levels (U, F, and RS) can be had in a special “Jewela” version that adds “exclusive body and interior colors and interior and exterior ornamentation with a plated finish to convey vibrancy,” all favored by the fashion-forward Japanese lady.
When the Vitz turns Yaris and lands on EU and North American shores, it probably will have lost its effeminate accents along the way, and will be available in more manly trims. In Japan, the male Vitz buyer is the target of a sporty RS version with a 1.5 liter engine.
Speaking of engines, the Vitz comes with a choice of three. There is the one liter 1KR-FE engine, a 1.3 liter 1NR-FE engine and said 1.5 liter 1NZ-FE engine. All engines are mated to a “Super CVT-I” (Super Continuously Variable Transmission-intelligent) transmission. The manly RS is the only Vitz that can be had with a stick. For the F1-feeling, the CVT-I version has paddle-shifters in the RS.
The 1.3 liter engine is Toyota’s secret weapon. It gets 26.5 km/liter (62 mpg, non-EPA), beating the March (26 km/liter) and the Fit (24.5 km/liter.) The 1.3-liter engine sports Dual VVT-i (Dual Variable Valve Timing-intelligent) and can be had with a super responsive idling-stop feature that restarts the engine in a third of a second – literally in a blink of an eye.
Japanese MSRPs for the Vitz range from 1,060,000 yen ($12,700) for the base 1 liter model all the way to 1,790,000 yen ($21,400) for the RS model.
The Viz comes equipped with all whizbang electronics such as EBD (electronic brake-force distribution), ABS, VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) and TRC (Traction Control). The navigation system is optional. People familiar with the Yokohama waterfront can inspect the picture and will receive proof that TTAC had actually been there.
Disclosure: I paid my own fare on the JR train for Frau Schmitto-san (who provided the cross-cultural edification) and myself. Toyota provided a free bottle of water.