Speaking to the media at the Toyota Europe Motorsport facility in Cologne, Germany, Yoshiaki Kinoshita, president of TMG, said the facility would become to Toyota what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz.
“After we stopped Formula One [involvement] we decided several things. One of these things is to to become a [Mercedes] AMG-type company; we are now trying [to make it happen]. How feasible [it will be] I don’t know. But we are in a very good position.”
The Cologne-based facility has endured a hard time since Toyota pulled out of Formula One in 2009. The facility has shrunk from about 800 staff in the prime of Toyota’s Formula One involvement to about 200 in its current form.
Kinoshita has been instrumental in keeping the facility alive and ensuring Toyota’s recent involvement in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. He spent three months in Japan to convince Toyota management that the Cologne facility, which comprises a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and many high-cost testing facilities, should remain operational and under Toyota control.
Currently the facility is used by numerous Formula One teams for several types of testing, including aerodynamic (wind tunnel) and gearbox durability testing. Toyota also uses the facility to run its global motorsport division. Although the facility doesn’t create high performance engines (they come from Japan), it’s in charge of almost everything else for Toyota motorsport.
TMG secretly began working on a car to compete at the Le Mans endurance race straight after the decision was made to leave F1, though it wasn’t until 2011 that the project was given the official green light from Toyota Motor Company (TMC) in Japan. The decision to do the project without initial TMC approval gave the company a two-year head start with the modelling and computer testing of the TS030s LMP1 cars.
These days the division is actively working on numerous projects, including the potential for a world rally championship re-entry in 2014 with a 1.6-litre turbocharged Toyota Yaris. TMG has also already committed to selling a Toyota Yaris R1A rally car for around 20-25,000 euro.
Kinoshita, a long-time motorsport veteran who has been involved with Toyota as far back as the company’s 1993 Le Man entry, was visibly excited about his facilities’ future.
“I cannot show you today [what cars we are working on] but we have those kind of [performance] cars; not AMG [but] change [the] A to T”.
The facility will also tune Lexus vehicles but Kinoshita would not confirm which Toyota or Lexus models would get the TMG treatment in the future. The company, however, has confirmed that it is actively working on numerous projects, including a Lexus LS460 with a twin-turbo 4.6-litre V8 with around 650bhp.
TMG’s technical director, Pascal Vasselon, said: “It’s quite logical when you are a racing company to help your whole division to produce ultimately more exciting cars. Considering that we at TMG didn’t want to rely just on Motorsport, but on several pillars.”
Asked about the LS460 project, Vasselon said: “Basically the car is … every single part is reworked – we start from the body shell and then [it's] heavily transformed.”
The vehicle’s engine, suspension, bodywork and pretty much everything else is changed. Although Lexus appears to have taken current priority at TMG, Vasselon said TMG would be open to any requests from the company for other models.
“We are just happy to deliver a fast car, a high performance car. We have started with LS but we may have some other models…” Vasselon said. He also said the use of a TMG badge may officially be confirmed in the next 6-9 months.
Asked why the LS was chosen, Vasselon hinted at the directive from Japan but also elaborated that “one of the interesting challenges was to make this big car reactive and fun to drive”.
Although CarAdvice believes it extremely likely, the actual TMG badge is not yet officially confirmed, even though the Yaris YR1 rally car and supercharged Toyota IQ we drove today already had TMG badges inside.
As it currently stands, no work has been undertaken to further enhance the recently launched Toyota 86 sports coupe, but given the nature and future position of TMG, it’s only logical to assume that a faster, more performance orientated Toyota 86 TMG is on its way.
The move would follow Toyota Australia’s unsuccessful bid to inject some excitement into the range when it launched the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) brand in 2007. It was abandoned just 16 months later, with fewer than 1000 customers opting for performance versions of the Aurion large car and HiLux ute, as Toyota Australia blamed the global financial crisis for its demise.
Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, has promised the company will build more exciting cars after its quality reputation had taken a hit in 2010 with millions of recalled vehicles.