Tetsuya Tada, Toyota chief engineer of sport vehicle management division – and the man behind the Toyota 86 – told Australian media at an event in Tokyo this week that he stands by his previous plan for three sports cars in the brand’s model mix.
“I’ve already told you Toyota sports cars goal must be three brothers. The 86 is the middle, and a top model sports car, like a Supra,” he said.
In fact, that top model – the big brother, as Tada referred to it – is the same vehicle that we’ve been hearing about for years, the model presaged by the FT-1 concept (pictured below) and the car that will be jointly developed with German maker BMW.
“I don't know the name,” Tada said. “But Supra is the heritage of Toyota sports, therefore Supra has a good image and direction.”
It is clear that Toyota will follow the same lead as the likes of BMW with its i8 hybrid supercar and the Honda NSX, which also uses hybrid technology, when it comes to the new Supra (if that’s what it’s called).
“You've already checked Honda's next-generation NSX. It already announced many future technologies for hybrid sports [cars]. With Toyota also already has many investigations into that technology,” he said.
Toyota as a brand has built a strong reputation for petrol-electric hybrid models in its standard car ranks, but never has it had a sporty model with hybrid power. That will change, according to Tada.
“Hybrid technology is the key technology for Toyota. We release hybrid sports [cars] in the market, we must provide something new, something wow, a surprise,” he said.
"That is one of the really important technologies for the car,” he said. “That is how we try to change the minds [of people] with hybrid engines.
“Now there are so many high-end sports cars in the world and 700 or 800-horsepower is not so special," he said, before going on to suggest that the brand had no intention to better those power figures with its new Supra model.
“Many people expect a very good era for sports cars – I mean a really important age. Nowadays the environment has completely changed. So the sports car business is really difficult and challenging, but not only from a business point of view.
“If I say, technically speaking, it is very difficult to achieve production model sports car. It is really difficult to make it because there are so many different regulations every year,” he said.
“But we, Toyota, never give up. We try to make some new solution. So please expect something exciting.”
At the other end of the scale is the smaller brother, the potential for which was clearly showcased by the Toyota S-FR concept at the show. This little sporty coupe is a mix of styles: Mini-like headlights, a big guppy grille and a cutesy, frog-like stance make it stand out from the small car crowd.
“Everybody expects the small sports car must be more affordable [than the 86],” he said of the two-door coupe which still starts from just $29,990 in Australia.
“[We will try to] make a more affordable sports car than 86. Our dream was the same as you. But it’s very hard to realise,” he said.
When it comes to what will power the new S-FR model, there are three options according to Tada. No matter what, though, it will likely be small, front-engined and rear-wheel drive (as the S-FR name denotes).
“When you see the S-FR concept. Nowadays I can choose many candidates of engines, so downsizing turbocharged, 1.5 normal aspiration, and something additional electric power also available.
“Now we are thinking which one is the best heart, best engine, for the small sports car,” he said, despite the fact that the show car was said to be powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder normally aspirated engine with 110kW and 148Nm.
“There are also many expectations from there. Maybe the expectations should be a 1.5-litre. I don't know,” he said.
There have been reports that this could start for city car money if it makes it to production, and now it can be revealed that a convertible version is also on the cards.
Tada said the brand is eager to instil some of the history of small sports cars of generations past, referencing the S800 model to which the S-FR bears some resemblance.
That car was offered with a Targa roof, but Tada suggested, in conversation with the media, that a convertible could make more sense.
“What do you think about it? You like targa? Or fully convertible? Which is better?” he posited, before the assembled group suggested a convertible is the option they would choose.
“Me too,” he said of that potential body style.
Tada went on to explain that he would have liked to have done a convertible body for the 86 – the brand built a concept that took the automotive world by storm – but it never came to reality.
“As you know I tried to realise the convertible 86 also, but there are many reasons I cannot achieve it,” he said. “The biggest one is business case. Mazda [MX-5] roadster is one of the biggest sports car market already, if we released a convertible car in the same kind of segment, maybe it is very difficult to achieve.
Tada said that a smaller convertible could have bigger appeal in its uniqueness, particularly in Europe and Japan.
In Japan, such a small car could potentially be powered by a kei car engine, which must be smaller than 660cc in capacity - though it can be turbocharged, as is the case with some similar small sports models. Indeed, Daihatsu has the Copen and there’s also the Honda S660, and Tada suggested a competitor to either of those models could be lucrative, going as far as to say it is “possible”.
He then went on to suggest, however, that such an engine may not be confined only to Japan.
“As you know Toyota already announced, until 2050 all conventional engines should be gone. That is our road map to the future,” he said of the company’s plans to begin the fazing out of internal combustion petrol engines from 2035 to 2050.
“If that strategy is for sports car also, we will be starting to think ‘what is the best way for Toyota sports’,” he said.