Five years ago, we put the curvalicious, basted-in-cherry-red-paint backside of Toyota’s FT-1 concept on our cover (see that cover below). We haven’t had a better-selling March issue since—which explains why the highly anticipated production version of the FT-1 is our cover car this month.
What is a surprise is how the excitement and anticipation for the return of Toyota’s legendary Supra has slowly given way to subtle shade and full-on Haterade from keyboard warriors on social media, the forum boards, and beyond. As more details of Supra’s co-development with BMW’s Z4 emerged, there were cries from Gardena to Bavaria to Kansai: Surely one shall pollute, or at least dilute, the other? Neither fish nor fowl, JDM nor DTM, what is this unholy union between Germany and Japan?
It’s smart, that’s what it is.
Toyota has been here before. Most recently in the Subaru + Toyota tie-up for the BRZ and 86 sports car. Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada led Toyota’s side of that joint venture, as he does now with BMW.
Pull back and examine how Toyota does business around the world, and you’ll find that it regularly enters into a wide range of partnerships with other OEMs both at home and abroad. For the Lexus LFA, Toyota worked with motorcycle and musical instrument maker Yamaha to build that supercar’s sonorous, superlative, and free-spinning V-10. What is now Tesla’s main production facility in Fremont, California, used to be New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated, a plant, co-owned by General Motors and Toyota for 26 years, that produced everything from Geo Prizms and Pontiac Vibes to hundreds of thousands of Toyota Corollas and Tacomas.
And let’s all remember who Toyota is teaming up with for its flagship sports car. This isn’t another Suzuki or Mazda tie-up for the econobox segment. This is BMW, not just the Ultimate Driving meisters but arguably the very best partner Toyota could have selected when it comes to Supra’s most foundational element: the straight-six engine.
As with every preceding generation, the fifth-gen A90 Supra receives an inline-six engine. Although V-6s still abound in Toyota factories, it has no I-6 engine currently in production. BMW is legendary (and critically, it’s still operating in this space), with a nearly unbroken string of straight-six development and production since the 1930s. (If you’re curious, Google BMW M30, M88, S54, and S55 engines.) Because you’re a car nerd like us, you’ll no doubt recognize a lot of BMW in the Supra pictures that follow, but chalk those up to the new reality.
The main reason this partnership is smart is because it saves money. And saving money this way allows for product lines to grow, not shrink. FCA, then Ford, and most recently GM have all cut and run from the car business, getting out of full model lines like Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion/Focus, and GM Volt and Cruze. These were volume models.
Would a likely expensive, definitely low-volume, clearly-not-an-SUV rocket ship like the Supra (or Z4) be greenlit in the current climate? I say no way. It’s only because this project started back in 2012 and was so far into production, with two fully vested partners, that both vehicles are now coming to market. How long will they stay? Well, that depends on you.
If you still have doubts, the question you must answer is this: Is the world a better place with new Toyota Supras and BMW Z4s that share key parts? Or would you rather have neither? As automobiles, and sports cars in particular, continue to cede ground to SUVs and CUVs, I know my answer. Let me know yours on Twitter @edloh.
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