The Toyota 86 is the Japanese carmaker's first sports model in quite a while
Toyota to let loose two more sports cars after the 86 PHOTO: TOYOTA

[SINGAPORE] The radical new Toyota 86 compact coupé is only the first of three new sports car line-ups that the Japanese carmaker is planning as part of a new business model that seeks to create a bond with buyers.

"The 86 is in the middle but we don't know when the other two will be ready," says Tetsuya Tada, the chief engineer of the 86, the first sports car for the Japanese giant carmaker in recent history. A lightweight 2+2 model, the 86 has a 2.0-litre horizontally opposed engine in front to drive the rear wheels in classic fashion.

Mr Tada continues: "The 86 needed five years to develop, so at least five years is required for the others. A normal passenger car about two to three years. But sports cars need special parts, so it's five years."

Also not determined is whether the other two cars will be coupés or convertibles, or if they will have different engine/drive layouts "because technology changes, so we have to find the best layout".

So it is entirely possible that one of the line-ups could have a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout like the discontinued two-seater MR2 (also called the MR-S in its final iteration).

But one thing is certain - the higher-end sports model is likely to be introduced before the entry-level car.

Mr Tada explains with a smile: "The president (Akio Toyoda) has asked me to make a successor to the Supra as soon as possible."

The chief engineer was speaking in Germany at the recent launch of the Toyota 86 Experience to highlight the model's sporty abilities.

"The 86 was not conceived for pure speed but for driving pleasure," he explains. It was inspired by the AE86 Levin of 1983, the original lightweight Toyota coupé which also happened to be Mr Tada's first car when he joined the firm.

It also has the ability to be extensively customised as per owner's wishes.

"The philosophy of the 86 is that it is an open concept," says Mr Tada.

The conventional way is for the carmaker to produce a car and call it perfect, which means the users don't have to or can't do anything else. For example, if the rims and tyres are changed, the manufacturer's warranty is void.

Instead, the 86 was created as a car with the potential to change into something the customer wants it to be. "Why? Because if you ask 100 people what you think of the car, you will get 100 answers. They all have different views," he said.

Hence the open concept, which will satisfy customers because the car evolves with them and make 100 people's dreams come true.

Taking it one step further, Toyota has even made Playstation integration possible. A black box can record a track day session, and the telemetry downloaded to be played back and shared with other gamers on their Sony Playstation consoles. As a result, the addition of a turbo or supercharger can be simulated to see how it will enhance the naturally aspirated 86's performance.

So far, the success of the 86 has been a surprise, not least of all for rivals Nissan and Honda.

"They realise from the 86's sales that they have to go back to this kind of car. If everybody goes back to their roots, everyone can have a one-make race," says the former racer.

He reveals that Toyota wants to make sports cars again because "it is a very important strategy".

"We have two pillars - an ecological car and driving fun. We must balance these two aims otherwise users won't recognise us a true carmaker."

But Mr Tada notes that the mass production of sports cars has ceased to be a conventional business.

After the financial crisis of 2009, Toyota realised that it could no longer sell cars to dealers to make money because "the car population (was) not going to increase in future".

"So this is a new business model. When customers buy a car, it creates a new bond between the manufacturer and the owner - we do not just profit from selling the car," he said.