Recent concepts have cues RAV4 will adopt, but could also serve as basis for new nameplates
If you were hoping to see the return of the Toyota Supra in January at the North American International Auto Show, you will be disappointed.
It’s too soon to unveil the much-anticipated sports car. Specifications are still being finalized, and it’s not at production levels yet, said Jack Hollis, Toyota group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division in North America.
Even the name has not been pinned down. Supra is a candidate but not the only candidate. In fact, “there are other names that could be better,” Hollis told Motor Trend. Cressida? Celica? And there have been suggestions it could be badged Gazoo instead of Toyota, a nod to Toyota’s Gazoo Racing team.
Toyota collaborated with BMW to create a rear-drive sports car platform for the respective automakers: a Z4 replacement for BMW and a Supra replacement for Toyota, creating some economies of scale for otherwise low-volume vehicles.
We have already seen the next Z4, but the closest we’ve seen to a Supra is the FT-1 concept at the 2014 Detroit auto show and a lot of spy shots of a sports car testing on the Nürburgring. Both cars will be built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria.
Toyota made four generations of the Supra from 1978 to 2002, initially as a derivative of the Celica. Its life was shorter in the U.S., where it left the market in 1998; it had already stopped production for Canada in 1986. It was known for its inline-six engines, and early versions boasted of an independent suspension tuned by Lotus. The third-generation Supra in 1986 split from the Celica, which went front-wheel drive while the Supra remained rear-drive. A turbo was added in 1987, and by the fourth generation, it was a twin-turbo.
To partially fill the sports car gap, Toyota introduced the Scion FR-S in 2012, which became the Toyota 86 for the 2017 model year because the Scion brand was discontinued. There is no turbo planned for the 86 because it’s being saved for the Supra.
RAV4 styling cues
While the Supra replacement remains cloaked, Toyota continues to give us strong hints of some of the design cues for the next-generation RAV4 as well as possible new nameplates to expand the SUV lineup.
For exterior styling cues, look to the FT-AC (Future Toyota Adventure Concept) now on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The concept is a bit bigger than the current RAV4. Hollis sees room for a new crossover in the space between the current RAV4 and the Highlander SUV. There might even be room for two more crossovers.
Because there is room to expand the SUV lineup, while still needing to update existing vehicles, Toyota has shown three concepts since March that are fodder for both missions.
Concepts could become new nameplates
There is the FT-AC in L.A., the smaller FT-4X (Future Toyota with all-wheel drive) was shown at the New York auto show in March, and the TJ Cruiser van concept shown in Tokyo in October. All are ways for Toyota to explore design concepts and features to gauge public reaction and make production decisions.
The FT-AC has detachable foglights, cameras in the side mirrors, an integrated bike rack, and a formidable bin for a roof rack that has LED lighting on the back that can double as a flash for the cameras by using a mobile app. Images and video from the cameras can be uploaded via the vehicle’s Wi-Fi hot spot. Toyota is gauging reaction at the L.A. show only—the FT-AC will not be on display in Detroit because it’s saving NAIAS for a vehicle from a different family (again, not the Supra replacement). Within six months, a decision is expected on whether a version of the FT-AC goes into production as a new nameplate or if aspects of it are incorporated into other new vehicles such as the RAV4 or 4Runner.
The concepts are based on the flexible Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, that will underpin the bulk of the company’s front-drive, car-based, unibody vehicle portfolio and is scaled for all sizes and can accommodate hybrid powertrains.
No production decision on the FT-4X, the first to be shown, has been made yet, Hollis said. And although initial reaction to the FT-AC in L.A. has been more positive than anticipated, a decision is still about six months out.
Spirit of the FJ Cruiser
Each concept has raised the specter of a return, at least in spirit, of the cult classic FJ Cruiser that was discontinued in 2014 and was on a different platform. Hollis doesn’t dismiss the idea of a more car-based reincarnation of the name. He just says it’s too soon to put it on any of the concepts yet. For now, the exercise is “learning where we might fit in new product down the road.”
As for the new RAV4, Hollis wouldn’t say when the top-selling next-generation SUV is due. Details of the RAV4 are all locked down, and Toyota will not make any changes now that it has seen its main competitor, the Honda CR-V, which is Motor Trend’s 2018 SUV of the Year. “Nothing about the CR-V changes our product,” Hollis said.
Meanwhile, at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit this week, Hollis noted the U.S. market is now a 64/36 split of truck/car sales while Toyota is selling closer to 59/41, showing potential growth with more SUVs. “We should be and we will be increasing in 2018,” he said.
Tundra development under way
On the truck side, the Tacoma is not ready for a refresh yet, but work is underway to update the full-size Tundra. It’s still a couple years out, which means it will be after General Motors introduces a new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra and after Fiat Chrysler introduces its new Ram 1500.
As for Toyota’s big bet on fuel cell vehicles while the rest of the industry has chosen batteries for their pure electric vehicles, Hollis said the Mirai FCV, Class 8 heavy duty fuel cell truck, and other FCVs that generate electricity onboard are better products than battery-electric vehicles that have to be charged.
The automaker has announced plans to build the first fuel cell power generation plant with a hydrogen fueling station in Long Beach, California. It will be ready in 2020.
Hollis is convinced the public would embrace FCVs if the necessary hydrogen infrastructure was in place. Toyota is working with the state of California as well as co-investors, but progress is slow. The state has only completed half the promised number of hydrogen stations, he said.
Toyota will continue to pursue every degree of electrification, he said, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, FCVs, and yes, even pure battery electric vehicles, though that is the one flavor of EV it doesn’t currently have.