Toyota President Akio Toyoda is ordering engineers and designers to spice up the brand’s bland image with exciting new cars. “I want a car that shows what we are aiming for, something affordable, fun to drive and good for the environment,” Toyoda said. He references the MR2 hybrid sports car concept as the kind of product he expects from a new focus on exciting fun.
The 400-horsepower MR2 hybrid is based on the MR2 platform that was nixed from the U.S. market in 2005. When Toyota unveiled the MR2 Sports Hybrid Concept at the Tokyo Auto Salon in January, observers gave it a zero percent chance of being produced.
The MR2 Sports Hybrid Concept combines a 3.3-liter V6, used to drive the rear wheels through a continuously variable transmission, and an electric motor for the front wheels. The concept has an estimated zero-to-60 time under 4.5 seconds.
CHANGE OF DIRECTION IN THE WIND?
Mr. Toyoda’s desire for pizazz, excitement, and power, plus economy helps explain why he decided to team up with Tesla Motors. The partnership between Tesla and Toyota creates high-power excitement, but it’s too early to tell as to how product development will advance.
Putting resources into producing M2-like hybrid excitement or co-producing an EV with Tesla could represent a shift in direction, as Toyota reshapes its image after a season of global safety recalls. Creating exciting visionary new products can be great. But the company doesn’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The auto market (and the world) needs mass-market high-efficiency vehicles that meet the needs of everyday drivers. Their projected One million hybrids per year: Well, there’s nothing bland about that.