Toyota 86 to live on
Japanese giant committed to its affordable sports coupe, but won't comment on future Subaru involvement
When Toyota announced it would build an affordable new sports car for the masses, the automotive world cheered. Personally instigated by president Akio Toyoda in an attempt to inject some passion for the brand, the 86 coupe was born in late 2011 and it appeared Toyota had rediscovered its mojo.
Since then the rear-drive 147kW two-door, which was jointly developed by Subaru and Toyota, has been Australia's top-selling sports car, making this country the third biggest market for the car behind the USA and Japan.
But ever since the project was announced there have been murmurs the partnership wasn't watertight, particularly as Toyota took the lion's share of vehicles produced at Subaru's factory and launched two versions of the 86 here with a starting price of just $29,990 plus ORCs – at least $7000 less than Subaru's Australia's single $37,150 drive-away variant.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the 86 has outsold the BRZ here by up to five times, with Toyota finding 3277 customers so far this year while Subaru has sold just 742 BRZs, although sales of both models have slumped in 2014, with 86 sales down 38 per cent and the BRZ down 25.
As sales of both cars slowed worldwide, as is often the case with sports cars as their initial excitement wears off, it was inevitable that question marks would surface about the future of both cars -- despite reports of turbocharged 2.5-litre all-wheel drive and convertible, sedan and even AWD-hybrid versions of the 86.
Speaking with motoring.com.au during the 2014 Paris motor show, Toyota of Europe's Executive Vice President, Karl Schlicht, acknowledged the 86's business case is not ideal but said the Japanese giant was committed to the model and that Toyota would retain its partnership with Subaru for the time being.
"The 86 as you know has been enthusiastically received by the motoring press, but the market's not huge around the world for those kind of cars and they also have a bit of a lifecycle. So as a business it's tougher to justify.
"But we are pretty serious about keeping the 86 pure and keeping a car like that in our line-up. Because in the past we dropped cars like the Celicas and fun cars, and we don’t want to lose that again," said Schlicht, adding that through the late 2000s the lack of sports cars in Toyota's range wasn't ideal.
"It hurts the image over time," said the Toyota executive. "We want to keep some fun cars in our line-up".
Does that mean a second-generation Toyota 86 is being planned? "It's down the road," he said. "The 86 has to go through normal lifecycle," stated Schlicht.
However, Schlicht would not comment on the question of whether Toyota's entry-level $30K sports coupe will remain a collaboration with Subaru for the next generation, leaving question marks over the BRZ's future.