Toyota, Fuji Heavy Industries considering to jointly develop "low-priced" sports car
9, 11. 2007
Toyota Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. are studying the possibility of jointly developing a new model of sports cars for sales on the Japanese market, it has been disclosed. The cars will be powered by the "horizontally opposed engines" developed by Fuji. They will be priced in the low range of less than 2 million yen to make them affordable to young people. The companies are expected to start selling them in the next few years. The focal point of this project is whether or not Toyota, known to be good at planning strongly marketable products, can utilize its ability jointly with Fuji, which has been placing the emphasis on the performance in the car manufacturing rather than on cost.
Toyota car with horizontally opposed engine?
The sports car market in Japan is getting sluggish in the face of declining birth rate. Young people also tend to shun sports cars. Main reasons for this tendency is that sports cars usually give less mileage, that there are not many roads to drive sports cars at fast speed in the country and that the maintenance cost for sports cars, including insurances, is high. The car users are thus tending to go more for miniature vans and compact cars rather than sports cars.
Toyota has virtually withdrawn from small sports car business
There are luxury models of sports cars. But the Mazda's Roadstar is just about the only model of sports cars available on the market as an entry model for young people and woman drivers.
Toyota quit the production of the MR-S sports cars in July 2007, and the company has virtually withdrawn from the small sports car business. Toyota, which is the No. 1 carmaker of the world, however, is not pleased with not having the small sports car division. The company is apparently considering to produce such cars.
The joint development of small sports cars with Fuji thus looms as a conceivable project. It appears strange to imagine that Toyota is entrusting Fuji with the development of such cars when it is taken into consideration that Fuji's planned spending for research and development for the term ending in March 2008 amounts only to 53 billion yen against Toyota's 940 billion yen.
It appears to be Toyota's recent management policy, however, to entrust the manufacturing divisions it does not have to companies under its wing in order to expand as a group. The production of new diesel engines by Isuzu Motors and sports cars by Fuji may be carried out under this policy.
Fuji, along with Porsche AG, has the strong public image as a sports car maker with the horizontally opposed engines of high horse powers. It has entered the touring wagon market with the successful sales of the Legacy. The Legacy and Impreza cars tend to be shunned, however, because of their height. Lately, they seem to be lugging behind minivans, SUV's and compact cars.
The company has formed a tie-up with General Motors of the United States at one time but failed in sharing of technology. It has since been praised as a company of high technology but poor at manufacturing popular products.
Is it possible to make full use of "the pride of high technology"?
Mitsuo Kinoshita, vice-president of Toyota, which has become the top shareholder of Fuji by investing 8.7%, said:
"We have not decided which unit to take at this point. But we want to utilize the high technology of Fuji Heavy Industries, such as the horizontally opposed engine and 4WD."
He thus indicated the possibility of making use of Fuji's technology for Toyota cars.
The possible joint project also holds the possibility of giving a fresh stimulation for Fuji.
The tie-up with Toyota gave the impression of idea changes about the new model of Impreza put on the market in June as exemplified by the designing for the expansion of the inner room and the storage space.
Under the expected joint development of low-priced sports cars, the existing engines of the 1,000cc to 1,500cc classes and chassis of compact cars are likely to be used. This would be entirely new method for Fuji.
A major hurdle would be whether or not Fuji, which prides itself on the high technology, can agree to the manufacturing of cars that will be sold under the Toyota brand. If this hurdle can be cleared and new cars will be made by fully utilizing the Fuji's technology to impress the car lovers, there could be an interesting development in the car world.