Toyota, BMW Expand Partnership to Sports Cars, Green Technologies


BMW and Toyota announced on Friday that they will jointly develop vehicle architectures and components, including those for sports cars, in addition to collaborating further on environmental technologies including fuel cells, vehicle electrification and lightweight materials.

Top executives for the two companies offered no details about those future sports cars. They clearly will be high performance, high-tech and green. They likely will be made of the lightweight materials and equipped with fuel-efficient, low-polluting engines the two companies have agreed to co-develop. The most recent announcement expands on cooperative arrangements agreed to earlier by the two companies. Last December, BMW and Toyota announced they would jointly research next-generation environmental technologies that leveraged Toyota's expertise in hybrids and BMW's diesel expertise. In March, the companies kicked off joint research into next-generation, lithium-ion batteries used in hybrid and electric cars. The deal also included BMW supplying Toyota's European subsidiary with small-displacement diesel engines starting in 2014.

But it is the sports cars that thrill Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda. In 2009, when he took the reins of the company his grandfather founded, Toyoda promised that automaker, famous for reliable but boring cars, would produce more emotional and passionate cars. The stylish 2013 Toyota Avalon, due out late this year, will be the first vehicle bearing Toyoda's imprint for more emotion.

"I get so excited thinking about the cars that will result from this (BMW-Toyota) relationship," Toyoda said at a press conference after signing the agreement with BMW Board Chairman Norbert Reithofer at BMW's Munich headquarters Friday. "I am the one most looking forward to a sports car that is environmentally friendly and truly excites car fans around the world."

An avid and skilled race car driver, Toyoda said: "When I drive at Nürburgring, there is always a car that passes me, and it is always a BMW. BMW knows how to make a car perform. BMW knows more than anyone else that roads make cars. At Nürburgring, BMW is my greatest rival and has earned my utmost respect."

Toyota's future sports cars may well show up at another famous racetrack — one in Le Mans, France, where earlier this month Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the 11th straight time, but did so for the first time in the race's 80-year history with a hybrid car. Toyota, which hadn't participated in Le Mans since 1999, returned this year and it also came with hybrid cars. Capturing the lead at one point, Toyota ultimately was forced to drop out of the competition.

The Toyota-BMW sports cars not only involve passion and performance but also practicality. A BMW-Toyota sports car undoubtedly will be expensive to develop with its costly materials and advanced propulsion systems. A partnership spreads the costs over what will also undoubtedly yield small unit sales volume of the sports cars.

That's now a familiar and successful concept for Toyota. The arrangement with BMW comes on the heels of the just-launched sports cars developed jointly by Toyota and Subaru. Built by Subaru, the partners spread the costs to develop the rear-drive, back-to-basic sports cars so both companies could sell them at a low starting price of about $25,000 and sell them profitably in relatively small volumes while building excitement for the respective brands. Both Toyota's version — Scion FR-S — and the Subaru BRZ are hot-sellers at the moment. Italian automaker Fiat and Japanese maker Mazda followed their lead, recently announcing that the 2015 Alfa Romeo Spider, a successor to the Italian brand's last roadster that ended production in 1993, will be based on the next-generation Mazda Miata MX-5.

For its part, BMW will have increased access to Toyota's vast expertise in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electrification technologies, as used in its expanding family of Toyota Prius models. "It (electrification) is crucial to the efficiency, range, and cost of the vehicle," BMW's Reithofer said Friday. "Mobility and its industrialization are in the midst of a technological shift. At the BMW Group, we refer to this as iconic change. I believe this is the most decisive moment our industry has ever faced."

Only a couple days ago, BMW ended talks with General Motors that began in December concerning joint work on fuel cells. A BMW spokesman said the German automaker is still talking to GM but no longer on the topic of fuel cells. Talks reportedly will continue on other fuel-saving technologies. BMW already cooperates with France's PSA Peugeot Citroen on engines for the Mini brand and the two are working on hybrid components. However, those are under review after GM bought a stake in Peugeot on a vehicle and technology development.

"Strategic partnerships are an essential part of our strategy number one," said Reithofer. "It is one way of securing long-term access to customers and technologies."

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