When rumors of the Toyota 86 first began to circulate in 2010, the people I talked to inside Toyota USA thought it had little chance of becoming reality. After all, sports coupes are risky…they may sell well for a year or two, but sooner or later they fall out of favor. As a result, it’s difficult to build a sports coupe profitably.
The last generation Toyota MR-2 and Celica are both prime examples of this phenomenon – after a couple of great years, sales fell to a trickle. Considering all the money that goes into developing a vehicle, not to mention the opportunity cost of tasking an army of engineers on a product that will fall on it’s face after two years, an entry-level sports coupe seemed unlikely.
Yet the Toyota 86 – aka Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, or GT-86, depending on where you live – is a runaway winner worldwide. Critics love the car, and global consumer demand seem to be significantly higher than anticipated. The original intention was to produce 60k versions of the car in 2012, but that number was expanded to 100k last March. While global sales figures are hard to come by, Scion FR-S sales in the USA are just about exactly double what they were last year.
By any measure, the Toyota 86 is a runaway success. When an automaker has a success on their hands, the first thing they do is start building variants. Rumors of a supercharged Scion FR-S (not a TRD-sourced supercharger, but a factory supercharged version), GT-86 convertibles, and even a Lexus version of the FR-S have flown around for the last 18 months. The latest rumor is that Toyota will build a sedan off the 86 platform, and this rumor seems particularly credible.
Toyota Is All About The Hybrids
If there’s one important insight into Toyota’s future product plans that will give you the “inside track,” it’s that Toyota wants to build a hybrid version of every car they make. When it comes to the 86 coupe, hybrid technology is problematic. Not only would a hybrid powertrain negatively effect the straight-line performances of the 86 coupe, but it would also significantly increase the vehicle’s weight (about 300lbs, give or take). Purists wouldn’t like the car, and the hybrid crowd isn’t likely to line-up to buy a sports coupe that’s not really sporty.
But if you increase the size and weight of the coupe and turn it into a sedan, adding a hybrid powertrain becomes very feasible. Not only are the expectations for a sports sedan more hybrid-friendly, but hybrid buyers (typically older, wealthier, and more practical than entry-level sports coupe buyers) are far more likely to be interested in a four door.
What’s more, looming US federal fuel economy requirements encourage automakers to produce wider and longer cars. Each vehicle will be assessed based on it’s “footprint” (track times wheelbase), with larger footprints having lower fuel economy goals. By making the 86 a sedan with a hybrid engine, Toyota both lowers their federal fuel economy target and improves fuel economy in one move.
It says here that the Toyota 86 sedan is all but certain – look for it by 2016. It will likely arrive alongside an updated Toyota 86 coupe with a more fuel efficient (and Toyota sourced) engine that will produce even more power than the current car.
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