BMW and Toyota settle on joint supercar

words - Peter Lyon
Lexus LFA to be totally rethought and hybridized as part of BMW-Toyota joint venture

It's been nearly two years since Toyota and BMW announced an agreement to co-develop sports cars using state-of-the-art hybrid technologies, and now a source close to the two companies says the pair has decided on its first joint-venture.

Sorry folks, but it won't be anything like a souped-up Toyota 86. No siree.

In all their wisdom, executives citing the high cost of developing a high-performance sports car with lightweight materials have opted for a $300,000-plus Lexus LFA-style package, but with a hybrid twist.

This new two-door flagship will pick up where the LFA left off, or should we say, where the LFA never went. The LFA spent far too long on the development table (nearly 10 years) with its naturally aspirated V10 engine, while many other car-makers were fitting hybrid and electric powertrains in their high-performance models.

Interestingly, Toyota was the first to commercialise hybrids with the original Prius in 1997, but it took many more years for it to apply that technology to V8s. Ironically, therefore, Toyota is now playing catch-up in the hybrid hyper-car segment.

Supercar makers are more conscious of CO2 emissions than ever before while at the same time delivering more power and performance, and powertrain electrification is the key to realising these opposing goals in the same vehicle.

Take for example the electrically assisted Ferrari La Ferrari and McLaren P1, for example, or the purely battery-powered Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive – the most powerful AMG ever made.

Porsche has its Panamera plug-in hybrid too, as well as the million-dollar 918 Spyder super-hybrid that recently set a new production car lap record at the Nurburgring of 6:57.

We weren't surprised when, during a recent trip to Toyota's proving ground near Mt Fuji, we saw a BMW i8 plug-in hybrid super-coupe sitting in the carpark. Our source tells us that in addition to emissions trials, Toyota is conducting durability testing of the i8's carbon-fibre frame in relation to the pair's jointly developed sports car.

So the obvious question is what will each company bring to the R&D table in this challenging collaboration? It goes without saying that Toyota will supply its hybrid technology, having already experimented with high-performance hybrid powertrains for the V8-powered Lexus LS 600h.

The Japanese car-maker can also offer more than a decade of carbon-fibre body and chassis lessons learned from the LFA, which also benefits from V10 engine expertise.

Toyota spent billions developing the LFA and its V10, just 500 examples of which were produced, so Toyota wants to leverage that technology to recoup some of those costs.

BMW, on the other hand, is an engine-producing powerhouse that may no longer have a V10 in its range, but the M5's 412kW 4.4-litre turbo V8 develops the same amount of power as the LFA's 4.8-litre V10 while consuming far less fuel and emitting less CO2.

So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduct that a BMW 4.4-litre turbo V8 married to a Toyota hybrid system may be the best powertrain solution for a joint-venture sportster.

Less clear are the origins of the co-developed supercar's chassis. Toyota has carbon-fibre expertise from its LFA journey, while BMW has perfected carbon-fibre reinforced plastic production on a mass scale, as evidenced by the launch of the i3.

There are other questions too, such as how the powertrain will transfer its performance to the road, and how good it will look doing it.

While BMW has a reputation for building "the ultimate driving machine" and its own brand of unique design, Toyota – through Lexus – must up its game in the sheetmetal department and perhaps borrow some on-road mastery from BMW in order to deliver a supercar that handles like a $300,000 car should.

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Published : Monday, 4 November 2013
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