CAR scoop: BMW and Toyota's joint sports car plot

Published: 13 September 2013

BMW is buddying up with Toyota on an all-new sports car platform, set to underpin the replacements for the Z4, 6-series and GT86. The unlikely collaboration stems from an alliance that began in 2011, where BMW and Toyota agreed to co-develop next-generation lithium ion batteries, and for Toyota to use BMW’s fourpot diesels in its European cars. An engineering team is beavering away on the project, with the clock ticking: the suits want to outline the car’s specification before the end of 2013.

What does BMW get out of the bargain?

BMW wants a flexible platform that can underpin a likely two-seat roadster and a bigger, high performance coupe. It’s a pressing matter for Munich: Z4 sales have dried up, with just 15,249 sold in 2012. And the current flagship sports car – the M6 – is deemed too much of a chunky gran tourer compared with the Audi R8 and Mercedes’ 911 rival due in 2016. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Z4 and 6-series evolve into very different propositions as the project firms up.

And what's in it for Toyota exactly?

Meanwhile Toyota could use the platform to revive the MR2 and perhaps the Supra, as well as replace the GT86. Regardless, the move looks very bad news for Subaru, Toyota’s junior partner in today’s GT86/BRZ coupes.

How is the new BMW-Toyota sports car shaping up?

BMW and Toyota want a lightweight, rear-drive platform, with the engine mounted up front but pushed back as far as possible. The sports car will incorporate carbonfibre composite technology, to boost agility and handling – two areas where Toyota wants to go to school on BMW know-how. The project team is assessing the costs/benefits of a hybrid element to the drivetrain too.

Unsurprisingly, politics is causing friction behind the scenes at BMW, where a growing number of GT86s on Belgian plates and Auris Verso MPVs powered by BMW diesels are invading the car parks, along with a solitary Lexus LFA. BMW’s old guard are racking up a list of grumbles: first, eco-brand Project i swallowed around €2.6 billion of investment they’d have preferred funding ‘Ultimate Driving Machines’, now an unwelcome Japanese connection might put off die-hard BMW customers, they fear.

The M Division also frets it could lose out if Toyota ends up leading the sports car project; tensions are already running high after BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer put the on/off M8 supercar back on ice, throttling the plan to unveil the 650bhp mid-engined coupe on BMW’s 100th birthday. Reithofer is far more excited by halo cars such as the hybrid i8 supercar, and he’ll be fascinated by the fuel cell and hybrid learning that can be gleaned from Toyota, to help feed the i brand.

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By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel