CAR magazine interviewed Karl Schlicht, the product chief at Toyota and Lexus, to find out how one of the world's biggest car makers is fighting to make its cars more engaging. Japan's biggest manufacturer seemingly has quality and engineering licked, but is keen to inject real desirability on its European range - and products like the GT86 sports car and recently facelifted Yaris suggest that Toyota is making strides in that direction. Read on for our full interview.
CAR: Toyota has kept promising cars that are better to drive, but apart from the GT86, we’re not seeing it. When will we actually get cars that give VW or Ford a fright?
Karl Schlicht: 'Dynamically? Three or four years ago – before the GT86 – the sales departments of Toyota would have questioned if we were even capable of that. Today it’s quite clear we have the ability.'
So why not sprinkle some GT86 magic over the entire range?
'The [Lexus] CT is a good handling car: very flat in cornering but with a brutal ride. We have to make sure that we don’t just do handling and then have a ride that nobody can stand… If we can do that, plus the improved handling with a new chassis, then we’re there – for normal cars.'
A new chassis...?
'We’re developing the Toyota New Global Architecture and Europe’s role in that is to define [its performance criteria]. In Europe we’re going to focus on dynamics, the interiors and sensory quality for the ABC segments [Aygo to Auris], we’re the lead market for that. We need to contribute to the greater Toyota.'
When will we be able to buy a Toyota that’s proof of this?
'I don’t know if you’ll judge it enough, but you’ll see a change with the Auris, within a year or two years – then after that there will be more with a full model change.'
What about tackling some of the low-quality interiors?
'We’re going to take immediate action on that – this year – on Auris. For a minor change, it’s more than we’ve ever done. I want to fix it as badly as you do.'
And the exterior design won’t be so drab?
'You’re going to see more surprises more often. That doesn’t mean every car is going to be a GT86, but you’re going to see more FT-1s, more risk on design – let’s call them "emotional surprises". Part of that is Mr [Akio] Toyoda [Toyota president], because he’s liberating the designers. We used to have 150 people in a design studio (I was there working, and I couldn’t believe it!). That’s why we had neutral and bland product...If we do the right thing, the money will come, the volume will come and we might be [global] number one.'
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