Oh how quickly things change! Just weeks ago, if you’d asked the average well-informed consumer what Toyota needed to change with its strategy, you’d have been treated to a treatise on how Toyota’s quest for quality and mass-market appeal had reduced its brand to signifying snooze-inducing appliances. Indeed, Toyota’s new CEO has emphasized enthusiasm as an area for improvement, waxing eloquent about the “splendid flavor” of the sporty vehicles Toyota doesn’t offer. Accordingly, Toyota is launching a sporting sub-brand àlá BMW’s “M” or Volkswagen’s new “R” line of high-performance vehicles according to Inside Line. Thanks to Toyota’s descent into recall hell however, boosting the brand’s sporty credentials is suddenly of highly debatable utility.
The brand, which will be called “G’s,” is based on collaboration between Toyota’s Gazoo racing team, Toyota Racing Development and Modelista, Toyota’s entry-level street tuner. The “G’s”-branded vehicles will be the top level of street-tuned Toyotas, providing more power than Modelista vehicles at a higher price point. The first indications of this effort were “G-Sport” tuned Prius, Mark X and FT-86 (aka Toyobaru) concepts shown at the Tokyo Auto Salon. In addition, several Gazoo-developed concepts appeared at the same time, showing off such wacky, nevergonnahappen concepts as a mid-engined, Highlander Hybrid-powered MR2 V6 and hotted-up Aygo and iQ models.
In the post-recall environment, regaining a tarnished quality crown will be Toyota’s top priority, but how and where it introduces more “splendid flavor” to its lineup bears watching as well. Introducing a greater performance emphasis to its lifeless Scion brand makes far more sense in the US market than trying to accustom Americans to a new sub-brand from an OEM that hasn’t sold a legitimately sporty car in years. At the same time, it looks like Scion will not be getting the FT-86 “Toyobaru” RWD coupe that is the poster boy for Toyota’s newfound sporty pretensions, so Toyota will probably introduce a sub-brand for high-po and tuner variants of the budget sports coupe.That would give Toyota two major aspirations (repairing its quality image and building a sporty image) while leaving Scion without a purpose, proving just how quickly GM-style branding conundrums can come into play.
Meanwhile, rumors that the 392 hp hybrid V6-powered MR2 could head for production highlight just how far Toyota might be willing to go to bust its appliance reputation… and show Honda how the hybrid sportscar should be done. And how good the result might be. A 300 hp+ mid-engined sportscar based on an existing platform and hybrid drivetrain (offered alongside the FT-86) would do a lot more to revive Toyota’s sporting profile than an in-house tuner brand. That is, if any of this enthusiasm enhancement actually happens once the corporate aftershocks of Toyota’s quality crash shake out.