15 Feb 2011
You are gazing at the Toyota FT-86. It might not be the fastest car in world. Nor is it the best looking. It might not even be very economical, compared to say a Toyota Prius. But what it lacks in mpg, it certainly makes up for in importance. And even though you might not know it yet, you could be looking at the most important car that Toyota has made in the past 2 decades. And the worst part of it is, it may never be released as a Toyota at all.
Toyota has been in a tailspin as of late. With the economic crash of 2009 and the nearly 8 million vehicles recalled in 2010, Toyota’s once perfect image has been taking a bit of a beating. Consumer confidence is down in poll after poll and sales have followed, with Toyota selling a full 850,000 less cars in 2010 then it did just 3 short years ago; And there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. With exceptionally brilliant new cars such as the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Taurus competing for Toyota’s bread and butter, their inventory is starting to look old and dated. But it’s not to late, because the FT-86 could be exactly the spark the Toyota Motor Company needs.
Not since the mid 90’s when the all mighty Toyota Supra roamed the earth has Toyota had a proper sports car. When the Supra was killed in the U.S. due to skyrocketing production costs in 1998, it left a hole too large to be filled by the lowly front wheel drive Toyota Celica and the MR2 Roadster. So that is what makes the FT-86 such an important moment in Toyota History. It marks the return to being relevant again in the global sports car market. It finally marks saying goodbye to the fatherly persona that Toyota has acquire in the last 13 years. The sleepy old man, who is content with just selling 4 door cruise boxes.
And yet here we are in 2011 and the single most important car that Toyota might launch in the next 5 years, is staring at death before the first car has rolled off the assembly line.
Enter Scion. Toyota’s youth oriented American car brand, aimed at the very segment Toyota abandoned all those years ago. If a car was ever too exciting for Toyota or exhibited to much free spirit it was sent downt down to play in the Minors. And at first it worked. Scion was a hit in the crowded Sub Compact and Compact market with its cubic styling, emphases of customizability, and cheap pricing. But just like the parent company, Scion has been desperately holding on to it’s now aging xD, xA, and TC lineup and it’s grown stale as the industry has frankly moved on. Even the new Scion TC has been criticized for being to similar to the old one and just a minor body refresh. Also like their parent company, Scion has been shedding customers for years, as they sport one of the oldest lineups in the industry.
So would giving the FT-86 to Scion really be the right step? No. It’d be like putting a chimpanzee behind the wheel of an Enzo and just expecting him to know what to do. Just because he seems reasonably smart at times, doesn’t mean your not going to get feces thrown at you. Nissan recently went though this exact same problem when trying to decide where to send the GTR when it came to America. And ultimately they made the right choice. The GTR didn’t fit the styling and brand of the Infiniti nameplate. Not to mention, the amount of press and traffic Nissan receives simply because they decided to put this car in their own showrooms. The results have been phenomenal. Not only is the GTR one of the greatest cars on the planet, but it has helped to give the Nissan brand a serious shot in the arm of creditability. Much like the GTR, the FT-86 simply does not match Scion’s brand. It doesn’t match it’s cubic design language, It doesn’t match it’s marketing philosophy of customization, techno thrills, and cheap laughs; It doesn’t match Scion’s image of a hip eco box. Developed in conjunction with Subaru, the FT-86 exudes a blistering demeanor. One of power and passion. Looking at the car, you can’t help but smile from it’s outlandish styling cues and promised performance. The FT-86 is a 300hp (allegedly) RWD drive rocket. Not a crayon box with speakers that light up in the doors. If anyone could benefit from a new sports car it’d be Toyota. The company whose recently tarnished image needs to grasp on to anything that can help it crawl out of the hole it’s made for itself. With Honda announcing the NSX’s return and Nissan comfortably smashing anyone that even looks funnily at the GTR and it’s 370z lineup, Toyota could be left as the only major car manufacturer in the world without a proper sports car. Not only that but Subaru would have its own AWD version ready to blast a Scion version out of the water.
So the question becomes, why would Toyota NOT badge the new FT-86 as a Toyota? Surely the traffic, the interest, and the publicity of having a brand new RWD sports car on your lot could do more for Toyota’s image then that of Scion’s? Not only could they entice a new buyer who may have never stepped foot on a Toyota lot before with it, but they might also keep older buyers who may have grown tired of Toyota’s archaic lineup. Giving it to Scion would simply tell the world, it’s not good enough to be on one of the largest car manufacturers in the world’s car lot. The same lot that sells over 1.7 million cars a years in the U.S., versus the Scion’s meager 57,961 vehicles in 2009.
In the end we only want what’s best for the company that bought us the all-mighty Supra; And we know that they will eventually make the right decision. So all we can really say is that, no matter what badge is glued to the front of the FT-86, we can’t wait to take it for a test drive.