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PartnerShift

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On: Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 11:37AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


PartnerShift

By now, most gear heads, or at least auto show goers are familiar with and drooling over the Toyota FT-86.  The Future Toyota-86 will mark Toyota's first re-entry into the small sports car segment since the MR2 Spyder bowed out three years ago.  The new car promises to be fast, fun, and affordable, not to mention quite the looker.  But what people seem to be forgetting is the reason why the new Toyota will be fast and affordable:  It was designed in partnership with rally-car obsessed Subaru.  This partnership is the first for the two companies and could pay off in a big way for both companies who bring very different aspects to the table.  In this situation, Toyota appears to be the big money Trump-like investor who promises a solid name to attach to the car using their best marketing and (once) marquee quality control, while Subaru appears as the start-up guy with all the ideas and the design plans.  But however they dice up the partnership, both companies could be the beneficiaries of some very high revenue if this car hits the market with as much value as promised.  

The FT-86's(the name is designated for both companies) drivetrain is all but entirely Subaru. The gearbox and platform come from the Impreza and Legacy respectively, while the engine is Subaru’s 2.0 liter horizontally opposed Boxer four that is expected to put down around 200 horsepower in naturally aspirated form. The Toyota model is expected to retain the NA motor, but the Subaru may just be a barnburner. There is talk of adding a WRX style turbo to the Subaru version making around 265 horsepower, and possibly even an STi model that could produce 300 plus horsepower from a 2.5 liter turbo. No all-wheel drive will be available on the Subaru version however. Although an non-AWD Subaru sounds strange, the design philosophy of the FT-86 was always supposed to be a small rear wheel drive sports car, not to mention another small AWD car could cannibalize potential WRX sales as well. Identical body panels will be used by both cars, with the only differences being bumpers, wheels, grills, and badging. Testing around the Nurburgring track in Germany has been fairly consistent for the FT-86, but the drivers have all been on Subaru payroll, which makes sense considering the car is essentially all rally car. Toyota personnel are on hand as well, but they seem to be mostly for moral support and time keeping.

The car itself is small and well balanced with a low center of gravity and nearly 50/50 weight distribution. It is also short at a scant 163 inches in length, which makes the Hyundai Genesis look long. Yet somehow there is room for four passengers, although only two of them will probably travel comfortably. Details are still sketchy about the interior of the car, but a sporty cockpit is expected to be adorned with a flat bottom steering wheel, and aluminum accents sprinkled about. The FT-86's weight is still a secret neither Toyota nor Subaru are ready to divulge, more than likely because the car is only "50 percent complete" according to Toyota, but a curb weight of around 2400 pounds would not be a surprise.

After taking more time than expected to produce, which seems to be a trend for Toyota lately (the decade long LFA production comes to mind), the car is scheduled to be on showroom floors at the end of next year for a five grand premium over the initial $25,000 anticipated base price, with an optioned out model coming in around the 30 grand mark. Again, a la LFA, production costs are more than expected and now there is talk of an even smaller car to compete at the original price point the FT-86 was supposed to come in at.

There have been many cross brand vehicle duplicates over the years:GM had a relationship with Suzuki and its Geo cars back in the 1990’s. Mitsubishi and Chrysler have had a few cars that paired up over the years including the Eclipse/Talon and the 3000GT/Stealth match up. Ford and Mazda paired up for a few cars including the Explorer/Navajo and the Ranger/B-Series pickup trucks. Chrysler also had the less than successful partnership with Maserati in the form of the Lebaron/TCtag-team. So with less than stellar odds of both company’s FT-86’s being a success, it will be interesting to see if Toyota's marketing will trump Subaru's performance or vice versa. But no matter who wins the sales competition, the real winners in this partnership will be those lucky enough to get behind the wheel of an FT-86 in the very near future.


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