Automotive alliances are increasingly common these days, but perhaps the most interesting tie-ups are the ones involving Toyota. The automaker previously flirted with Tesla and even GM. Now it seems the company is focused on its smaller Japanese counterparts. Subaru is one of those companies. Toyota announced last week their intention to increase their stake in Subaru to over twenty percent. And there’s a second generation Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 in development as well.
Corporate alliances generally take into account the comparative advantages of each company involved in the tie-up. Ford and VW’s new partnership will have the former build trucks and vans for the German automaker while the latter supplies the Blue Oval with electric vehicles. Ford and GM built a ten speed rear wheel drive automatic transmission and a nine speed front wheel drive unit respectively, then swapped with each other, presumably to save R&D money.
Toyota seems to be taking a slightly different approach than its competitors. Instead of partnering with an automaker of similar size on a major project, the company is solidifying relationships with its smaller Japanese competitors. It seems like Toyota is committed to working with companies that can provide the company with the technology and products it feels will expand its portfolio beyond its traditional offerings.
Mazda is one of those companies. Toyota no longer has to make a subcompact for the American market because Mazda is rebadging the Mazda 2 for them. And rumors are circulating that Mazda’s upcoming rear wheel drive platform will also be used by Toyota for future Lexus models. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Toyota would let Mazda use the TNGA platform in return for whatever vehicles the company doesn’t want to switch to rear wheel drive. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened already.
Although that might change soon. Mazda and Toyota are building a new plant in Alabama that was originally going to produce the Corolla and an unknown Mazda vehicle. Those plans have changed and now the new factory will be allocated some type of crossover or sport utility vehicle. I suspect the new vehicle is a two row mid size crossover similar in size to the Nissan Murano or Ford Edge. Neither company has a crossover that size, although Toyota did have the Venza, but that wasn’t a terribly compelling vehicle. It would be a pretty fair trade for Mazda to receive Toyota’s front wheel drive platform in exchange for their future rear wheel drive architecture.
As for Subaru, which is ostensibly the company at the center of this article, it appears Toyota is interested in the company’s all wheel drive tech. They also committed to developing electric vehicles with four wheel traction. Subaru doesn’t have a substantial history of producing desirable electrified products, so it’s safe to assume that they’re just supplying Toyota with some additional capital and some engineering input on the future BRZ/86. Expect to see more Toyota infused products similar to the Crosstrek Hybrid in the future.
As for the next generation BRZ/86, there is room for an improved version of what’s currently available. You have to spend about $26,500 to get a basic version of either car, a price that positions the coupes as direct competitors to the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, two cars that offer far more horsepower and nicer interiors for the same price. A second generation would most certainly address those two areas, and it seems like Toyota is aware of that, as Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada recently said that it will “be better than the Supra.”
Toyota doesn’t really need Subaru or Mazda to tackle electrification or research and development. Beyond taking advantage of the comparative advantages offered by each company, it seems like Toyota wants to simply make more compelling vehicles, and its smaller Japanese counterparts each offer something that can make that happen. A sexy mid size crossover and an electric vehicle with Subaru’s all wheel drive system wouldn’t radically alter Toyota’s already successful roster of product offerings, but it would help sway others to the brand, in addition to keeping loyalists coming back for more.