Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. introduced its new 86 coupe yesterday, betting that the 200-horsepower sports car will widen the Japanese automaker’s appeal beyond its best- selling Camry sedan and Prius hybrid.
The rear-wheel-drive 86 will be available in the northern hemisphere spring next year, according to the Toyota City, Japan-based company. Pricing details will be released closer to the sale date.
Toyota, poised to lose the title of world’s largest automaker to General Motors Co., is renewing a push for sports cars under Akio Toyoda, who became president in June 2009. The carmaker is hoping the new model will burnish its image that’s been battered by recalls and production interrupted by the nation’s record earthquake and flooding in Thailand.
“Toyota’s cars are traditionally seen as not fun,” said Takayuki Kinoshita, a racing enthusiast and author of ‘Akio Toyoda’s Character: The Rebirth of Toyota.’ “It’s good that Toyota could introduce this car under Akio’s direction. It may change Toyota’s image among drivers.”
The 86 derives its name from the AE86 Corolla Levin sports car it was based on and aims to be a car that “evolves with its owner,” the automaker said in an e-mailed release.
The model features Toyota’s smallest steering wheel at 365 millimeters (14.4 inches) in diameter, a front design that evokes a “predator about to pounce” and fuel efficiency to match that of a 2-liter-engine sedan, according to the company. It was co-developed with Subaru-brand owner Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.
“The 86 is a great car that’s fit for driving on any kind of road,” said Toyoda, who drove a production prototype at a preview yesterday at the former Formula One racetrack in Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture. “It’s compact and easy to handle.”
Toyoda touts the role of racing in car development and has taken part in 24-hour endurance events. Under his leadership, the carmaker’s luxury Lexus division rolled out the Lexus LFA $375,000 supercar.
“The design is very new and refreshing, and the orange color is cool,” said Hirotaka Teraoka, a car fan who traveled from Hiroshima city southwest of Tokyo to the preview. “The low body and the smooth design is great, and it looks like the Lexus LFA.”
Toyota’s newest sports addition extends the lineage of racing machines that date back to its first supercar, the 2000GT, which was featured in the 1967 James Bond movie, “You Only Live Twice,” starring Sean Connery.
Other sports cars that Toyota has discontinued include the Supra, built between 1986 and 2002 and featured in the 2001 racing movie “The Fast and the Furious,” the MR-S roadster that ended production in 2007, and the Celica, made between 1970 and 2006.
While sports models traditionally contribute little to sales volume and profit, Kinoshita says Toyota’s 86 may appeal to different types of customers: young drivers new to the series, and men in their 50s who used to drive its previous incarnation, the AE86 Corolla.
“To keep cars exciting and fun, it’s necessary to have sports cars in our lineup,” Toyoda, in full-body racing suit, said yesterday. “I want this car to create more driving fans.”
--With assistance from Masatsugu Horie in Osaka. Editors: Chua Kong Ho, Paul Tighe
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