Toyoda's new toy: The end and start of a Lotus relationship

TOKYO – Car nut Akio Toyoda has some new wheels to add to his collection.

Group Lotus PLC presented the Toyota Motor Corp. chief with a Lotus Elise sports car featuring the last Toyota-made 2ZZ 1.8-liter engine. The white, open-cockpit roadster, which Toyoda immediately climbed into and roared to a start, also came with high praise for the Japanese brand.

“There is no one superior to Toyota in terms of reliability,” Dany Bahar, CEO of the sports car maker said after handing Akio the keys at a Sept. 17 ceremony at the British embassy here.

Lotus, which gets all of its engine and transmissions from Toyota, is retiring the power 2ZZ power plant because it doesn't meet stricter Euro 5 emissions standards. Lotus still makes the two-seater with Toyota's 1.6-liter ZR engine, which is also used in Corolla-class Toyota models. The company will also still be offering the car with the 2ZZ engine outside Europe until inventory sells out; Toyota ended production of the engine earlier this year.

Bahar said Lotus was committed to continuing its procurement of drivetrains exclusively from Toyota and said new projects would be on display at this year's Paris auto show.

Toyota's relationship with Lotus stretches back 30 years.

Toyoda reminisced about his first exposure to the brand during a visit to Lotus' testing grounds around that time. He took the car for a spin around the track and toured Lotus' underground workshop, a visit he likened to “descending into a James Bond 007 world.”

“The Lotus test course can be considered the start of my driving career,” Toyoda said.

Sitting behind the wheel of his new toy, Toyoda stomped on the gas, split through a line of startled reports and revved the engine in an unscripted spin around the embassy grounds.

Toyoda said he will use the Elise as a demo car to teach his executives what fun-to-drive means: “I want all my executives to drive this Elise and experience it for themselves.”