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Toyota's FT-1 concept hints at future sports car

The starting point for Toyota's FT-1 concept was a theoretical car with a real-world price tag between $50,000 and $60,000. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

UPDATED: 1/13/14 10:32 am ET

DETROIT -- Toyota took the wraps off a concept car today that stakes a claim to the legacy of the Supra and may signal the return of a sports car to the brand's vehicle portfolio.

Toyota says the FT-1 concept sports car, unveiled at the Detroit auto show, is merely a design exercise, but more than a few features of the vehicle suggest that it could have a future as a production car.

While paying homage to the history of Toyota sports cars, the FT-1 wasn't specifically designed to be the next Supra, a nameplate that has been absent from the United States for more than a decade.

Nonetheless, the starting point for the FT-1 was a theoretical car with a real-world price tag between $50,000 and $60,000, said Kevin Hunter, president of the Calty Design Research studio in Newport Beach, Calif., where the car was designed.

The genesis of the FT-1 was a proposal put forth by Calty to Toyota top management in early 2012, well before the 2013 alliance between Toyota and BMW to design a sports car. But that alliance could be a reason the FT-1 moves from concept to prototype.

Representatives from other automakers shouldn't take the FT-1's dimensions seriously. To make the car more imposing on stage, Toyota designers made the concept car 10 percent larger than what a real-world vehicle would be, Hunter said. What's more, there was little involvement or input from Toyota's engineering department. The "engine" under the hood is a prop, not an actual powertrain.

Still, some touches could find their way into a production vehicle. Calty took the idea of head-up instrument displays to a new level with the FT-1. Rather than beaming the information onto the windshield, the FT-1 has a separate screen that protrudes up from the steering column. All important information is in the driver's line of sight. Think Maverick's fighter jet in Top Gun.

"We wanted the point of view to be from the knuckles up," said William Chergosky, Calty interior chief designer. "Everything needs to be within the range of your fingertips."

Unlike a typical design study, the FT-1 has a complete interior that seems almost ready for production -- complete with a new telematics interface.

So, to the question: Is this the next Supra?

Hunter is a bit coy. "We have a history of making these kinds of concept cars, where it is not a pipe dream," he says. "We want to feel a possibility that it could happen. … We can't help speculation."

Read about the evolution of the Calty Design Research studio and watch a 15-minute documentary film about the development of the FT-1, produced by Automotive News.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com -- Follow Mark on Twitter: @markrechtin

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