LOS ANGELES -- For all the r&d money that Toyota Motor Corp. spends on Formula One racing, it has little to show for it in the showroom. The Toyota, Lexus and Scion lineups lack sports cars.
But Toyota is considering getting back into sporty cars - with a hybrid twist.
While its mass-market competitors have asphalt-blistering sporty cars, Toyota has stayed on the sidelines since killing its Supra in 2000 and MR2 Spyder last year.
The sportiest cars in the lineups are the Scion tC coupe, which replaced the Toyota Celica last year, the Toyota Camry Solara and Lexus SC 430.
Jim Press, COO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., acknowledges that Toyota lacks sporty cars. He says they are difficult for the automaker because sporty cars are "not in our DNA."
Press says he is lobbying his bosses in Japan to bring sporty cars back.
Ernest Bastien, vice president of Toyota's vehicle operations group, says: "Small and sporty is a tough segment, and it is contracting. The new thing in these segments look good for a year, and that's it."
He suggests that a hybrid sporty car could enable Toyota to carve out its own niche in the fickle segment. Toyota is the world leader in hybrids, which combine an internal combustion engine with one or more electric motors to power the wheels.
Bastien says the benefits that Toyota has reaped from hybrid powertrains far exceed the shine that a high-performance halo car might provide. In March, Toyota Prius sales almost matched the combined sales of the Nissan 350Z, Mazda RX-8, Chevrolet Corvette, Pontiac GTO and Honda S2000.
A hybrid powertrain would be compatible in a sporty car, too. Although the battery pack would add weight, its location would lower the car's center of gravity and balance weight between the front and back.
Toyota's possible collaboration on a Porsche Cayenne hybrid shows that the German automaker sees the potential for hybrid sporty cars as well.
Says Toyota's Bastien: "We could carve out a piece of the market we could call our own."
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