GENEVA -- As trends toward autonomous driving, electrification and vehicle-sharing threaten to turn cars into more utilitarian people movers, Toyota wants to use more exciting products such as the Supra for competitive edge.
Toyota said it will use its Supra sports car as a halo model to bring more emotional appeal to the brand.
The automaker introduced the GR Supra Racing Concept at the Geneva auto show here on Tuesday, previewing a racing version.
The concept's GR letters stand for Gazoo Racing after Toyota’s motorsports brand. It is fitted out as a track-ready race car with roll cage, driver’s race harness, quick-release steering wheel and center-fixed racing wheels. The exterior of the car includes a large rear spoiler and diffuser for downforce.
Toyota wants to create a stronger link to its racing activities to increase the appeal of its cars.
“We believe we can create better cars with what we learn from motorsports,” Toyota Europe CEO Johan van Zyl said.
The production car will have a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and will cost about 50,000 to 60,000 euros in Europe, where it will challenge cars such as the Renault Alpine and Porsche Cayman. The Supra will go on sale in the first half of next year.
Sales will be relatively small at less than 10,000 a year, said Toyota Europe sales and marketing boss Matthew Harrison. “Volume or profit is not the motivation for the vehicle,” he said.
"We have quality credibility but have lacked a bit in terms of emotional appeal and excitement," Harrison added. "We can bring that back with cars on Toyota New Generation Architecture platforms, but I think the brand needs aspirational models.”
To reduce engineering and development costs for such a low-volume car, Toyota developed the Supra with BMW, which will show its Z4 version in the summer.
Toyota’s Supra badge is widely known among performance car enthusiasts. Toyota built four generations of the model from 1979 to 2002, and gained a strong following, but the company has largely withdrawn from sports cars since.
Currently, the company offers only the lower-priced GT86 coupe, a highly praised but slow-selling model developed with Subaru, which also markets a version.
The challenge for Toyota, known for affordable cars that keep their value, is to win over car buyers also looking for power and speed, said Tim Urquhart, an analyst with IHS Automotive in London.
"The last Supra was a bit of a performance icon in its own right -- but that was 20 years ago," Urquhart said. "So, the question now is whether the market is hugely receptive to a very fast, nimble, sporty Toyota."
Though U.S. pricing has not been released, the two-door, rwd Supra could start at $50,000, according to Forbes. That would put it in direct competition with cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Mercedes SLC Roadster. The Supra will sit above the GT86, which costs about $26,000 to $40,000 depending on the trim line and options.
The Supra debuted 40 years ago as a souped-up Celica. It evolved into a U.S. style icon in the 1990s with smooth, flowing lines and an oversize rear wing.
The car became a tuner’s favorite, and a modified 1993 model made its way into automotive pop culture by smoking a Ferrari in the 2001 film The Fast and the Furious.
In 2002, after almost 600,000 units sold, the final Supra rolled off the factory line as performance cars fell victim to a global economic slowdown.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.