The 2020 Toyota GR Supra is the long-awaited redesign of its 1990s automotive icon. Its a fresh take on the nearly 20-year-old car, and while it still holds the Supra name, many enthusiasts are shunning the new car to the automotive graveyard before it’s been released. It isn’t because it’s a bad car, it’s arguably got decent performance statistics on paper for a driver-focused 2-seater, it’s because it was co-designed with BMW.
Source: Toyota & BMW
For anyone remotely familiar with automotive brands, you know that BMW and Toyota don’t exactly align on a consumer perspective. People buy Toyotas because they’re reliable and affordable; people buy BMWs because they’re nice, fast, luxury and performance cars – reliability being one of their downsides.
Toyota purists wanted a remake of the Supra completely designed by Toyota boasting their brand recognized reliability and design. Many even wanted a remake of the famous 2JZ engine. In essence, Supra fanboys wanted a 1990s supra that had been modernized. Instead, or so they think, they’ve gotten a rebadged BMW Z4 roadster that will forever taint the Supra name.
The new Supra and the new Z4 do ride on the same chassis, have the same transmission and engine, and they were co-developed by the manufacturers…but, they’re not the same car. In fact, when you understand how cars are made in the modern automotive sector, you’d understand just how different these two cars are. Perhaps, you’d even understand why Toyota needed BMW to revive the Supra name.
Since the 2020 Supra debate is one with many facets in the automotive enthusiast world, we’ll focus specifically on how the two cars were engineered and manufactured.
Anyone more intune with the automotive manufacturing sector understands just how much goes into designing a new car from the ground up. It can take decades to bring a car to market, and it’s an expensive task. All this cost and time relies ultimately on the final product to sell in volume to recoup investment. For vehicles in Toyotas lineup like the Tacoma or the Camry, hitting volume isn’t an issue, so design, redesign, and refresh can happen at steady paces. When it comes to a 2 seater sports car entering a market that consistently is shunning sedans in favor of SUVs, at a time when Auto sales are dropping and default rates on auto loans are higher than any point in the last decade, the volume just isn’t there, any way you swing market projections.
This left Toyota with a problem, lose money on their, arguably, most famous car in order to revive the name and make loyalists happy, or make a good car while also remaining profitable – and maybe just making some loyalists happy. Toyota also wanted to make sure that the new Supra was affordable to a wider audience, a car within reach of a working man’s dreams. Priced at 50K MSRP, it sits just on that cusp of reachability for the everyday man, whether now or in retirement.
Affordability and low volume projected sales meant Toyota needed help. Designing the car in-house fully would’ve meant the loss of millions and a car that had a price point much closer to 75 to 100K. So they made the choice to partner up with another manufacturer to accomplish much of the basic design and manufacturing.
Image Source: Toyota
This allowed Toyota to work with BMW on the chassis, engine, and transmission design, saving costs for both manufacturers. But here’s the thing, while fans of the former Supras might now claim that the new model is just a rebadged Z4, Toyota had little to do with the actual Z4 design.
Toyota and BMW worked together to decide wheel spacing, chassis size, and engine and transmission design. Toyota engineers went through and individually tested every single component of the engine, transmission, and chassis to ensure that it was up to Toyota reliability and design standards. When they didn’t measure up, they told BMW engineers to redesign them. Once BMW and Toyota got the foundation of the car to where they needed them to be, the manufacturers parted ways.
Toyota designed the rest of the car as they would any other model, and BMW the same on their side. German anti-trust laws actually prevented BMW from working any further with Toyota on the car design, in theory dictating that they be different cars.
This design process exemplifies where automotive manufacturing is headed. With the idea that we’ve reached “peak auto”, as in automotive sales will never be higher than they were in 2017, and the growing default rates in auto loans, OEMs are in trouble, and they need to make sure, more than ever, that they’re financially solvent.
While many enthusiasts may view each OEM as having a different process of manufacturing, that’s not really the truth anymore in the modern era as much as it was back decades ago. For the most part, modern manufacturers are all employing the most cutting edge techniques, each just choosing to focus on automotive characteristics more important to their brand. Purists claim the Supra’s and Z4’s engine will be unreliable because it was designed by BMW, but they fail to understand that it was also held to Toyota’s design and manufacturing standards. It’s these standards that ensure “Toyota reliability” not some proprietary engineering or manufacturing technique. Toyota focuses on reliability in its design – BMW not so much.
While the joining of these two companies may be one of the stranger ones in the automotive sector, I’d argue that the new Supra and Z4 will stand as testaments that partnership in automotive manufacturing can work. It can be profitable. Collaboration between seemingly competing brands may just be the future of an increasingly troubled automotive manufacturing industry. Only time will tell.