Why It Took So Long For Toyota and BMW’s Partnership to Get Going

The partnership was announced nearly six years ago. We're finally starting to see the fruits of the relationship.

Toyota

Toyota and BMW first announced a collaboration back in 2012. And, then, we heard nothing. No news emerged from this pairing, and the assumption was that perhaps the partnership wouldn't have the results we hoped. But around two years ago, details finally began to emerge about what the two automakers were working on. So why did it take so long?

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Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer of the upcoming MkV Supra, explained it to us at a Geneva Motor Show roundtable this week. The short answer? Japanese and German people are very different.

“We have quite a lot of differences in the terms of the way we make cars,” Tada-san said through an interpreter. “The philosophies of the companies, as well as the mentality of Japanese people and German people are quite different. In that sense, we had to overcome a lot of differences.”

Tada-san said it took around two years for Toyota and BMW to hash these out, but now, the two understand each other much better. These differences also explain why this sports-car partnership looks so different than Toyota’s tie-up with Subaru to create the 86 and BRZ.

“When we worked with Subaru, we started out with the aim of having as many common parts as possible between the 86 and BRZ,” Tada-san—who was chief engineer of the 86—said. “When we initially approached BMW, we thought it would also be aiming to have as much common parts as possible. But they had quite an unexpected reaction initially, saying ‘there’s no point in having as many common parts as possible if we cannot make a car that we each want.’

“So we decided to first have a firm idea of what we, individually, wanted to make, and based on that, we approached each other and compared to see where we could have common parts.”

Given that, we can expect the Supra and its BMW platform-mate, the upcoming Z4, to be substantially different from each other. Certainly, these cars will have a lot less in common than the near identical Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ.

That said, the Supra isn’t a total departure from the 86, at least not in philosophy. Of course, Tada-san already filled us in how the Supra will be a natural extension of the 86 in terms of dynamics, but there’s also the fact that both are the realizations of collaboration. He explained why collaboration, in Toyota’s view, is necessary for sports cars.

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“Sports cars require many parts and elements to realize, however, at the end of the day, when the development phase is over, it’s not like we can expect volume in the market,” he said. “It’s difficult to establish a business model for this.”

So, if you’re excited for the upcoming Supra, be thankful that Toyota and BMW worked out their differences.

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