BY PETER BARNWELL
Toyota’s petrol head former CEO, Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder Kiichiro Toyoda, has exited stage left to become chairman and has been replaced as CEO by a new bloke named Koji Sato who has decent motorsport credentials being a former president of Gazoo Racing a few years ago.
Though probably not as full-on into motorsport as Akio, Sato-san is a mechanical engineer and has been involved in the mechanical side of car making at Toyota and Lexus for decades.
Better still is the fact that Sato-san has made a commitment to continue with Akio Toyoda’s visionary motorsports and sports car focus for the giant Japanese brand that has lifted it out of the automotive ‘white goods’ classification.
That means the Gazoo Racing (GR) nomenclature for sports models will continue and in fact, according to Sato-san, will be expanded with additional models coming through the system.
In a report published by UK-based Autocar magazine, Koji Sato has gone on record recently saying performance model development will continue, even accelerate.
And why wouldn’t it because the GR name has become aspirational across a number of models delivering ‘hero’ cars that take the Toyota brand to another level in terms of desirability channelling “the good old days” of the Toyota 2000GT, AE 86, Celica GT4, Turbo Supra and plenty of others.
Sato-san took over as Toyota CEO from Akio Toyoda in January this year with the latter, known as a ‘Master Driver’ within the company – focusing on another executive position at Toyota along with his passions of rallying and endurance racing.
In the interview with Autocar, Sato-san said, “Our Master Driver was also president of the company at the same time as he had a steering wheel in his hands for Gazoo. Now, he is only chairman, maybe he will have a lot more time to develop cars for them”.
Locally, Toyota’s range of GR-branded models continues to grow and currently features the GR 86, GR Corolla, GR Supra and GR Yaris with a GR Landcruiser thrown in for good measure though not as an out and out performance model.
There will soon be a GR light commercial performance model in the portfolio, with GR treatments applied to the incoming 550Nm GR Hilux and others.
Autocar says Toyota has been tight-lipped on plans for future models but hinted that a GR version of its bZ4X SUV is in development, potentially with a hydrogen-powered driveline.
It has also been rumoured that an all-electric MR2 successor is in the works, following the 2021 debut of a compact, two-seat concept model. If such a model is indeed produced, it will give Toyota a rival to the likes of the forthcoming MG Cyberster, Porsche 718 EV and electric Alpine A110 (being co-developed with Lotus).
Toyota and Lexus are also working on an electric ‘spiritual successor’ to the LFA, which is tipped to be the first of its kind with a manual transmission.
Initially shown as the Electrified Sport concept, the model will include a software-based system which reproduces the sensation of driving a manual gearbox, and even features three pedals. A ‘virtual’ manual gearshift is already available elsewhere in the Genesis fully electric GV60 and will likely be more common in future sports EVs from other brands.
The all-wheel drive “LFA” model features steer, brake and drive, all “by-wire” systems that Toyota says improves both low-speed manoeuvrability and high-speed stability.
As for the LFA replacement, specifications and details are still thin on the ground. Lexus projects a 0-100km/h time in the sub-two-second range and a driving range of over 700km. There is no word yet on arrival timing either, or price.
We’ll let you know of any further GR developments as they occur.