The small Lexus roadster. Is it happening after all?

Roadster-interior-2Never mind the upcoming Lexus NX small crossover, the IS-derived RC 2+2 sports coupe or even the rumored production version of the LF-LC concept expected to carry a 6-figure price tag. Forget any notions of a 3-row crossover SUV or a GS-derived 4-door coupe or even a CT F non-hybrid, AWD manual transmission hot hatch. If yours truly were only granted a single wish for a niche expansion of the Lexus lineup, it would be for a small 2-seat roadster (a fixed roof coupe would be OK as well) to take on the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Porsche Boxster/Cayman and the new Jaguar F-Type, and suggested as much back in July 2006 and, again, in July 2008. And when in June 2012 BMW and Toyota announced an expansion of their alliance to include the joint development of a sports vehicle,

Yours truly’s first thoughts were that the long sought-after small Lexus roadster would finally see the light of day not as a Scion FR-S/Toyota GT86 derivative, but as a rebodied and re-engined next-gen BMW Z4 (a notion seconded by Glenn Brooks of just-auto)… Jack Rix of Auto Express envisioned a (rebodied, we hope) production version of Toyota’s MR2 Spider-derived, fugly and catfish-like GRMN Sports Hybrid Concept II twinned with a BMW-badged version that would sit in the ‘i’ range somewhere between the i3 and i8…

Even Georg Kacher, in his “future of BMW’s Project i” piece – written a month before the BMW/Toyota joint sports car announcement – unwittingly touches upon yet another possibility with this passage:

“What the BMW community would love instead is an affordable Z2 – think of it as BMW’s answer to the Toyota GT 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ triplets. This car could pick up what was lost when then Z3 became the Z4, but unfortunately the new compact roadster keeps being rejected by the board, primarily for pricing and positioning reasons. Even though it is now almost too late to sign off on a Z2 based on the purist rear-wheel drive 2 Series components set, the time will probably never be ripe for a front-wheel drive Z2 twinned with the next Mini Cooper S Roadster”.

What about making the BMW Z2 a reality by coupling it with a Lexus version that would compete with long-rumored production Volkswagen and Audi versions of the Concept BlueSport roadster? Sounds good awesome to us!

Alas, over time, Lexus USA officials emphatically shot down the notion of a small sports car, citing the segment’s overall dwindling sales numbers. Too small of a niche to bother with, in other words. Thus, it was a “Yessss!!! Hosanna! Hallelujah! Triumphant fist-pump, jump-up-and-down moment” when Mike Connor, in the MT Confidential column of Motor Trend‘s May 2013 print edition, wrote that

Sources in Japan say Toyota’s version (of the joint BMW/Toyota sports car) will actually underpin an all-new Lexus sports car, a suggestion that makes all the sense in the world given Akio Toyoda’s ambition to make Lexus a genuine global rival to the German lux-meisters. Whisper is the new Lexus will be positioned to compete with the Mercedes SLK, BMW Z4, and entry-level Porsche Boxster.

But wouldn’t BMW be shooting itself in the foot by aiding and abetting a competitor in creating a rival to its own Z4? Perhaps not, given that, nowadays, rival carmakers collaborate on all sorts of niche segment models from tiny Euro-centric A-segment city cars to European “large MPVs” (those approaching U.S. “minivan” size) to all manner of cargo vans. Affordable sports cars are no exception. Think not only the Subaru/Toyota collaboration that begat the BRZ/GT 86/FR-S triplets, but the fact that Mazda’s upcoming 4th-gen (ND) MX-5 Miata will be paired with an Alfa Romeo-badged variant. Motor Trend‘s Connor also echoes the issues raised by German journalist Georg Kacher 4 paragraphs above:

And why does BMW need a new sports car platform? It already has the Z4. True, but the Z4 shares a lot of hardware with the 3 Series, which is fast getting too big to be sliced and diced into a credible two-seat roadster. Sharing with Toyota allows BMW to economically decouple the Z4 platform from the 3 Series, and keep it sports car size. There’s another potential benefit: The new platform could also underpin a new 2 Series coupe as the next-gen 1 Series goes front drive. It would keep the 2 Series rear drive – vital to BMW’s sporty credentials – but, more important, also liberate it from using modified 3 Series hardware, which is getting too big, too heavy and – crucially – too expensive.

This plan, if true, would bring with it one bit of collateral damage: the death of any hopes for a revival of the Toyota Supra. As MT‘s Connor notes:

So why no Supra? It just doesn’t make sense…There’s a strong faction within Toyota that still regards cars like the Supra as a waste of time, given the boom-and-bust sales performance of previous editions… The other problem is where the Supra would fit into the Toyota lineup, particularly in the U.S., where the GT86 is sold as a Scion and a $45,000 Toyota sports car would be a headache for dealers…

Sounds like a lame excuse to us, given that Chevrolet dealers sell Corvettes that start at a bit over that and can balloon to more than twice those sticker price numbers, at which Nissan dealers will also happily sell you a GT-R. Yet, if the BMW-Toyota collaboration is to yield but a single Japanese sports car, it probably makes more sense (and profits) to badge it as a Lexus and not as a Toyota.

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4 thoughts on “The small Lexus roadster. Is it happening after all?

  1. Pingback: Toyota Tie-Up with BMW to Yield New Lexus Offspring?

  2. Pingback: Is the “Supra revival” really dead? Not so fast… | Kaizen Factor

  3. Pingback: PSTOC » Is the “Supra revival” really dead? Not so fast…- Kaizen Factor

  4. Pingback: Kaizen Factor | Is the “Supra revival” really dead? Not so fast…

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