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Subaru to help Toyota revive Celica

Show and tell: FT-HS concept could preview the look of Toyota's Subaru-based rear-drive boxer coupe.

Official: Toyota and Subaru will co-develop a sub-$50K sportscar within three years

15 Apr 2008

TOYOTA will finally get back into the sportscar business within three years, with a rear-wheel drive coupe being developed in conjunction with Subaru that would sell here for under $50,000.

A Subaru version will be first to market, though, with its version set to debut in Japan by the end of 2010 – while the Toyota is scheduled for late 2011.

The compact Celica successor will be built on a new Subaru platform, which is said to be based on that of the Impreza, but driving only the rear wheels.

Toyota will handle the styling, so look no further than the FT-HS concept car that appeared at this year’s Melbourne International Motor Show as a possible guide to what it might look like.

The ‘Toyobaru’ will be powered by a Subaru flat-four engine – probably a 125kW 2.0-litre normally-aspirated version, at least to begin with – making it the first Toyota to be powered by a ‘boxer’ engine.

Further down the track, do not be surprised if the WRX STi’s 2.5-litre turbo motor is shoehorned under the bonnet, possibly with four-wheel drive, to create a successor to the legendary Celica GT-4 that could even lead Toyota back to world rallying.

8 center imageTop to bottom: Subaru Impreza WRX STi engine, and late Toyota Celica, MR2 and Supra.

Another long-term option could be a convertible version that would provide Toyota with a genuine rival to the Mazda MX-5.

Both versions of the new sportscar will be built by Subaru at a new plant being constructed alongside its Gunma Oizumi engine plant in Japan.

News of the car seems to have caught both Australian operations by surprise.

Subaru Australia corporate affairs manager David Rowley said there have been no discussions locally about the sportscar yet and it was far too early to say if the car would come to Australia.

If it does come here – and there seems no logical reason why it won't – it would mean a change in Subaru’s long-running AWD-only model strategy in Australia.

“We have a very long-term commitment to four-wheel drive with boxer engines, and that will continue for the foreseeable future, but, having said that, we used to have front-wheel drive cars and we would always consider other combinations down the track,” said Mr Rowley.

Toyota spokesman Mike Breen said the company’s product planning department was still awaiting more details about the car before deciding if it can fit into the local model line-up.

“We don’t really have any news from TMC on how it affects us and whether we’ll be taking the car or not,” Mr Breen told us. “All I can say is there’s no plan at this stage to bring the car in, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future.” Toyota has not had a sportscar globally since the demise of the mid-engined MR2 series last year. Toyota discontinued the Celica in 2006 and the bigger front-engined Supra in 2002.

Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe admitted at a press conference that the new car was “long-awaited”.

“We haven’t had a sportscar for a long time,” he said. “I think there is high potential for this car.” Announcement of the joint development comes as Toyota seeks to extend its control of Subaru with the purchase of the balance of previously GM-owned shares in Fuji Heavy Industries, which will take its holding from 8.7 per cent (since October 2005) to 16.5 per cent pending approval by the Japan’s Fair Trade Commission.

The tie-up will also see Subaru cease development of its own sub-660cc mini-cars for the Japanese market (taking revamped Daihatsus instead from the second half of 2009), while Toyota will provide a “compact car” starting around the end of 2010.

Mr Watanabe said that these arrangements would allow Subaru to focus research and development on its main products.

Meanwhile, Subaru has not recommenced sales or production of models powered by the turbocharged 2.5-litre boxer engine following the recent suspension (as reported in GoAuto news last week) due to big-end problems.

Mr Rowley said the company expected to get further advice from Japan in the next day or two.

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