Tada’s Toy

Toy­ota 86 chief en­gi­neer Tet­suya Tada opens up on what's next for the smash-hit coupe – and drops a few 'Supra' hints

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Toy­ota 86 chief en­gi­neer Tet­suya Tada lifts the lid on the sports car’s fu­ture – and drops some hints about Supra, too

En­gi­neers rarely re­ceive a rock­star re­cep­tion at au­to­mo­tive events. Celebrity am­bas­sadors of­ten schmooze glossy crowds, as do skivvy-clad de­sign­ers, but rarely do qui­etly-forth­right en­gi­neers get a look in. Toy­ota 86 chief en­gi­neer Tet­suya Tada is one of those per­son­al­i­ties – and he is front and cen­tre in the spot­light.

It has been four years since the 86 (and its Subaru BRZ twin) de­buted. The $29,990 rear-drive Toy­ota coupe passed 10,000 lo­cal sales two years ago – with vol­ume be­hind only Ja­pan (39,000) and the US (35,000) – and by mid-2016 the ‘Toy­o­baru’ duo had dou­bled that tally.

On a frosty Canberra morn­ing in May, 450 own­ers gather at the Sut­ton Road Driver Train­ing Cen­tre for the third an­nual Fes­ti­val of 86.

The own­ers know who Tada-san is – the lanky 59-year-old en­gi­neer in jeans, white long-sleeve shirt and sneak­ers – and they gather like the au­to­mo­tive equiv­a­lent of Justin Bieber’s ‘Beliebers’.

Armed with a mar­ket­ing bud­get to make most man­u­fac­tur­ers blush, both the fes­ti­val and the 86 am­a­teur race series, launched on the same day, are Toy­ota Aus­tralia’s paid cel­e­bra­tion of what is still its only sports car.

De­spite prom­ises from com­pany pres­i­dent Akio Toy­oda that the brand would bring more fun-to-drive cars to mar­ket, none have yet been forth­com­ing.

Noth­ing has changed with the 86, either. A facelift – at­tacked by key­board war­riors for rais­ing out­puts by just 4kW/9Nm – is due in the third quar­ter.

When we fi­nally se­cure one-on-one time with Tadasan the ques­tion ‘what’s com­ing next?’ is a weighty ice-breaker to kick things off.

“We have started planning the next gen­er­a­tion of 86,” Tada-san con­firms to MO­TOR, be­fore quickly nod­ding back to the be­liev­ers.

“It will def­i­nitely be above fans' ex­pec­ta­tion. If you sup­ply what all the fans re­ally want no­body gets re­ally sur­prised or im­pressed, so wait and see, we will pro­vide some­thing that will be re­ally [a] sur­prise.”

Tada-san laughs when re­minded of his pre­vi­ous com­ments that tur­bocharg­ing the 86 would be the “easy an­swer” – and that stance res­o­lutely re­mains. But what about draw­ing upon – gasp! – Toy­ota’s hy­brid tech­nol­ogy for the next model?

“Not nec­es­sar­ily we would be say­ing hy­brid as such, hy­brid could be part of the an­swer but if [we] pro­vide just a nor­mal hy­brid it makes no-one sur­prised,” he re­sponds cryp­ti­cally.

“There is new leg­is­la­tion com­ing for 2020 in ex­haust gases and petrol con­sump­tion, and the new leg­is­la­tion

"My feel­ing of what is a sports car is 100 per cent re­flected in the 86"

will be a very hard one. So we have to go be­yond that [but also] we have to fo­cus on the per­for­mance be­cause en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly is not the only an­swer. We have to sat­isfy all the fans look­ing for a new gen­er­a­tion.”

Tada-san lights up at the sug­ges­tion that an elec­tric mo­tor could be used as a power ‘boost’ – some­thing pop­u­lar among today’s high-end su­per­cars.

“Oh yes, yes! It is a good idea but it is not as sur­pris­ing as what [we] want to make,” he teases.

“Not nec­es­sar­ily just the en­gine but [with] the whole pack­age as a new-gen­er­a­tion 86 we want to make everyone go ‘wow’.”

There is a roll-call list of im­prove­ments en­gi­neers are aim­ing to make with new mod­els and Tada-san un­der­stands them well. He leans back and grins then an­swers in the af­fir­ma­tive when asked if he’s driven the new Mazda MX-5, a car that has achieved a 1000kg kerb weight. The cur­rent 86 weighs 1200kg-plus.

“En­gi­neers all around the world are con­sid­er­ing a lighter body, even just one gram less weight so [we are] con­sid­er­ing lighter weight but it is not lim­ited just for the 86,” he says.

“Back in the old days the divi­sion of in­ter­est in less weight is usu­ally sports sec­tion, but now there is also de­mand for eco­log­i­cal car, peo­ple al­ways want to have lighter weight so there is quite much re­search and also the study done. In the fu­ture … a big weight loss to the body it­self will be done.”

The in­fer­ence is the re­search con­ducted into kerb weight re­duc­tion for main­stream cars will aid fu­ture sports car devel­op­ment.

Tada-san con­firms that the “big” drop in body weight would help the next 86, but could the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion hit the magic tonne? “I will try my best,” he says, grin­ning.

Mak­ing the coupe smaller, how­ever, is clearly not the sim­ple fix.

“The 86 maybe can go slightly smaller but it wouldn’t have much of a less weight or make it less cost,” he ex­plains.

“At the time when we de­vel­oped the 86 like that, that was the best bal­ance be­tween cost and [prac­ti­cal­ity of ] us­age. Cur­rently, be­cause tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced more … maybe if you re­con­sider the same good bal­ance we might be able to make it smaller.”

We were fib­bing ear­lier. Toy­ota has pro­duced a sports car re­cently, but the tiny S-FR – small, front en­gine, rear-drive – is at this stage a Ja­pan-only of­fer­ing.

“The lighter one [sports car] is eas­ier to make. The smaller one au­to­mat­i­cally you think would be eas­ier to make be­cause it’s smaller, but it’s not that way be­cause it still needs to be safe for ac­ci­dent so all that strength will still be de­manded. It re­mains same [cost]. It’s not that easy to make that smaller car.

“Even the pres­i­dent of Toy­ota is not con­sid­er­ing

"So many peo­ple ask about the ri­val, but I never think about what is the ri­val"

mak­ing a huge profit through­out the 86, but if the profit dis­ap­pear to­tally, it is very hard as part of the com­pany pol­icy to [make] the same style. So as soon as they are mak­ing even a lit­tle bit profit [we] can con­tinue.”

The man who next year notches up three decades work­ing for Toy­ota would love to see a ‘fam­ily’ of 86 vari­ants – in­clud­ing the Shoot­ing Brake dis­played at the event – but that fierce in­ter­nal regime clearly rings in his ear. He needs to be del­i­cate. He has seen Toy­ota sports cars fall hard be­fore.

“Con­tin­u­a­tion is some­thing [im­por­tant] be­cause in the past Toy­ota make so many sports car and then when the profit goes down they fin­ished ev­ery sin­gle time and didn’t con­tinue,” Tada-san tells.

“When you think about the user, we should con­tinue. At this cur­rent time we are mak­ing a profit, so we will of course con­tinue mak­ing the 86 and then con­sider a fam­ily. But if we re­lease so many vari­ants of the fam­ily that will value down the orig­i­nal. [We should] con­tinue mak­ing the orig­i­nal first.”

That ‘orig­i­nal’ is likely to be pro­duced un­til 2019 – the year Tada-san hints some­thing big could be re­vealed at the Tokyo mo­tor show. He re­jects the sug­ges­tion that the facelifted 86 of­fers few changes, claim­ing “enor­mous” im­prove­ments have been made to the body rigid­ity, sus­pen­sion and sta­bil­ity con­trol tune of the facelifted coupe.

In quick quips be­tween his rock­star treat­ment at the fes­ti­val he ad­mits he would love to build a hot-hatch and hopes the Yaris WRC car would be an in­di­ca­tor of things to come. Ide­ally Toy­ota should have its own sports divi­sion like Re­nault Sport or AMG, too – and not nec­es­sar­ily TRD.

But we fin­ish with the big gun: Supra, when is it com­ing? “Ah, Supra!” he ex­claims, vis­i­bly ex­cited by the project. "It’s very hard to tell when the Supra will be pro­duced, but re­gard­ing the 86 we weren’t re­ally fo­cused on the speed or the power [but] on sim­ply so much fun to drive. When we con­sider the 86 so many users con­sider it is not enough power, it is not enough speed, be­cause they want to fo­cus on that.

“But the next re­lease pro­duc­tion of the Supra [we] would like to go be­yond that. [Some­thing] you can en­joy driv­ing around that comes with the power and comes with the speed.”

How­ever, it also ap­pears the pro­duc­tion ‘up­per sport’ coupe – Toy­ota’s PR per­son po­litely re­minds us that the ‘Supra’ name is un­con­firmed – will share a devel­op­ment phi­los­o­phy with the 86.

“[It will be] top of Toy­ota sports,” he says. “When we pro­duce the 86 so many peo­ple ask [about] the ri­val, but [I] never think about what is the ri­val. As soon as you make a nor­mal car there is al­ways a ri­val to com­pare the abil­ity, but when you talk sports car it’s not that way. It is more a self sat­is­fac­tion that works out bet­ter than putting a tar­get on the com­peti­tors.”

But while ex­cess power and in­dul­gent speed – a bit like the celebrity rock­star life­style – have their place, the val­ues of this softly spo­ken en­gi­neer still re­main crys­tal clear.

“[My] feel­ing of what is a sports car is 100 per cent re­flected into what is the 86,” he says, paus­ing mo­men­tar­ily. “It is fun to drive.”

Ru­mours have long cir­cu­lated that the 86 busi­ness case barely stacked up in­side a com­pany re­knowned for strict pro­cesses, but the new-age 'hachi-roku' made it over the line

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