Ever since the 29 June 2012 announcement of a joint BMW-Toyota sports car, there has been relatively little said or shown in public save for a Toyota FT-1 concept or two, although consensus has centered around a 3rd-generation BMW Z4 roadster (possibly rechristened Z5) in conjunction with a Mk5 Toyota Supra (a trademark revived on 10 February 2014 and still considered live). On 10 May 2016, a report from Austria’s Kleine Zeitung suggested that the BMW/Toyota sports car would be built by Magna-Steyr at its Graz, Austria facility (shown in the 2 photos below). Three days later, the news came to the attention of the English-speaking world via an article by Christiaan Hetzner of Automotive News Europe.
Who is Magna Steyr?
The tradition of large-volume carmakers farming out the construction of low-volume specialty and sports cars to outside firms and subcontractors is best exemplified by Italian carrozzeria such as Pininfarina and Bertone. As the larger carmakers have become more proficient and flexible at building small model runs in-house within their plants, this business model has seen a marked decline. Bertone sold off its Grugliasco plant, along with its manufacturing activities to FIAT in 2009, and 5 years later went into bankruptcy. Pininfarina’s last year of car production was 2010, save for a joint venture with France’s Bolloré to build the electric Bluecar, and earlier this year India’s Mahindra purchased Pininfarina’s design house.
Decline, however, does not mean that this business model is totally dead, as other companies outside Italy have taken up the slack. Finland’s Valmet, for instance, has built Porsche’s Boxster and Cayman, the ill-fated Fisker Karma and currently builds a number of Mercedes-Benz’s A-Class hatchbacks, with their GLC crossover set to join it next year. Mercedes has similarly farmed out R-Class production to Indiana’s AM General. The current worldwide king of contract manufacturing, however, is Magna Steyr, a subsidiary of Canada’s mega-supplier Magna International. Among the vehicles formerly assembled by Magna Steyr are European market versions of Chrysler’s 300C and Voyager, plus Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and Commander, as well as Saab 9-3 Convertible, Aston Martin Rapide, the Audi TT-rivaling Peugeot RCZ coupe and painted bodies for the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.
Are there any prior Toyota or BMW connections to Magna Steyr?
To our knowledge, Toyota has never before worked with Magna Steyr, but joint BMW-Magna Steyr projects date back to 2003 and the 1st-generation (E83) X3 crossover, which the Austrian company built for BMW between August 2003 and August 2010. As its 2nd-gen F25 successor’s assembly moved to BMW’s U.S. plant in Greer, South Carolina, Magna’s BMW capacity was taken by the Mini Countryman compact crossover, which in 2012 was joined by its Paceman 3-door sibling. With the Paceman set to become a one-generation wonder, and the 2nd-gen Countryman believed to be joining its Mini Hardtop hatchback siblings at the VDL Nedcar factory in the Netherlands, a new opening emerges in Magna Steyr’s manufacturing capacity. Enter the Z5/Supra.
Is BMW taking a lead role in the sports car venture with Toyota?
At a glance, it might appear that way. One wonders if Toyota’s Motomachi assembly plant in Japan’s Aichi prefecture, home of the Lexus LFA, Toyota Mirai and upcoming Lexus LC might have been an appropriate location for the new Z5/Supra’s manufacture. Not to mention a homecoming of sorts, since the Mk4 Toyota Supra was also built there.
Practically speaking, though, in a world of upper-class snob appeal and xenophobia, the notion of a Japanese-built BMW would’ve been a far harder sell than that of a Toyota Supra built in Europe. For another example, look no further than Mazda’s sports car collaboration with the Fiat group. The 4th-gen (ND) Mazda Miata’s Italian-branded sibling was originally mooted to wear an Alfa Romeo badge. Then Fiat chairman Sergio Marchionne decreed that all Alfa Romeo-badged cars should be built in Italy (not a bad call, quite frankly), and the Hiroshima-built, Italian-badged sports car became a Fiat 124 Spider instead. Plus, when you get down to it, building the BMW Z5 (or 3rd-gen Z4) and Mk5 Toyota Supra in Magna Steyr’s Graz, Austria facility places it in neutral territory as far as its manufacturing location.
The question of the Z5/Supra’s powertrain also appears to tilt the balance towards the Bavarians, since most rumors have pointed towards use of a BMW 3-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engines for both brands. That configuration would certainly be in keeping with Toyota’s legendary Mk4 Supra Turbo. On the other hand, Horatiu Boeriu of BMW Blog writes that BMW and Toyota will borrow from the Mazda/Fiat sports car playbook and give each brand a different engine. In the reborn Supra’s case, he suggests “a twin-turbocharged V6 from Japan”. 3-liter 3GR-FTS V6, anyone?
Any other news regarding the BMW/Toyota sports car?
First off, talk of Magna Steyr building the two sportsters is, at this point, unsubstantiated rumor. As Automotive News Europe informs us,
A Magna Steyr spokesman said the company was not yet permitted to say which BMW model would replace production of the Paceman and Countryman.
Spokespeople at BMW and Toyota Europe declined comment on the Kleine Zeitung report.
With a moribund worldwide 2-seat sports car market and BMW Z4 sales currently comprising just 0.3% of the Bavarian carmaker’s sales volume, the viability of this project is shaky. Nonetheless, BMW CEO Harald Krueger states that
…the company’s cooperation with Toyota would help. BMW has a long roadster tradition. We will occupy the segment once more. It’s not big, but it’s important for the strength of the brand.
Production volumes of 60,000 units a year for the two models is predicted. As to production timing, Raphael Orlove of Jalopnik notes that
The Kleine Zeitung expects production for the BMW Z4 successor to start in 2018, with the Toyota Supra partner car to get going a few months later.