Have you ever been out for a leisurely stroll when in your periphery you see an odd couple? After doing a double-take, you can’t help but think: how on earth did they end up together? By odd couple, I am being slightly politically incorrect (Grandma told me love is blind) and just a touch superficial (she also told me beauty is only skin deep). But the question remains: have you seen such a couple? Chances are you have, and it’s not their companionship that intrigues, but rather the circumstances that led to their companionship. For example, take the ancient man with the teenager on his arm. Or the morbidly obese women yelling at her toothpick-thin husband to hurry up with the diet soda.
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In Friday, December second’s WSJ I read an interesting piece on a curious corporate couple. BMW and Toyota have linked arms to conduct battery tech research, and BMW have agreed to supply Toyota with diesel engines. Talk about more engine than car. The two companies have agreed to share costs in battery research projects to produce the next generation batteries of the future – and to achieve this technology much sooner than possible if they both worked on the project independently.
To Toyota’s credit, they do produce excellent (if completely boring in every way) hybrid cars and their battery and hybrid know-how is top notch. By sharing the research costs with such a large company, BMW is taking less risk with their research and development investments, and this does make good business sense. On the other hand, supplying Toyota with diesel engines will help them to reduce their per unit engine production costs by producing more engines.
This partnership is therefore a win-win for both companies in many respects. But I can’t help but tilt my head slightly to the side as I watch a passionate, performance focused German brand tie the business knot with a cars-are-appliances-like-dishwashers boring and uninspired Japanese brand. I admit I have a particular dislike of Toyota products (save for their trucks, which I’ve always found to be of good quality and great off-road), and this stems from their soulless, spiritless designs and driving dynamics. In all seriousness, if you asked Maytag to design a car, they would come back to you with a Corolla. Because I believe a car can and should provide so much more than a trip from point A to point B, I have a hard time swallowing the saw-dust dry offerings of the Japanese brand.
Now that I’ve gotten that rant off my chest, I can step back and look at the bigger picture of Toyota over time. They were once the proud designers of the Supra, and a few other decent performance cars that maintain a following to this very day. They are also responsible for the exotic and wickedly fast LF-A supercar – questionable and awkwardly lacking in aura as that car may be. Toyota even entered the Formula 1 fray in 2002 and, while they completely sucked the entire time they contested the sport and never won a single race despite one of the largest budgets in the history of F1, the fact they even bothered to enter the pinnacle of motorsport still earns them a few points.
Finally, after all these years, Toyota is coming back to the table with a serious and inspired sports car offering: the FT86. A joint project with Subaru, the small and lightweight sports car is powered by a Subaru boxer-four engine, and with its purity and balance, I expect it to be a joy to drive.
Considering the above, it does seem that Toyota is turning things around, and in due time, they may very well win back my approval and respect. Perhaps a day at the racetrack in their new FT86 would spur on the process. But at this very moment in December of 2011, I still can’t help but squint a bit when I look at both badges placed together.