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Is Toyota about to bring back the MR2?

By Andy Enright, 23 Oct 2019 Opinion

Is Toyota about to bring back the MR2?

The MR2 is a part of the ‘three brothers’ strategy that Tetsuya Tada wants to resurrect

Can I tell you a fact that’ll make you sad? The Toyota MR2 was built across three generations from 1984 through to 2007. It’s one of the best-selling mid-engined cars the world has ever seen, those 23 years yielding more than 330,000 sales. But in today’s economy, that’s still not enough. It’s 55 days’ worth of Corolla sales, so there’s little convincing business case for Toyota to tool up for a budget roadster.

Tetsuya Tada appreciates this better than most. “I believe most people are looking forward to the smallest of the ‘three brothers’,” said the chief of Gazoo Racing back in 2017. “And when people say the smallest they expect it would be the most affordable. But in reality coming up with a compact small sports car is quite difficult.”

Given increasing compliance requirements with safety and emissions regulations, it’s now not that much less expensive to design, tool up for and build a small car than a large one. The margins that can be achieved on a car set against its predicted sales make a budget roadster a tough ask. It’s not helped by the existence of the 86.  

“In the actual market there are now plenty of second hand GT86s that are fairly compact,” said Tada, “so in order to compete with these second-hand cars it’s difficult to come up with a smaller version.” This means that in order to reintroduce a roadster into Toyota’s line up it would likely be priced some way above the 86. 

The company developed the 86 with Subaru and the Supra with BMW, and with Porsche committing to an electric Boxster, this could create a burgeoning niche for a pared-back electric roadster.Tada has been unabashed in his admiration for Porsche’s values. 

In an interview with Wheels last year, he said, “For me, Porsche represents industrial products: the best,” he adds. “Ferrari? Not so industrial, it’s like an art whereas Lotus is like a craft,” he explains. “Because I’m an industrial engineer, I see Porsche as my benchmark; my mentor.”

Toyota MR2 front view

When asked who he’d turn to in order to revive the MR2, his answer is unequivocal. “Porsche.”

Were Porsche to develop an electric Boxster, Toyota could conceivably launch a pared-back minimalist car based on the same Rimac-derived battery tech at a lower price point, the two companies sharing development costs. It’s speculation at the moment, based on Tada’s aspirations. But it’s a tantalising prospect that follows a logical progression and the ‘three brothers’ sports car strategy seems to be coalescing into policy. Let’s hope so.