By this point everyone knows that the 2020 Toyota Supra is effectively a differently tuned, differently bodied BMW Z4. But how that partnership came to be began way back in 2012, and it began with the lead engineer for the Supra being pulled off the Toyota 86 launch for a secret meeting in Germany. And now we know Toyota and BMW initially disagreed on what to do, but it took a management change at the latter company to make it happen.
So goes the tale laid out by Phill Tromans, a writer with AutoTrader UK, who managed to get on the launch of the new Supra and spoke to the chief behind the car himself, Tetsuya Tada.
In a Twitter thread, Tromans reiterates many things we heard recently about the new Supra’s development as told to our own EIC Patrick George on the launch drive in the U.S. But for the event Tromans was at, Tada went into even more detail about the story behind the car.
You should absolutely go read Tromans’ whole thread here here here and here as the details are fascinating. But here are some highlights. The story begins seven years ago, in May of 2012 (if you’d like to travel back in time, you can read our first drive of what was then called the “Scion FR-S” in the United States here).
Tada was then the chief engineer of the FR-S, which was/is known in other parts of the world as the Toyota GT86 and later here just as the 86. He received a call from Japan, telling him he needed to go to Bavaria right away.
When you’re the chief engineer for a product, receiving a call from the mothership and being told you need to leave the launch is most certainly one of those things I would personally call a Big Deal.
While no one explicitly said so, he immediately knew it was about the Supra, Tada told Tromans. And as we had been told, it was because the Toyota brass had decided the car needed an inline-six engine, which Toyota did not make. Hence, off to BMW.
On the plan[e] I instinctively understood that this was a message for me to make the new Supra. There was some reasoning. The heritage of the Supra is the inline six, and at the time the only manufacturer that had a high performance one was BMW.
But it’s one thing to say “take a meeting” and infer some things from it, and it’s another to actually spend millions to develop a new vehicle. The meeting with BMW was “really friendly,” but then again, most meetings between industry colleagues – no matter the industry – tend to be cordial.
And then it stalled.
Like I said, there’s a big difference between a single meeting and money being put on the table, and for the first entire year no progress was made at all, Tada told Tromans.
The big hangup, as it tends to be in many situations, was down to one single top executive having their Own Opinion about How Things Should Be, and an engineer having The One True Way of How Things Should Be.
Herbert Diess, who is now the Chairman and CEO at Volkswagen, was then a lesser-yet-still-very-big-wig at BMW heading up passenger car development according to his LinkedIn page, and was charged with making money for BMW.
Tada wanted to make the new Supra a pure sports car, but since it would be heavily reliant on BMW engineering, he needed BMW’s and Diess’s buy-in (which speaks to Toyota’s own increasing conservatism to the point of approaching calcification). And Diess wasn’t giving it.
Pure sports cars have limited sales appeal these days, especially for the demographic that tends to have the money for toys like that. Limited sales appeal means low revenue, which to those who dream not of fun but of bank accounts like Diess apparently, means it wasn’t going to happen.
In short, Tada wanted a pure sports car. Diess did not. And since neither would budge, for a year there was no progress on the Supra.
And then, in 2014, Diess quit BMW for Volkswagen. Which is when everything changed for the destiny of the Supra:
It was a year later that Mr. Diess [quit] BMW and was hired by VW. His team completely changed. His successor was Mr. Fröhlich. That means that if the top person changes then all the people around him, including my counterpart, change too. But this change was pivotal in making this car happen.
The new regime in place at BMW’s development division was all for the new Toyota Supra being a pure sports car.
The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Tromans’ thread includes all sorts of fun little details like BMW’s insistence that, despite all the M cars, the company had never made a “sports car” since the BMW M1, and that while BMW was all gung-ho about the Supra after Fröhlich’s team came in, Toyota management ended up wary of the path it was on.
So the engineers worked up a mule based on a shortened BMW 2 Series, drove it all around Europe, and then sent it to Japan to hopefully convince the Toyota executives back home that a new Supra would be a good thing.
They drove it, Akio Toyoda himself loved it, and here we sit with a new Supra today.
Go read Tromans’ whole thread, starting here, about the development of the 2020 Toyota Supra. I’m sure more weird stories will trickle out as more people finally drive it.