Making the Supra in hindsight: The BMW Joint Development of the Toyota A90 Supra
Past weeked of July 12~15 was the first revealing of the Toyota Supra in public light, and in running, near-production form.
Staged at the Goodwood Festival of Speed it was met with loads of media, both on sight and online.
In this translated article, one of Japan's leading automotive media, "Holiday Auto" managed to dig a little deeper into the mind of the Chief Engineer, Tetsuya Tada.
Along with what I gleaned too from my first person encounter face to face on this in the last few months.
Why Goodwood Festival of Speed as the first reveal?
The car we used at the Goodwood Festival of Speed is what we (Toyota) call a Pre-Production Vehicle. (Normally Toyota produces a few samples of the near final production-trim cars about 6 months before the start of line-assembly, and are used for reveals and final stages of component testing, dealer feedback, and other roles as we near sales date. We build another batch during MPT, on the actual line 2 months ahead to make sure the factory works well, then another called QCS which is 1 month ahead to address final quality concerns. )
The Pre-Production unit is very close to the production models in its near final form, with the only major difference is that this is hand-built before the factory is setup.
We didn't have a plan to drive at the Festival at all, and the car was bound for the UK for testing on urban road surfaces of that area. We received an invitation generously from the production team of Goodwood event, to have it be a feature car, and by our luck the car was nearby so we decided to enter it.
During the Parade Run, we wanted to reveal as much as we could without going into much finer details. We wanted to let the audience hear the engine and exhaust note. Due to the speed and distance/duration constraints it wasn't like a full attack of the section, but I've kept the RPM high, and kept it in gear for deceleration too, so everyone could also hear the off-throttle noises too. The engine unit inside this Pre-Production was our inline 6 powerplant. A 3.0 Liter Turbocharged unit, if you are curious about numbers. It will be the flagship engine for this car.
We may also offer inline 4 variant for select markets where costs of a larger engine can be prohibitive in ownership or registration costs. That has yet to be determined, but we left some room for tuners and aftermarket on these engines, and it should be an interesting engine in that respect too. One thing to add though, is that the unibody structure of the car is extremely light, and as such, some people might even prefer the 4 cylinders to seek a more intrinsic, and classical full throttle duration driving feel, and value agility above all. We hope this will be an exciting choice as well, not just economical.
How this whole thing started was in 2012. During the press release event of the then-new Toyota 86 in Europe. A BMW official there, and casually approached me and enthusiastically said to me. "Wouldn't it be fun, if we can join to produce a car together? And can we have a discussion at our BMW office if you are interested?" I really didn't visualize what that might even look like or how we could even do this. But I was flown immediately after the press event, to the German headquarters of BMW and there it looked to be a very inviting and fun project going forward, still without a plan, but enthusiasm was the mood of the meeting. I had not a slightest clue of what high hurdles and extreme challenges were ahead, looking back... All of which I can only smile and tell you now, that the car is running in final shape!
Initially, we didn't really have a clear goal as to what this car would be like, and BMW folks even asked us what we'd like to make. This is a very unusual experience as we do not normally form a meeting, and have another company ask what we like to build, ever! It's one thing if it was us inviting them, but this was the opposite. We didn't think of an idea at that point.
But a few days of brain storming, I had this recollection from a couple of years ago, when our CEO Akio Toyoda has exclaimed "Someday would it be nice, if the 86 has had a little brother and a big brother like in the past? I'd like to see this happen someday, to have 3 brothers in our lineup of sports cars again." At that point it was a natural flow to see if BMW could build the new big brother to the 86. It really was a coincidence that BMW was the only maker still producing a straight six engine, and our legendary Supra was also a car laureled on our flagship inline-six at the time. Perhaps it was some stroke of luck, or maybe a divine intervention. Who knows, but it fit.
The Start, The Struggles...
When we compare the previous collaboration with Subaru, this time it was much more of a challenge. The cultural barrier of German engineers, proud of their engineering, and our pride of what we do best collectively as teams from each firm was something astonishingly different. I won't get into much detail today, but even simple things had very different approaches, and thinking. There were people at BMW who've never driven a Toyota there or have had much exposure to the history and how we are known. From circumstances like this and many others, it was a whole list of tasks to even get them to understand why we do things our way, and what is crucial about our cars as opposed to their cars. It took a little over a year, but by this time, things were going much smoother and communication and focus much more sharply aimed. Bit by bit we started to envision the same goals as well as the distinct final products.
The Fundamental Differences
We've learned a lot from BMW. The task list of each step in car making they expended on R&D was impressive. I almost started to think if they had an infinite budget funding to the task of design. Each step just much more extensive (and expensive) than what we would normally expend in different areas. Just astonishing. I started to doubt myself if this whole thing can be accomplished in a manner that can profit as a product sold as a Toyota. But then as development proceeded into next phases I was comforted when I saw there were later stages where Toyota would be the exact opposite, and BMW couldn't believe how extensive some of our quality and efficiency studies were as parts came into shape one by one. We would take every bit down to a fastener or rivet, and put it through our stringent quality control and a dozen other testing, we'd ship thousands of parts back to Japan for analysis. That is normal to us. Each piece we test at our level, they were now the ones surprised.
Also impressive was the amount of road testing and final tuning they would do on each test mules. You'd think they are working on a final car when you look at the meticulous care they have toward a early testbed. They also love to print a complete modeling and design right down to the location of the badge, before we had decided on the car itself! I mean stacks and stacks of diagrams and blueprints, computer simulations, and so many man-hours of something that isn't a product yet...
BMW's fundamental difference in approach was that they wanted to design a package, and from there they would naturally evolve a shape and size of the body from that packaging, a functionally oriented goal. They'd often say to me, "the car will shape itself, as we put in the equipment where it needs to go." And they will spend a great deal of time in how to mechanically package this. I mean a lot of time. Our company (Toyota) with my tenure and experience, the focus was always design elements being the priority. We would first spend a lot of time on the shape and appeal of the car from visual perspective and adjust based on where mechanical things fit or how our assembly lines can be efficiently used. So that was a lot of differences there as the base of how we do things often seemed backwards to both of us. However, again, we learned a lot, and even developed a lot of new ways on how to think and do things too, tremendously.
Smooth, Respectful, and Focused Engineering and Design toward a Goal.
So, months and years went by working very efficiently by the latter half of the development. CEO Akio Toyoda came often to see us and seemed very interested on how it was coming along. It seemed he was most excited to replace the old A80 Supra that was sitting in the design facility, and said, "Oh, I just want to back this old car into the line of other previous Supra models before it, and finally have a new one... It's embarrassing that the A80, is so aged and we'd not had one to replace it sooner. We need one that can run with the European cars now." He also added, “I need a Nurburgring-worthy car in our lineup”
We took this seriously and refocused often to drive at what this was to be.
And BMW folks started to see the energy in what this meant for Toyota too.
And in some respect, started to back off with the usual adamancy of how they see fit, so that we can focus on the "SUPRA," that part which is distinct from their car.
We do a lot of testing on the Nurburgring, and yes with the BMW staff too and their design teams working on both cars.
It is a shared platform to an extent, and some things just get accomplished this way faster.
However, we work separately just as much, and we expend a lot of time ourselves as Toyota to make adjustments in suspension tuning, and character of how shifters respond.
We have a different goal for the Supra and the Z4. Handing is very different now, and we have our own Master Driver from TME who’s an accomplished Nur-Meister, making sure the car exhibits superb driving feel at extreme speeds.
The Competition, and the Character
A lot of people assume, like the 86/BRZ the difference is minimal and just a styling difference divide these cars from ours to the BMW. I will say it now. Officially. That is not the case.
The whole thing wasn’t based even on the goal to achieve a less expensive development or subcontracting of any sorts. This was a collaboration that drives at broadening of possibilities, when two different minds and systems, and culture and history, that will enhance a car, and eventually, prowess and forte for both companies. Not just in exterior panels, but even in the interior too. There isn’t much that be seen as shared-components in how the car feels. Down to even shift knobs, they are different. Of course, major components are shared, such as engine and carriages, but even the tuning of the engine and transmission are different too.
I will elaborate that the target for this A90, was the Porsche Cayman. While the location of the engine is very different, the driving pleasure you’d get will be something I would like to have you drive and feel for yourself.
We are confident in this regard.
You can see also that we used a lot of styling cues from the A80 Supra, and that was a something we felt adamantly to include from the start.
Many of the model concepts to this day, all have that shape, from FT1 to now. The rear fender bulge was something that wasn’t easy to shape for production machinery you know!
The A90 has a neutral steer character.
On the raceway of course, that’s a given for this caliber sports car. But we worked hard to make this handling consistent over many roads. We’ve tested countless distances and months. From the French Alps, to long continental drives in the USA, and narrow streets of Japan. We’ve put so much distance on this car that I can’t recall exactly all the places we have been in my head. But from this long term testing cycle, living day to day we find more things to refine. The A90 Supra is a 2 seat car. There wasn’t a firm consensus or early decision to choose it as such, but after many revisions, we simply derived that this was the ideal form, for how we want this car. Simple, and no compromise there.
Who is it made for?
As for the pricing you ask. Well at the start, we didn’t put a constraint on the price. There was no target really. Just that we would make a car that more people can afford and share the experience of what we created as a team. I mean we can make anything if the price wasn’t an issue. But cars over $100,000 USD would certainly limit the number of buyers, and that just wasn’t our goal for this.
To keep things in check, there isn’t much formed out of anything too expensive like carbon fibers.
Sure, you saw some on the Supra Racing Concept, but for production, it is entirely designed to be attainable.
And that Racing Concept can be an example for the aftermarket as well. If the customer chooses to take it another level for sports driving dedicated purpose.
Truly a Sports Car.
The best trait of the inline-6 engines are the smooth, responsive operation. That's been a trait of sports and luxury cars in the past.
When driving at the very edge, the inline 6’s prove to be such an asset as it will respond to the driver predictably and smoothly. That is important so as not to upset the attitude of the car on the edge of tire adhesion.
But we didn’t just refine it to a point where it became boring either. While retaining the smooth feel, we also worked very hard on the transmission to shift very quickly. The A90 will give you each gear with consistent split-second timing. It isn’t programmed to be watery and muted, it will give you a positive feedback at each shift to engage you.
We did leave a quite a bit of room for conversions into racing chassis too. Whether it be Toyota’s own GR operations to come, in many series around the world, or for individual owners and teams to strip it to a racing platform. Aerodynamics in this regard was carefully approached.
Not since the LFA have we spent so much time on the air around and under the car. We’ve designed the floor shape so that the airflow produces downforce, and guides air into pockets where we left open for additions of things like oil coolers too.
And transmission cooling lines, diff cooler space? Sure, we left dedicated spaces for that too.
People asked me about Nurburgring lap times. I don’t want to make a promise, as that greatly depends on the level of driving and conditions, but accomplished drivers in testing were consistently in the 7 minute range. The car is very honest at the limits, and again neutral-steer. Push and tuck are at the will of the driver. The turn-in for this car is unusually responsive for a car with an inline-6 in front, but it still manages to be extremely stable at high speed cruise at well over 200km/h.
Part of the secret to this newly found stability and response in handling is the new differential gear unit that was developed for this car. I can’t elaborate at this time, but please look forward to the release of information on this unit.
As a prideful flagship this will be, it will see continual and incremental development, in small bits for many years. And knowing that, we have designed the base platform and drivetrain to be at a level beyond anything we previously made at Toyota or BMW.
It was difficult to achieve a good balance using a very big inline 6 engine. But for that goal, BMW, had even done a late-development redesign once at great expense.
They just felt our goals were worthy enough, to lower center of gravity further by dropping the engine to a plane that was previously deemed too difficult.
BMW just came though like this for many things, to get this car done right. They felt it, and we were adamant about it.
As the car became more capable, we just made the decision to go delve further into what was possible, each time a goal was met. And we pressed on further past it.
And that was a surprise too, thinking how difficult it was to even talk just 4~5 years ago.
We’ve come a long way, and we will present you this car shortly, along with more details. Stay tuned.
That was the words of Mr.Tada, and graciously taking the time with enthusiasts all over the world.
In his words as a project lead, the Chief Engineer, and more importantly, as a car-guy.
We really can't wait.
Written / Translated by Moto Miwa
Some content translated from a Japanese article, "新型スープラ開発責任者 多田哲哉氏が語ったBMWとの共同開発の舞台裏" by Holiday Auto (Japan)
An interview with Chief Engineer of the A90 Supra, Tetsuya Tada.
Along with accounts of what I have also discussed first hand with Mr.Tada.