Drive Away 2Day

The FT-1's surprise debut is one of the highlights of the 2014 Detroit auto show.

Toyota FT-1 : Concept Cars

The suspense is over. After years of hand wringing, diehard fans of Toyota’s defunct but beloved Supra sports car have been given hope of a successor.

Their salvation comes in the form of the FT-1 concept car, which Toyota unveiled today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Japanese automaker has not said whether a production version of the curvaceous coupe will be built, nor whether it would be called the “Supra” if so. But the FT-1 is groundbreaking nonetheless. It represents the culmination of Toyota’s efforts to infuse excitement into its vehicles, much as the company’s luxury division, Lexus, is already doing. (Read more about Lexus’ efforts here.)

The Toyota FT-1 concept is a stake in the ground that signifies no more boring cars for Toyota.

“It really expresses the direction that we’re moving in and the company that we’re evolving into, which is one that develops more exciting vehicles with heart,” said Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s Calty Design Research studio, in a one-on-one interview ahead of the concept car’s unveiling at the Detroit auto show.

The FT-1 has design elements that pay homage to past Toyota sports cars. The slant of the roofline and the wraparound windshield with blacked out roof pillars evoke the styling of the 2000GT, a slinky two-seater built from 1967 to 1970 and famously featured in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice.” The rear of the FT-1 pays homage to the last generation of the Supra, called the Mark IV, which was built from 1993 through 2002.

The 2000GT and Supra lineage is also evident in the long hood of the FT-1. Both the 2000GT and Supra featured so-called inline six-cylinder engines, which were long and dictated a certain proportion at the front of the car. “Even though we’re not saying exactly what engine is in the FT-1, we thought at least it should feel like it has a long hood and it has a powerful engine under the hood,” Hunter said.

Though it draws on Toyota’s heritage, the FT-1 is far from just a rehash of previous sports cars. “The surfacing is all new. We refer to it as ‘function sculpting,’ and that, I think, is in line with our bigger fundamental design philosophy of ‘vibrant clarity,’” Hunter said. “There’s something rational happening and there’s something emotional going on as well. And it’s kind of those two values merging that creates something new.”

The entire car appears to be shaped by the wind. Deeply sculpted intakes and outlets improve aerodynamics and channel air to cool the engine and other components. “It has to be dynamic, exciting, but it also has to function well as a sports car,” Hunter said.

This design and engineering ethos wrapped up in one can also be found at the pinnacle of motorsports: Formula One. Not by coincidence, the pointy nose of the FT-1 recalls the shape of a Formula One race car. “It was kind of on our mind, I guess, as we were designing the car,” Hunter said.

The interior of the FT-1 is stripped down like that of a race car.

Toyota designers completely rethought how the driver should interact with the vehicle. They devised a heads-up display like something from a fighter jet, and put large buttons on the steering that look like a video game controller. The goal was to reduce driver distraction.

“It’s very easy for your thumb to identify the input points that relate to the heads-up display,” Hunter said. “So ideally, you can do it blindly, not looking down at the steering wheel, and always keep your eyes focused on the road.”

Whereas current cars, including Lexus models, use controllers on the center console to manipulate menus on a screen mounted in the middle of the dashboard, everything on the FT-1 is managed right on the heads-up display using only the steering wheel controls. This sort of technology could eventually end up on future production vehicles, Hunter said.

Despite all of the Toyota FT-1’s exotic features, which also include a movable rear wing that raises at high speeds to increase stability, the concept is meant to project the possibility of an affordable sports car in keeping with Toyota’s position as a mass-market automaker. A production version of the FT-1 would cost far less than a Porsche or Ferrari, Hunter said.

“We felt it was important to bring a halo image to the Toyota brand, which could use a bit of strengthening in that area,” he said. “We know that Lexus has the LFA, Scion has the FR-S, and the Toyota brand is really lacking a sports car right now.”

Calty designers came up with the idea for the FT-1 a couple of years ago, and they’ve been waiting for the right moment to thrust it into the limelight. Its debut at the Detroit auto show was a genuine surprise, which is rare these days.

To help sway board members and Toyota president Akio Toyoda to produce the concept car, Calty designers worked with Sony to create a virtual version of the FT-1 that can be “driven” in the video game “Gran Turismo.” (Video games are figuring prominently into the marketing of new cars these days. Ford recently debuted a video game version of its 2015 Mustang, which you can read about here.)

This turned out to be a shrewd move. When the FT-1 was presented in video-game form to the board, Toyoda was able to complete a virtual lap of Japan’s Fuji Speedway faster than his best real-world lap time in his own personal LFA supercar.

Needless to say, the FT-1 got the green light, which is to be expected, considering Toyoda’s passion for motor sports.

“This kind of high-performance car I think is ideal to symbolize the direction that our company is moving in,” Hunter said. “We all know Akio Toyoda said we need to develop more cool cars and more emotional cars. And he used the term ‘waku doki,’ which means ‘with great passion and from the heart.’ We need to capture this kind of spirit in our new vehicles.”

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Sources : Toyota FT-1 Concept Photo | Toyota FT-1 Concept Article


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