Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Toyota To Build Sports Car--And (Surprise!) I Like The Idea

When I heard that Toyota is finally getting into the sports car business two thoughts jumped into my head. First: it's about time. Second: those who accuse me of fawning all over the Japanese automaker will have a field day.

That said, a Toyota sports car should do well and for many people it is long overdue. Yes, I know that many of you will read this and say, "Give me a break. Toyota builds solid, dependable cars, but this is not a company that can crank out a 'driver's car'."

Sorry Charlie. If you think Toyota doesn't know a thing or two about performance and going fast, then you obviously have not been following Formula 1 or more recently, NASCAR.

Toyota needs a sports car because it is one of the few niches left where the automaker doesn't compete. And as boomers look for a car that they can enjoy, Toyota will find plenty of current and former customers who will be ready to buy. Toyota is developing the car in conjunction with Subaru and it's parent corporation, Fuji Heavy. This is all part of Toyota increasing it's stake in Fuji and the two companies working more closely together.

So why will Toyota's decision be derided by so many people?

I think some of it is because there are people who will bash Toyota regardless of what the company does. Some of that is because they love the Big 3 and hate to see a foreign company cutting in on the U.S. territory. But I suspect there's also a fair number of people who are jealous of Toyota's success.

I've discussed this with former Toyota president Jim Press, who now serves as president of Chrysler. At the Detroit auto show earlier this year, Jim came up to me and asked why Chrysler was not getting enough credit from reporters for the improvements it was making.

After we talked a while, Jim said something very telling, "Here at Chrysler we're not getting the credit we deserve. When I was at Toyota, that was never a problem." I can already hear some of you saying, "See, Toyota Phil, there's a bias towards the Japanese automakers."

If you believe that, there's nothing I can do to change your opinion. I can tell you that Toyota, or any automaker does not get a free pass. When they build a winner, they get credit. When they build a dog, we call it a dog. Which category will Toyota's new sports car fall into? Who knows. But either way, the sports car market is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

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