The original Tesla Roadster took an enormous amount of creativity to create. A light, relatively powerful and fun electric car that probably should get more credit than the GM EV-1 as the first truly successful electric car. It was exactly the wrong car to launch with and that’s why it worked. Tesla doesn’t build that car anymore, instead focusing on more popular sedans and crossovers. That’s not a knock against Tesla. It’s good that not all EVs are just little sports cars for rich folks. Still, we deserve a small and fun electric sports car and Toyota should be the one to build it.
We’ll get to other news, but I want to start with a modest proposal: Toyota should build the small EV sports car and call it the MR-2 and sell it in America. The company’s current electric cars are extremely meh and problem-plagued. The new 2023 Prius is dope, though, so Toyota definitely still has some juice.
It’s not a secret why we don’t see a ton of electric sports cars running around: it’s a small market, limited resources mean automakers are focused on vehicles with larger mass appeal (crossovers) and higher profit margins (trucks), and, other than Mazda, few modern automakers are defined by their sports cars. Plus, weight and range concerns are often at odds with traditional sports car values.
Toyota, though, has a long history of building small, lightweight sports cars and has, in the Toyota MR-2, the perfect historical antecedent. I bring all this up, because there’s apparently a story in the lest issue of Japan’s Best Car that details Toyota’s next sports car and it sounds like it’s basically the Toyota sports car thing the company showed already, but with a little 1.0-liter engine. I’m getting this from Motor1 and they, unfortunately, don’t provide any link to any of this. I think the lack of a link is because the story came from a physical copy of the magazine and finding anything online from Best Car is, uh, hard. Here’s what Motor1 says that Best Car says:
The Japanese magazine claims the three domestic automakers are working on an affordable mid-engined Toyota sports car with a turbocharged 1.0-liter engine. The three-pot is said to produce nearly 120 horsepower and 200 Newton-meters (147 pound-feet) of torque. It is believed the ICE will have a mild-hybrid setup to provide a small boost and improve fuel economy.
Suzuki is reportedly developing the engine while the front suspension will be adapted from the current-generation Yaris. The styling is said to take cues from the Daihatsu Copen although the rendering published by Best Car shows a sleeker sports car that takes itself more seriously. It would be strictly a two-seat affair and carry the Toyota badge.
This is already a game of telephone. A game of telephone begins with Best Car, which has the accuracy of Russian artillery. Still, this is a real market that exists in Japan and it makes sense someone would build a car like this. It’s basically a Toyota version of the Honda S660.
Would they sell it here? Hell no. It’s not worth crash-testing a sports car here, let alone with one toting along a 1.0-liter motor.
Here’s where I should probably get to the point: The Tesla Roadster will probably be built at some point and it’ll be expensive and too fast to feel like a spiritual successor to the original. Tesla is too big and successful to waste its time building a small, cheap sports car. It would be awesome, but it’s not something to get worked up over.
Toyota should. Toyota is restructuring as it tacitly admits it’s behind on EVs. The company should take this design, basically, and make it a modern electric MR-2. It’s not something that would likely sell in huge volumes. It’s not a car that makes a huge amount of sense, which is why it makes a huge amount of sense. No one else I can think of, really, can do this. Maybe Mazda. Maybe. I don’t see Ford or Polestar or GM trying it.
It’s going to probably take years for Toyota to have a real EV strategy in the United States and that’s going to be lead by Lexus, which means the cars are likely to start out pricey. Why not capture hearts with something like this?
We’ll Probably See The New Model 3 In March
Tesla’s lowering of prices worked. It worked extremely well. They’re sold out of Model Ys for the quarter, already. I know people who jumped on the price drop. It was smart. Elon Musk seems to have celebrated by engaging in some good old fashioned union busting, because Elon Musk is the new Henry Ford in all the best and all the worst ways, simultaneously.
What’s been missing from Tesla’s portfolio is a truly new vehicle you can actually buy and drive (which excludes the Roadster and Cybertruck). The Model 3 is the volume player for Tesla so it makes sense that the next big upgrade will be the Model 3. Bloomberg broke the news that its Shanghai plant was scheduled for some changes in advance of the new model, but I’m partial to this Reuters explainer of what’s going on:
The new version is expected to go into production in Shanghai in September, said the person with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named as the matter was private.
With the new model, Tesla is aiming to cut production costs and boost the appeal of the five-year-old electric sedan, Reuters reported in November.
One focus will be reducing the number of components and complexity in its interior. There will also be changes to the exterior and powertrain performance with a focus on production efficiency.
This is good news. A cheaper, simpler, Model 3 with a (hopefully) revised exterior would be killer. The current Model 3 remains, arguably, the best electric car there is. Tesla has a big keynote-y thing in March and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the company at least tease the car then.
What’s Up With This Watt Thing?
If you were going to make a low volume commercial vehicle platform that could be used in a variety of situations based on fleet requirements I think it would look a lot like what the UK’s Watt Electric Vehicle Company–I assume named for Minutemen bassist Mike Watt–has put together on its Passenger And Commercial EV Skateboard (PACES). In commercial flavor, the company is calling it WATT eCV1.
Here are the details from Watt’s most recent press release:
Designed for production of up to 5000 vehicles per annum, the innovative and highly flexible 3.5-tonne cab and chassis unit, codenamed WATT eCV1, enables a wide range of electric commercial vehicle designs, facilitating mission-specific models which meet customers’ particular fleet requirements.
The first of multiple commercial vehicle offerings to come from WEVC, the eCV1 uses the company’s breakthrough, proprietary PACES architecture, a sophisticated yet cost-effective modular electric vehicle platform. Developed to support commercial vehicle manufacturers, specialist vehicle converters and fleet operators in the transition to an electric future, PACES complies with ISO regulations and exceeds stringent European Small Series Type Approval safety standards.
It’s ’cell-to-chassis’ system means batteries are integrated to the primary structure (rather than having a separate battery pack), thus optimising stiffness, minimising weight and maximising payload. As a result, the clean sheet design means the eCV1 has none of the structural, weight and packaging compromises inherent in the majority of electric LCV designs, many of which having been converted from ICE drivetrains and which are further constrained by traditional high volume manufacturing processes.
Neat! My only issue here is that Watt, the company (not the bassist), has been promoting the idea of this platform for a while, including with a Porsche 356 coupe-looking thing, and I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot of those out in the world. Building cars is hard and it’s possible there’s more there there and I’ve just missed it. Still, the idea seems sound.
Renault Gives Out A Dividend
Russia’s brutal and stupid war in Ukraine has had its share of collateral damage, including Renault, which had to walk away from its partnerships in the country and took a loss for 2022 in large part because of that move. Still, the news is cheerier at the French automaker, at least according to this report from Reuters:
French carmaker Renault (RENA.PA) announced a dividend for the first time in four years, flagging improving margins and earnings as well as a full order book as its ongoing revamp starts to bear fruit.
“We are out of the emergency room and back in the game, ready to fly and to race,” Chief Executive Luca de Meo said on an analyst conference call after the carmaker reported full-year results.
I think it’s this same call where Bloomberg heard de Meo talk about bringing sports cars to the United States. Here’s what I’m talking about:
Renault SA may team up with AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. auto dealer group, to start sales of Alpine sports cars in the country, part of a plan to build out the brand that currently sells just a few thousand vehicles.
The French carmaker is also pursuing some other options for Alpine to move into North America, CEO Luca de Meo said Thursday. Renault has made Alpine, which was restarted in 2017 and makes only the A110 sports coupe, one of the pillars of its new strategy.
“It’s not easy because we are not present in the U.S. and we have to start from scratch,” de Meo said on the sidelines of Renault’s earnings presentation. Working with AutoNation, helmed by former Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley, could take the form of a partnership that goes beyond placing cars in dealerships, he said.
Emphasis mine. This is something I care a lot about, obviously, and the news of them partnering with AutoNation to sell the cars (as opposed to just Nissan dealers) is promising. I’m not convinced the reporter didn’t just make a big leap here in assuming Alpine would sell sports cars. As far as we know, Alpine is launching with two crossovers. I’m happy to be wrong here and reached out to the reporter for clarification.
Let’s Talk MR-2
What do you think? Should Toyota sell the MR-2 thing here as an EV? Am I crazy? I might be crazy.
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