The BMW Group and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) already have a wide-ranging cooperation agreement which was signed back in January, 2013 and extends to the joint development of a fuel cell system, the joint development of architecture and components for a sports car, joint research and development of lightweight technologies and the development a lithium-air battery with an energy density greatly exceeding that of current lithium-ion batteries.
The jointly-developed sports car has, to date, been the most high profile of the four projects mentioned above and, last November, BMW Group confirmed to Bloomberg News that a technical feasibility study, which began in January 2013, had been “successfully completed” and that work on the architecture had “moved on to the concept phase and is running according to plan.”
The BMW-TMC sports car programme has reportedly been given the codename Silk Road – Silk Road Phase 1 should result in a BMW Z4-replacing Z5 roadster and an apparently Toyota GT86-replacing coupe. The two OEMs are expected to reveal concepts in the next 12 to 18 months, while the production versions should be launched in 2017 as MY18 models. However, in addition and according to CAR Magazine’s highly-regarded and well-connected European Editor, Georg Kacher, Silk Road Phase 2 will see a proposed BMW Z7 and Lexus ZC/ZR – not to be confused with MG’s sporty version of the Rover 25 – take on the Porsche 911 Carrera in late 2018 or early 2019.
Herr Kacher is also the long-standing European Bureau Chief of the US-based Automobile Magazine and, in that capacity, he last week reported that the BMW Group and TMC were contemplating the addition of a fifth project to their existing cooperation agreement – apparently, the two manufacturers are now evaluating a move into entry-level, A-segment City cars. AROnline readers will find the full story here but Peter Schwarzenbauer, the BMW Group Board Member responsible for MINI, has already suggested that, in order to make MINI profitable, the brand needs to focus on five “superhero” models which will include the new Hatchback (in three and five-door form), the all-new MINI Clubman, which should be launched this summer, and next year’s MINI Countryman, which should be more SUV-like than before.
A number of well-placed Automotive Industry insiders are predicting that the slow-selling MINI Roadster, Coupe and Paceman will be discontinued sooner rather than later so that leaves Schwarzenbauer and his colleague, MINI’s Head of Product Management, Oliver Friedmann, with two additional models to find…
A production version of the MINI Superleggera Vision Concept, which was first revealed during the world-famous Concours d’Elegance at Villa d’Este in May, 2014, is now, apparently, scheduled for launch in early 2018 while Kacher claims that the fifth model will be a smaller MINI wearing the Minor badge – assuming, of course, that the BMW Group owns the IPRs to the MINI Minor name. The MINI Rocketman Concept, which was first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in 2011, might just provide the inspiration for that fifth model.
TMC may now have discontinued production of the Toyota iQ but a possibly Lexus-badged successor, sharing a common architecture and, say, powertrains with a smaller MINI, could enable both BMW and TMC to establish a viable business case for a combined, more premium entry into the A-segment City car market. That said, a MINI spokesman declined to comment and dismissed the report concerned as “mere speculation” when contacted by Automotive News Europe shortly thereafter…
Automotive News Europe subsequently reported that the Lexus LF-SA Concept “could preview a future model that would be a rival to BMW Group’s MINI [and] the Audi A1 or Daimler’s Smart ForFour minicar.” Meanwhile, in his latest story for CAR Magazine, Georg Kacher, now maintains that “the MINI Minor is likely to come to market in late 2018 or early 2019,” be “just 3450mm long” and “will cost… around £9000-£10,000.” Interestingly, Herr Kacher reckoned that the TMC version of the mooted MINI Minor might be badged as the Toyota Starlet.
However, in revealing the Lexus LF-SA Concept at the Geneva Motor Show today, the company has said: “To celebrate last year’s 25th Anniversary of the very first Lexus, the LS400 saloon, Lexus challenged ED2, its European design studio, to create a concept of an ultra-compact (sub-B-segment) urban 2+2 model. The LF-SA Concept explores unexpected territory for the brand in a powerful, emotional execution that illustrates Lexus’s passion for up-coming design trends.” Well, that sounds just like a premium A-segment City car to us…
Indeed, the Head of Lexus Europe, Alain Uyttenhoven, specifically describes the Lexus LA-SF Concept as a City car in this video…
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