Toyota has been exceptionally vocal about its desire to spice up the brand and, for the most part, it has delivered. Expressive, sometimes polarizing, designs have begun populating its lineup as company president Akio Toyoda endlessly talks up the merit of sporting vehicles. While other chief executives focus solely on promoting mobility, he’s discussing the importance of building fun-to-drive cars.
The company’s motorsports group, Gazoo Racing (GR), has even started cranking out tuned versions of the brand’s road cars. However, none of them have made it to North America — nor will they. Despite all of Toyoda’s seemingly earnest talk of performance models, the United States hasn’t seen it manifest into anything tangible.
Considering Toyota also decided not to offer GR models in the U.S., and with cost-cutting measures making the 86 coupe a potential candidate for discontinuation, Akio’s grand vision doesn’t look particularly robust in the West.
“For me, this is the kind of car we should all dream of making,” Toyoda said of the original Mini while being honored by Autocar earlier this year. “Affordable, simple and as fun to drive as a go-kart. Even if in the future people go to work in autonomous pods, as industry leaders it is also our job to keep making cars like this.”
Toyota already makes a few vehicles like this — the aforementioned 86 and 210-hp Yaris GRMN, being personal favorites. But one may soon face death while the other has been confirmed to stay out of North America. In fact, CarBuzz recently asked Toyota if any of the Gazoo models would make it into the United States.
“We do have TRD here in the U.S. and we have a lot of equity with that brand for many of our models. Other global markets are aligning with GR as their performance brand. Going forward, we’ll evaluate if there is value for us to align with GR, but at this time, we don’t plan to introduce the existing GR products,” responded Nancy Hubbell, senior manager of Toyota Product Communications.
We have a minor issue with that. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has been analogous with off-roading for almost as long as anyone can remember. Its catalog reflects this perfectly, as the number of parts available for trucks absolutely trumps what’s on offer for cars. This doesn’t mean Toyota can’t bring GR models over to America as TRD variants, but we’re wondering if it would bother.
It’s not a hopeless situation, though. The brand is bending over backwards to deliver on its performance promise for the rest of the world. Toyoda was even spotted cruising around in the back of a prototype Century GR Sport two months ago, which is about as crazy and good as ideas come. This was followed by talk of a return of the MR2, even as the new Supra is readied for mass production, and there are supposed to be TRD versions of the Camry and Avalon appearing at the LA Auto Show at the end of this month.
Toyota is clearly committed to this performance mindset and a return to glory. We’re just worried it won’t extend its vision to North America. Those souped-up GR models are enticing. But an Avalon TRD? We’re not so sure. It might just bring some ground effects and new wheels.