Toyota’s had a big week. They finally achieved their decades-long push to win Le Mans, overcoming a series of agonizing near-misses. It also announced the production of an insane 986-horsepower road car based on a 2021 Le Mans race car. While the given reason for the supercar was to homologate the racer, the real reason was buried deep in the Gazoo Racing president’s announcement.
At a press conference kicking off the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Gazoo Racing president Shigeki Tomoyama announced the production of the Super Sport Concept unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Salon. However it was this quote that revealed Toyota’s true motivation:
As the automotive industry is approaching an era of big changes, we will continue our passion for making cars that are truly exciting. No matter how electronics and digital technology will continue to transform vehicles, we will make sure that our cars will not become just another commodity.
It’s true. With electric vehicles, self-driving cars, and ride-hailing technology changing how the world views cars, Toyota president Akio Toyoda has talked a lot about how the auto industry is entering a “once-in-a-century transformational period.”
Toyota knows that when these factors converge cars will be, in Tomoyama’s words, a commodity. There will be little differentiation between marques, and customers won’t care which one they’re in. When you buy apples, paper cups, or gym socks, do you really care about the brand? Closer to home, do you care what brand of car your Lyft is? How about your taxi? Probably not enough to wait around for an extra five minutes. For all intents and purposes, there’s already not much difference between a Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, or Ford Fusion, especially for the average buyer.
Toyota believes that the only way for an auto brand to survive is to create an object of desire. Buying a supercar is not a rational decision. It’s like paying $150 for a Kamakura shirt when you could get a $30 one at Uniqlo. If Toyota continues to make commodities, there will be no compelling reason to choose Toyota.
So, the Gazoo Racing Super Sport Concept, or whatever the production version is called, will not just exist to conform to homologation rules. It will be Toyota’s stake in the ground in post-automobile world.