Toyota is a brand that was reborn on the 23rd of June 2009, when Akio Toyoda, the great-grandson of the company’s founder, took over as president.
Although Toyota engineered and manufactured some iconic sports cars in the late 1990s and prior (Celica GT4, multiple generations of Supra, and the sensational 2000GT way back in 1967 to name a few), it arguably lost its soul in the 2000s.
Producing an endless stream of Camrys, RAV4s and HiLuxes with a focus on volume over all else, the world’s largest car company became synonymous with producing ultra reliable but uninspiring vehicles. Oh What a Feeling… reliability.
Exceptions such as the largely Australian-developed TRD Aurion and Hilux are noted.
That all changed when Akio Toyoda took over as president, starting with the V10 Lexus LFA (arguably the best Japanese car ever made) released in 2011.
Since his takeover, Toyoda has brought the Gazoo Racing division (previously a skunk works project started in 2007) in-house, and the entire company’s performance division now races and produces models under GR branding. Gone are the days of TRD.
With all that in mind, has the Toyota of the 2000s managed to shake its image of conservatism? Is it really a company of car enthusiasts once again?
“Gazoo Racing products help show off Toyota’s rich heritage in motorsports and sports car development, while creating a halo effect for the entire brand,” Toyota Australia vice president of sales, marketing, and franchise operations Sean Hanley told CarExpert at the recent local unveiling of the GR Corolla in Melbourne.
“Our company is made up of car enthusiasts, which is reflected in the vehicles we sell,” he said.
“The introduction of GR products in Australia has seen Akio Toyoda’s vision of bringing exciting and fun cars to life.”
Hanley emphasises the fact Toyota has enjoyed a rich history of motorsport and performance vehicles, from stints in Formula 1 to its current success in World Rally Championship.
“Our GR cars show we are a company looking to push the envelope and provide the most engaging driving experience possible for our customers,” Mr Hanley said.
“GR styling and enhancements have also found their way into our broader model line-ups, providing visual upgrades and enhancements for on- and off-road driving.”
It’s fair to say Toyota Australia underestimated the demand our market would have for GR products, with the original Yaris initially going on sale at an incredibly low price (call it clever marketing, if you will).
The GR Yaris is so popular Toyota has struggled consistently to meet demand. The company announced in October this year it had resumed ordering for the next allocation of GR Yaris, which commenced on November 10.
At time of publication, a further 160 examples of the vehicle have been secured for our market for the next 12 months, which still isn’t enough to meet demand. This is in addition to the 500 GR Corollas heading our way in 2023.
So the question remains, is Toyota once again a company made up of and for car enthusiasts? Tell us in the comments below.