Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR) has begun testing its first battery-powered prototype which will have a clutch, gearbox and simulated engine noises.
Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda told Autocar at the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans he is personally involved in the development of the GR battery electric vehicle (BEV).
Mr Toyoda, who is nicknamed Morizo, said his baseline expectation for the car is that it must be as good to drive as current combustion-powered models.
“The starting point is not what powertrain the car has, but how fun it is to drive regardless of that powertrain,” said Mr Toyoda.
“I actually had the opportunity to test drive a BEV GR we are working on recently. I don’t know if that car will make it onto the market yet, but the first priority of making these kinds of cars is that they need to be fun to drive, no matter what powertrain they use.”
Toyota recently announced it’s launching 10 new EVs by 2026, with one of them being a sports car. It’s unclear if the EV prototype Mr Toyoda is discussing is a version of the Lexus Electrified Sport, a successor to the old LFA, or the Toyota Sports EV revealed as a spiritual successor of sorts to the old MR-2.
Both of these battery-electric sports cars were revealed among a diverse range of 16 electric concepts late in 2021.
“The biggest difference to other BEVs we are developing is that, when you are in the GR BEV, you can actually hear the engine noises, even if you can’t smell gasoline,” added Mr Toyoda.
“There is also a manual transmission and also a clutch. If you put someone in the car and asked them to drive it and guess the powertrain, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.”
Toyota lodged patents with the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2021 for a manual transmission of sorts for EVs, and Lexus revealed early details on the project last year.
Lexus chief engineer of electrified vehicles Takashi Watanabe told Autocar the gearstick and clutch won’t be directly connected to the motor, but they would simulate shifts by adjusting the torque settings of the electric motor.
Mr Watanabe suggested the car could be programmed to roll backwards on a hill.
“Whether it makes it to the market or not, what the company is trying to do is explore the idea of what it is that we shouldn’t lose in a car even if it becomes BEV,” said Mr Watanabe to Autocar.
“I can proudly say that this is an example of how Toyota has changed into a company where members can look into an idea that sounds interesting, create a car from their ideas and then show it for test drives.”
It’s unclear if this Toyota GR BEV will use next-generation lithium-ion batteries that are due in 2026, as recently detailed by the Japanese carmaker.
It could also use solid-state batteries instead, which Toyota claims will be good for up to 1450km of range.