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High-Ranking Toyota Engineer on Supra Wants MR2, Celica Revived

Assistant chief engineer on the Toyota Supra project hopes the MR2 and Celica can come back too, but he sees both models as difficult to resuscitate.

The assistant chief engineer for the returning Toyota Supra, Masayuki Kai, has expressed interest in bringing back the discontinued MR2 and Celica models, but that it’d be more difficult than ever to do so.

“We want to have Celica back, we want to have the MR2 back,” Kai explained to Road & Track. “The biggest was Supra. Supra was number one, the biggest demand from the market. Now that we’ve brought Supra back, what will come next depends on the market needs.”

“Sports car are becoming more and more expensive to develop,” Kai continued. “So a single company cannot afford to invest in all the tooling for parts and components, because the volume of sports car is quite small. A sports car requires a lot of specific components that you cannot share with other cars. The suspension components we’re using on the Supra, you can’t use on a sedan like Camry or Corolla. And as you know, all the homologation issues are also getting more and more complex and difficult.”

1990 Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo, Toyota

Toyota shared the burden of the Supra’s development with BMW, which needed a replacement for its Z4 roadster. Toyota’s A90 generation of Supra and BMW’s G29 generation of the Z4 share a chassis platform, possibly a drivetrain, and potentially even soft-top versions down the line, according to Kai. A similar cooperative effort was mounted by Toyota with Subaru to develop a sports car the two sell with different badging and names (86 and BRZ respectively). Without the ability to split the investment into new sports car platforms, Kai says the new Supra and Z4 wouldn’t have happened.

“I’m quite sure if we did not make this cooperation, they could not have brought the Z4 back on the market alone,” he continued. “And without their cooperation, we would never have been able to bring back the Supra. So it’s clear for us, we needed this partnership.”

Bringing back an old fan favorite model was made even trickier by the fact that Toyota hadn’t developed a sports car on its own in more than a decade prior to the 86’s introduction. Kai says that an ideal model for sports car development was Mazda’s with its MX-5, which has now been in production and continuous development for almost 30 years.

“I believe there are a lot of things we need to learn from Mazda,” concluded Kai. “They never stopped developing the MX-5. They continuously developed that car. If you don’t do this—like Toyota, stopping the Supra for 16 years—it’s extremely difficult to bring it back.”

A Celica revival showed signs of life just over a year ago, when The Drive discovered a fresh Toyota trademark on the name, though little has been heard since, save for aspirational waxing by Toyota engineers about it and the MR2. Less than three weeks before Geely’s buyout of Lotus in May of 2017, I advocated for Toyota to make a similar move on the automaker, citing their decades-long ongoing relationship as reason to do so, and positing the idea that the two could divide development of a new MR2. With Lotus now in Geely’s hands, that buyout will remain a fantasy, and we may never get the W40 generation of MR2 without deus ex machina.