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Massive mass market sales help fund Toyota’s aspirations

When one mentions Toyota in a car enthusiasts’ huddle, there always seems to be a distinct chuckle, then a pregnant pause. You see, Toyota has not always been known for its motorsports or racing pedigree, this despite the numerous awards it has earned over five decades of racing.
In fact, some of the most iconic sports cars we grew up with are Toyotas—the 2000GT, the Celica, the AE86, the MR2, the Supra and of course, the Le Mans-winning TS050 Hybrid. Somehow though, it remains hard to reconcile the legendary reliability, affordability and vanillaness of Toyota cars with these high-performance examples.  
Even its participation in the World Rally Championship, American NASCAR and IMSA, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Formula One are all noteworthy. With multiple championships in various disciplines, Toyota can easily pass for a byword in motorsports much like Colgate is to toothpaste and Honda is to the tuning scene.
But why is that when the Toyota brand is brought up in local chats it is more an answer to the question, “What is a good car to buy that will give me the least headaches as an owner?”
Toyota’s top-selling models in the country are hardly stellar vehicles in terms of engineering or styling. The Innova, the Fortuner and even the Rush and Avanza were never designed to tear up the track. The Vios, even in Vios Cup permutation, has not shed its daily driver persona. But one cannot deny that they all do one thing well – they just work.
Toyota’s reputation for being a reliable brand did not happen overnight. It took decades and generations of mass market vehicles that the public bought over the years to earn this stamp of approval. And when it comes to mass market vehicles, Toyota has churned one model after another that seemed to have always done the job they were built for. A fact that is reflected in its market-leading status among all global car brands.
Its manufacturing prowess is second to none. It practices the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, or continuous improvement, in all its facilities. Its adherence to quality and dedication to perfection is unassailable. Just look at its luxury brand Lexus and what it has stood for since its inception 32 years ago.
“When you think about manufacturing processes, Toyota is always the first thing that comes to mind,” concedes Franklin Lu, a self-confessed Honda fan. While his business is focused on selling Honda parts and accessories to car enthusiasts, he drives a 4-year old Innova with 26,000 kilometers on the odo and is quite happy about it.
For Lu, the Innova is the answer to the age-old dilemma of, “If you could only have one car.”
“Toyotas always feel familiar to use, no matter the generation,” shares Lu. He adds, “I think their design philosophy has hardly changed. They are always future-proof.”
Could this forward-thinking mindset be the secret ingredient to Toyota’s automotive mass market world domination? “I usually wait for new technology to come to Toyota before I decide to trust it. Its designs are often timeless,” says Lu.
One can conclude that with Toyota introducing a particular innovation in such a large scale as its manufacturing footprint permits, and with a large number of motorists buying a Toyota to validate these innovations, Lu might just be correct with his practice.
But it is not only in mass adoption of  technology that Toyota excels in. The Japanese automotive juggernaut continues to find ways to make research and development cheaper and more sustainable. Through collaborative efforts over the years, Toyota seems to know when a particular product or component will become in demand with its market.
Like Apple gobbling up small companies for its technologies, Toyota knows who to tie up with to cut manufacturing costs. It knows which brands offer similar levels of satisfaction its customers have come to expect from them. Toyota works with these car brands and creates synergies. Like buying into Daihatsu to produce the Wigo and the Rush. Or developing an affordable sports car with Subaru which eventually turned out to be the highly popular 86 and BRZ twins.

One of its latest forays in collaborative engineering is with BMW. The reintroduction of the new generation Supra is an offshoot of the alliance between Bavaria and Aichi. The A90 Supra shares its platform, suspension, engine, transmission and a plethora of knobs, buttons, switches and plastic panels with the BMW Z4 and other older generation Bimmers. BMW’s trademarks are brazenly stamped on the Supra’s components too. But this love child has managed to cut costs for Toyota while at the same time giving fan service to Supra enthusiasts of old. And for Toyota and its fans, this is basically a win-win scenario.
“Truth be told, I love BMW interiors, that is why I bought a brand new Supra,” declares Jason Chuang, a used car business owner who put his money down on an A90. He adds, “I really love the body design of the Supra. The interior is definitely BMW. But I also love BMW’s interiors. So with the Supra, I get the best of both worlds.”
And it is not just the styling that has appealed to Chuang. BMW’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo and its 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo engine are both found in the Supra. Combined with BMW’s ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox and suspension bits, it is easy to discover performance right off the bat with the Supra at a fraction of the cost of a European sports car.
“I’m hooked on the fact that the Supra, with a few modifications, can keep up with supercars,” says Chuang. And it is this realization among many Toyota Supra buyers that has led to the model outselling its BMW brother. And at the end of the day, in the automotive business, it is all about sales.
Over the years, Toyota has managed to overtake more established car brands to take the top spot in global car sales. It offers every conceivable permutation of a vehicle model to cater to a specific demographic in its target market. It has created a lineup that seems to serve every imaginable audience and address their needs even before they know them. And it has managed to streamline its global manufacturing processes to cut down costs and allow them to spend more in R&D and other endeavors, like motorsports.
Indeed Toyota seems to have achieved the ideal balance between appealing to the mass market with “safe” designs, and venturing out to lofty ideals in order to establish itself as a benchmark for the future. This is one thing many automotive brands seem to miss out on as they struggle to find their niche – massive mass market sales help fund a car company’s aspirations. It surely does for Toyota.
Sometimes you just have to sell Jell-O in order to afford eating Creme Brulée.

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