Scion Trying to Make Case for FR-S Convertible as Subaru Says No Thanks

Scion parent Toyota is exploring building a drop-top version of the sports car independent of FR-S co-creator Subaru.

January 22, 2014

3 Min Read
Toyota FT86 Open concept shown at 2013 Geneva auto show
Toyota FT-86 Open concept shown at 2013 Geneva auto show.

DETROIT – Contrary to reports, a convertible Scion FR-S is not dead.

However, because FR-S co-creator Subaru is not interested in making it, Toyota is exploring whether it can bring the sports car to fruition on its own, Doug Murtha, vice president for Scion in the U.S., tells WardsAuto in an interview here during the 2014 North American International Auto Show.

“It’s something we’re looking at internally from both a manufacturing standpoint – where do we build something that’s relatively low-volume, if not at Subaru – and from an engineering standpoint: Where are those resources going to come from to do it?” Murtha says.

As part of an ongoing study, Toyota has asked each region selling the FR-S, or Toyota 86 as the car is known overseas, to submit volume targets if they wish to sell an open-air version.

“Everybody’s had to pony up their volumes and we’ll see if we can make it happen,” Murtha says.

Because sports cars traditionally sell in small numbers, Toyota and Subaru combined in 2009 to develop the FR-S/86 and the Subaru version of the car, the BRZ.

Toyota handled design and some engine work, while Subaru was tasked with the chassis and the bulk of the engine development. Subaru has been building all three models at its Ohta, Japan, plant for the U.S. since first-half 2012.

But, as relationships in the auto industry can be as difficult as a marriage between people, cracks between Toyota and Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries began to show last year.

Toyota displayed a drop-top 86 concept at the 2013 Geneva auto show, raising hopes such a model could make it to production.

But Fuji President Yasuyuki Yoshinaga said in no uncertain terms last fall Subaru wasn’t interested in going halfway on a convertible.

“We make the car, so if we don’t make it, it can’t happen,” Yoshinaga told Automotive News in November. Subaru engineers believe the cars would need to be completely re-engineered to meet safety standards if they were to go roofless, Yoshinaga says.

Murtha understands Subaru’s position.

 “When you look at their global volume relative to our global volume, convert that to (their potential share of the convertible segment), and it’s probably more in Toyota’s interest to pursue a vehicle like that,” he says.

Scion sold 18,327 copies of the FR-S last year, the car’s first full year on the market. While that was 60.5% higher than 2012’s tally, it fell short of the 20,000 units targeted.

Sales of the FR-S last winter were stronger than Scion anticipated, Murtha says, but summer demand fell below expectations and fall deliveries couldn’t make up for lost ground.

While he was still happy with second-year sales, the third year of a sports car’s lifecycle “traditionally (is when) you fall off the table. So I think this year we need to watch closely and make sure we’ve got the right supply and the dealers thinking about the product the right way.”

Limited-edition FR-S grades due in 2014 should help grow demand for the sports car in the U.S., but Scion also is rumored to be studying more variants for coming years, such as 4-door and turbocharged versions.

Toyota Div. Group Vice President Bill Fay told WardsAuto in December the automaker would be “in a position to disclose specifics” about FR-S variants in 2015.

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