So What Will It Be: Supra or Z4?

The Toyota Supra is finally here and saw its grand unveiling at NAIAS 2019. It has made a good impression, ticking the boxes of any new and popular car: selling the first VIN for $2.1m at Barrett-Jackson , selling out the right-on-trend special edition launch model , and filling endless pages of car-themed pages with the excitement of the revival of the venerable Supra nameplate after nearly 20 years.

The design has been divisive, struggling to live up to the hype of the FT-1 concept. The flowing lines and aggressive features have become the large wheel arch gaps of a production car and an overall softness when you look back to 2014. To be fair to Toyota, it is impressive to keep so many recognisable features from the concept into production.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the BMW Z4, its twin and the basis of the Supra. This is not the first, and will not be the last, collaboration between OEMs so it is likely to be a common point of discussion.

But what are the expectations of the buying public nowadays?

Sports cars are a dying breed

Cars are becoming more and more commoditised, becoming functional vessels to get from point A to point B, a tool for a job in many ways. Cars have gotten so much better over the years that the buying decision is solely down to price and styling, driven by personal preference rather than the quality of the engineering underneath.

The MazdAbarth MX-124 Spider and Toyobaru BRZ-86 started the trend of the shared sports car, in a bid to share the not insignificant cost of a vehicle program, which has bloated in recent times due to the ever more stringent safety and emissions regulations. Without a partner, one OEM cannot afford to amortise the costs or take the risk on such a potentially low volume.

Such is the case with the Supra/Z4…

How different does it need to be?

It would be harsh to characterise it as a criticism, but many “comments” have been levelled at the Supra on it being a BMW in a Toyota dress. The iDrive system is instantly recognisable and BMW branding and part numbers are everywhere when you get underneath the bodywork.

But what did they expect? BMW was clearly the lead on this program. It is their engine (the inline-6 that any Supra would have needed to be respected by the faithful), their transmission and their chassis. Without BMW, there is no Supra.

So why is the Supra more expensive?

So at the time of writing, the Toyota Supra can be purchased from £52,645, while the BMW Z4 starts at £47,750 for the straight-six versions. So how can that be justified?

Let’s look at the mechanics of a OEM partnership. From all reports, Toyota got involved early in development, claiming the chassis was “co-developed”, but in reality that likely means Toyota asked if BMW could make it stiffer/softer, consider minor dimensional changes, or tweak rather than change things. So they did the smart thing and shared all the big-ticket items like the chassis and powertrain.

The partnership would also have had conditions: I would think that BMW would not allow Toyota to have more power than its German twin (at least not without some financial incentive), and they would not allow for more Supras than Z4s. 

Then there is the major difference between the two: the coupe vs. convertible split. That means more cost into the base vehicle to accommodate both roof designs (shared cost), convertible design (BMW cost) and hardtop design (Toyota cost).

Moving onto the major discussion point: the interior & exterior design. Toyota went with all new exterior (body panels, lights, wheels, bumpers) and a mostly new interior (instrument panel, centre console) with the switchgear kept to preserve functionality of the car. This cost would all be extra to Toyota, and it effectively makes their car more expensive.

Some rough calculations:

Planned volume of Supras: 10k-15k for 10 years (let’s call it 10k to account for market decline and fewer sales in the later years)

Cost of Toyota unique changes: £60m (just a ballpark figure – typical vehicle programs cost £500m to £1.5b)

so… £60m/100k vehicles = £600 per vehicle

So, dependent on negotiations, the new Supra could cost Toyota up to £600 more per vehicle than the Z4 costs BMW, before even starting to look at the options list. So either Toyota absorb the cost, or you do. But isn’t that better than no Supra at all?

Does it matter?

When it comes down to it, are those who have waited for the return of the Supra going to change their minds and go for a soft-top BMW because it is cheaper? No. BMW and Toyota have their specific appeal and fanbase.

Is £53k a lot of money for a Toyota (or at least a car with a Toyota badge)? Yes. But cheaper versions are on the horizon, and more powerful more expensive ones are a real possibility.

These cars are the last of a breed that is withering in the face of electrification and ever-expanding ultra-expensive sector starting at the “affordable” McLaren starting at £120,000. If platform sharing and twinned vehicles means you can keep these cars affordable and you can still be loyal to the brands and nameplates you, dare I say, love, then keep them coming.

Now, who’s willing to join Honda so they can revive the S2000?

My personal S2000 on track at Brands Hatch

What do you think? Are you OK with the twinned vehicles we are seeing more and more? Would you choose price over brand? Have your say in the comments below…

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Edward thanks for a great write up. I also have a Honda S2000 year 2000 and I love it, so you can imagine why I am not too fond of the Z4. The Supra doesn’t do it for me either, sits too high off the ground, maybe that’s just the photos I like agression but prefer cleaner lines, too fussy for me, the McLaren……..I wish…..but even then I would still keep the “S Dois Mil” it’s what they call them over here in Portugal! I have tracked it a couple of times here at the Autodromo do Algarve and also at Ascari near Ronda in Spain it is a fun car to drive at 6-9000 rpm, can the Supra or Z4 compair, nope not in my opinion!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nigel! I’d have to agree just on the basis that I have found that I prefer the directness of the S2000 with minimal driving aids and calibration tricks to make the car easier to drive. I used to have a Ford Focus RS Mk3, but preferred driving the S2000 as it just felt more like pure driving.

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