Many thought that we’d see a preview of BMW and Toyota’s collaboration project, codenamed Silk Road, at the 2014 Detroit auto show. Instead we were dazzled by the sporty Toyota FT-1 concept, which Calty design research president Kevin Hunter maintained was purely a design study for more “emotional” vehicles to come. Nonetheless, a recent report from Autocar confirms that the BMW/Toyota project is still very much a reality.
Even more exciting is that we’ll likely see lightweight hybrid sports car meant to replace the BMW Z4, as well as a possible spiritual successor to the Toyota Supra. Although styling from the FT-1 concept is within reason for the Supra successor, both the Toyota and BMW versions will reportedly use a front-engine, all-wheel-drive layout rather than rear-wheel drive.
BMW will supply a small direct-injected four-cylinder gas engine displacing no more than 2.0 liters, in addition to front-wheel electric motors contribute to all-wheel drive and Toyota-engineered torque vectoring performance. What’s revolutionary about the project is the use of a highly scalable, lightweight architecture and a unique plug-in hybrid energy storage system.
According to Autocar, Toyota is leading the development of the hybrid sports car’s supercapacitor technology, which delivers kinetic energy quicker than current lithium-ion batteries in a smaller and lighter package. We saw Toyota’s supercapacitor technology in the 420-hp Yaris Hybrid R concept, which has its performance roots in hybrid tech sourced from the TS030 LMP race car.
Autocar says that, like the Yaris Hybrid R, the future hybrid sports car will have a sequential manual gearbox, although our own sources also hint at an eight-speed automatic as a possibility.
Weight reduction is a major component of this new formula, and it should come as no surprise that the shared hybrid sports car will benefit from lessons learned during the development of BMW’s i3 and i8 electric vehicles. We’ve already seen that BMW can repurpose carbon fiber production waste into lightweight wheels, steering wheels, and prop shafts, so it’s reasonable to expect a fair amount of weight-saving carbon elements on the future sports car.
Launch date for the upcoming tie-up is expected around 2016-2017, but the fruits of this collaboration have the potential to go far beyond just one car. The architecture is supposedly quite flexible, and has the capability to support much higher output than we’re expecting for this first model. If all goes according to plan, we could see a pair of BMW and Lexus hybrid supercars emerging in the near future. We can’t wait to hear more, and we’ll be sure to report back as soon as we do.