The brand DNA of Toyota and BMW couldn't be more different — the first, the epitome of stodgy and reliable automotive transportation; the second, the Ultimate Driving Machine.
Even so, the two brands got together on Friday to announce that they will jointly develop sports cars, among other collaborations. The two companies, unveiling their plans at a press event in Munich, provided few details of the vehicles they expect to result. Industry observers predict the cars will be "high-performance, high-tech and green," as Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs put it.
"I get so excited thinking about the cars that will result from this relationship," Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, said at the press conference. BMW Board Chairman Norbert Reithofer hinted at the bigger upside for the partnership — the development of low-carbon vehicle technology — with his statement, "I am the one most looking forward to a sports car that is environmentally friendly and truly excites car fans around the world."
Toyoda added, "BMW and Toyota both want to make ever-better cars. We respect each other. That is why we already can take the next step together."
Toyota needs far more from this relationship than BMW does. Besides the brand's recent problems with recalls and flood-related production delays, the company had fallen into a serious lack of excitement in its automobiles even as Toyota remained the gold standard for overall product reliability and quality. And in fact, when Toyoda, grandson of Toyota's founder, took the reins of the company in 2009, he promised that Toyota would be producing more models in the future that evoked emotion and passion from owners and consumers in general.
The deal was signed in the wake of BMW ending talks to collaborate with GM on developing fuel cell technology. BMW, of course, has no problem generating either from its customers. And it's already got plenty of sports cars. BMW's gains will come mainly in sharing the cost and burden of developing cutting-edge technologies such as fuel cells and vehicle electrification — where Toyota excels — that can be applied across vehicle lineups.
Reithofer and Toyoda also signed a separate statement reaffirming their intention to strengthen the two companies' long-term, strategic collaboration.
Meanwhile, very much in the here and now, BMW has a problem: Mercedes-Benz. The two companies were heavily embroiled in a battle for the U.S. luxury-sales volume title for 2011, which BMW ultimately won.
But Mercedes-Benz hasn't relented this year, even as Toyota's Lexus luxury brand also is back seeking to regain the crown that it held for more than a decade straight. Helped by a new M-Class SUV and other new vehicles, Mercedes-Benz sold more than 106,000 vehicles to Americans through May this year, just ahead of BMW's total.
That's one race where BMW really doesn't want to finish second — or third.