Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The Lexus LF-A supercar is on, says Toyota Motor Corp. President and CEO Akio Toyoda, who also reveals an “affordable” sports car is on tap for the auto maker.

Speaking today during the 2009 Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars here, Toyoda reveals the auto maker “will soon bring to market” the LF-A, although he doesn’t say what countries will retail the model.

The LF-A has appeared in concept form at various auto shows in recent years. It also grabbed attention during testing at Germany’s famed Nurburgring track, which is where Toyoda, a race driver, says he drove it.

“I recently took a turn behind the wheel of the Lexus LF-A supercar during a 24-hour endurance competition in Germany on one of the world’s toughest tracks. It was a great test for me and a good way to improve an exceptional car that we will soon bring to market.”

Toyoda shows a video of himself roaring around the track and says the car he helped drive placed fourth in its class.

Toyoda appears anxious to inject some passion into Toyota’s products, often criticized for being appliance-like.

“My hope is I can transfer some enthusiasm from the race track to our vehicles and make driving fun for our customers around the world.”

While the LF-A’s estimated $200,000 starting price will be out of reach for many consumers, Toyoda says he plans to “fast-track” an affordable sports car that will come to market in the “next few years.” He doesn’t reveal which brand the car will wear.

Meanwhile, he acknowledges the auto maker’s struggle to determine the fate of its New United Motor Mfg. Inc. plant in Fremont, CA. Toyoda, himself, worked at the site, known as NUMMI, and says Toyota still is studying whether to shutter the facility.

General Motors Co. has said it would no longer consider production there, a 50/50 JV of the old GM and Toyota.

Toyoda speaks glowingly of the American market, and says despite current struggles U.S. new-car sales “will not only recover but come back stronger than ever.”

He details Toyota’s commitment to the U.S., saying the auto maker employs more than 380,000 people, directly or indirectly, here. “That’s equal to a city the size of Miami.”

Toyoda cites research showing the U.S. population, in the next seven years, is poised to add 21 million people, 17 million of driving age. “All I can say to that is, God Bless America,” he jokes.

But the American auto industry will need to be transformed for the future, Toyoda says, adding peak oil prices are fast approaching and “we are at a once-in-a-century crossroads.”

He reiterates Toyota’s plans to lease a plug-in Prius hybrid-electric vehicle to fleet customers later this year, sell a battery-only electric vehicle by 2012 and bring a hydrogen fuel-cell car to market in 2015.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com