2007 Toyota FT-HS Concept

December 26, 2006

One normally doesn’t speak of sports cars and environmentally-friendly automobiles in the same breath. ButToyota is betting there’s a green side to performance, as it plans to demonstrate at the upcoming Detroit auto show with the debut of the FT-HS Hybrid Sports Concept.

Aggressively angular, the 3D simulation released by the Japanese automaker – a running prototype is expected to be ready in time for Detroit’s North American International Auto Show – is the latest creation from CALTY, the automaker’s California-based advanced design studio. The 2+2’s sharply raked nose and wraparound ground effects are designed to be more than eye-catching. As with the Toyota Prius, the impact is on aerodynamics, allowing the FT-HS to improve both acceleration and fuel economy.


Think of it as “a sports car for the 21st century,” suggests Kevin Hunter, vice president of Calty Design Research, with the FT’s form heavily driven by function.


Under the digital hood, the FT-HS features what starts out as the same 3.5-liter V-6 found in another hybrid, the GS450h, sold by Toyota ’s luxury arm, Lexus. But in the concept sports car, output zooms from 292 horsepower to a promised 400. Credit a beefed-up electric drive system that will permit the prototype to launch from 0-60 in the four-second range, we’re told. But by using what is, in effect, an electric supercharger, Toyota broadly hints that fuel economy would run substantially higher than comparable gasoline-only sports cars.


Measuring 170.3 inches, with a 104.3-inch wheelbase, the FT-HS has a footprint of roughly the same size as the current Lexus SC430 convertible. Expect a large amount of that space to be gobbled up by the hybrid drive package, notably including the battery pack.


The sharply sloped roof is actually a retractable hardtop, though rather than folding up, like metal origami, into the trunk, the roof slides back and then drops behind the front seats. That effectively turns the Hybrid Sports Concept into a two-seater, but from what we can see, the back buckets wouldn’t have been very functional, anyway.


In Toyota-speak, the general design theme can be described as “Vibrant Clarity.” There’s a visible tension to the look, which Hunter suggests has “perfect imbalance…dynamic yet stable.”


Coming at you, you’re likely to notice the channeled hood, which exposes the hybrid powertrain. The equilateral triangle shape that dominates the HSC’s exterior is echoed in the passenger compartment, which Hunter calls “Solo Space,” with its focus on the driver. The overall look is likely to take many Toyota fans by surprise, as this has not been a brand normally willing to push the envelope.


Will they build it? Like many of its competitors, the marque has been using the auto show circuit as a way to tease the public and gauge reaction to its increasingly distinct designs, both for the Lexus and Toyota brands. The Lexus LS460, for example, was first seen in concept form at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show.


Toyota officials acknowledge the FT-HS would fill a yawning gap in their lineup, one vacated by the Supra, and there’s little question they’d like an affordable halo car – we’re hearing a price tag in the mid-$30,000 range – to emphasize the brand’s distinctive focus on using hybrid technology to push performance, as well as fuel economy.


The GS450h gets near-V-8 numbers out of its mid-size six-banger. But whether the HSC could push things up another notch is uncertain. It would likely require even more sophisticated hybrid components, with the emphasis on the battery pack. Lexus, like everyone else, is desperately searching for high-powered – and reliable – lithium ion cells. As the flaming Sony laptop underscored earlier this year, the technology is still a work in progress.


But there’s little doubt that if anyone can push the technology limits, it’s Toyota . And if the FT-HS Hybrid Sports Concept receives a warm reception in Detroit , we’d be shocked if the Japanese maker doesn’t move forward with production plans.

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