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Quake fears could delay Toyota’s FT-86

Confirmed: Toyota's rear-drive FT-86 coupe - which will make its local debut at the Melbourne motor show - will go on sale in Australia by mid-2013.

Official: Toyota’s new FT-86 boxer coupe confirmed for Australia in 2012 – or 2013

Toyota logo11 May 2011

By MARTON PETTENDY

TOYOTA has officially confirmed its slick new rear-drive FT-86 boxer coupe for Australia, but appears to be hedging its bets on a release date.

The FT-86 II concept this week was confirmed to make its Australian debut at the Melbourne motor show on July 1, before the production version hits local showrooms “in the second half of 2012 or the first half of 2013”.

The first rear-drive Toyota since the MR2 was due to roll off Toyota’s Japanese production lines in mid-2012, making an October 2012 local on-sale date the most likely, given the traditional three-month delay between Japanese production and Australian release.

Just two months ago at the Geneva motor show in March, Toyota Australia spokesman Mike Breen told GoAuto the production FT-86 would go on sale here in 18 months with a sharper than expected base price target of less than $35,000.

“We would like it to be in the early $30,000s,” said Mr Breen at the time. “That's where we would like it to be doesn't mean it will be there. Eighteen months away, it is a little too far out to say it will be this or it will be that.” Since then Japan’s devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami has crippled Toyota’s domestic production, which remains at 50 per cent of capacity in both Japan and Australia until at least June, for which Toyota is yet to announce its production schedule.

8 center imageThe bad news continued for Toyota on Monday morning (May 9), when Chubu Electric Power agreed to a Japanese government request on Friday (May 6) to close its Hamaoka nuclear plant.

Hamaoka is the power supplier for the heart of Japan’s auto industry in central Japan, which is home to a number of major manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corporation.

The surprise decision to close the Hamaoka plant, which is located about 200km southwest of Tokyo, follows a government study that singled it out as being particularly vulnerable to a major earthquake, such as the magnitude-9.0 quake that triggered the crisis at Fukushima nuclear plant on March 11.

Hamaoka accounts for about 15 per cent of the power output of Chubu Electric Power, which provides power to half of the 18 plants that make Toyota vehicles in Japan.

It also powers all four of Suzuki’s domestic car and motorcycle factories, as well as vehicle plants owned by Honda and Mitsubishi, but Toyota is believed to be in the most precarious position because of its high ratio of domestically produced vehicles.

According to Reuters, power disruptions may not be large enough to delay Japan’s economic recovery because Chubu is taking steps to meet peak summer demand by boosting thermal energy and securing power from another provider in western Japan.

However, the shutdown’s effect on electricity supplies and prices could further undermine consumer sentiment in Japan, where more than half of gross domestic product is driven by consumer spending and the economy remains depressed due to lower private consumption.

In the longer-term, the potential for Japan’s energy policy to continue to change in the wake of the March disaster could prompt Japanese makers to shift more production overseas.

Like Honda, whose domestic production also remains at about 50 per cent of capacity, Toyota had previously forecast a return to normal Japanese production levels by the end of this year.

At the least, reduced electricity production by Chubu, which also powers Toshiba’s Yokkaichi semi-conductor plant, is yet another reason – on top of a strong Yen and cheaper overseas labour – to build fewer cars.

The potential also exists for other Japanese nuclear plants to close, in line with the government’s desire to place more emphasis on clean power sources within the nation’s overall energy policy.

If production of the FT-86 is delayed for Australia or other markets, it is unlikely to be the only new Toyota model affected.

Toyota is due to launch new-generation versions of both the Japanese-built Yaris and Australian-made Camry later this year, and will also produce Subaru’s version of the joint-venture sportscar project.

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