Its name is not Supra, but Toyota GR Supra – What GR means for TRD?

Hans · Sep 20, 2019 10:27 PM

The Toyota GR Supra is now here, priced from RM 568,000. Any discussion about the Toyota GR Supra will inevitably be overshadowed by debates about whether this BMW-Toyota jointly developed model can be a true successor to carry the legendary Supra nameplate, which is a shame because it takes the attention away from something that’s very important to anyone who cares about the brand that makes the Toyota GR Supra.

The latest A90 generation Supra isn’t called the Toyota Supra but Toyota GR Supra. It seems that every few generations, the Supra nameplate will undergo some changes. What started as the Toyota Celica Supra before becoming Toyota Supra, is now known as the Toyota GR Supra.

To be specific, when someone refers to the Toyota GR Supra, it should only mean one of the three earlier generation models: the A60, A70, or A80.

The current A90 generation should only be referred to as the Toyota GR Supra, with GR being the acronym for Gazoo Racing.

Unlike earlier Supras, this A90 generation model was developed not by Toyota but by Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division, which operates as a separate entity.

Think of it as Toyota’s version of BMW M GmbH but unlike BMW M, Toyota Gazoo Racing actively participates in motorsports – Le Mans, World Rally Championship, Dakar Rally, Nascar, Nurburgring 24 Hours, and others.

Unlike their German equivalents, Toyota Gazoo Racing builds racing cars that the factory team races with, as opposed to merely supplying cars to privateer teams.

For a brand that’s often mocked for its boring hybrids and ‘uncle’s cars,’ the irony is that Toyota has far more experience in motorsports than any other mainstream brand. From F1 to all levels of GT racing to rally raids, Toyota has done it all, even if their results might not always be great. 

The GR Supra is the first of a series of GR-branded global models by Toyota but the GR brand encompasses more than just the car. Toyota intends to mould the GR brand into a performance lifestyle brand and to support that aspiration, showrooms that are approved to sell the GR Supra must also invest in setting up a separate corner for GR-branded products. These outlets will carry the name GR Garage.

Interestingly, Malaysia is the first country outside of Japan to setup GR Garage. For a start there will be five GR Garages in the country – 3 in the Klang Valley, and 1 each in the North and South regions.

One of the criteria to be a GR Garage dealer is participation in the Toyota Vios Challenge one-make race series.

Isn't Toyota's motorsports division known as TRD?

The short answer is that TRD (Toyota Racing Development) will be phased out and all Toyota motorsports activities are now parked under the Gazoo Racing umbrella.

There's a back story to this. Recall that President Akio Toyoda, despite being the grandson Toyota's founder Kiichiro Toyoda, didn’t had an easy ascension to his current position.

The Toyota Motor group is a sprawling professionally run organization and the Toyoda family no longer has full control of the company, as all professionally run companies of this size should be. Although the Toyoda family still commands a lot of respect, Akio Toyoda is at the end of the day, still an employee that can be dismissed by the board and Toyota shareholders. 

When Akio was a young underling, his enthusiasm for cars and motorsports was deemed by the elders in the company's management as frivolous and risky. Carrying the Toyoda family name didn’t do him much benefit in gathering support for his cause so he had to find other ways to convince his bosses that Toyota needs a youthful soul.

He was also concerned that Toyota was ill prepared for the coming Internet revolution (this was the mid ‘90s). To prove a point, Akio started an independently funded online used car sales platform called Gazoo.com. The name is a word play of the Japanese word ‘gazo,’ meaning pictures, referring to the unique selling point of online used car platforms, which offers more pictures than print classifieds.

Outside of work the young Toyoda was also participating in races in Japan and Europe but since he was not allowed to participate in his capacity as a member of Toyota’s management, he raced under the pseudonym Morizo.

Akio’s after office hours' activities was an open secret but in this case, his Toyoda family name granted him some leeway, so long as he doesn't embarrass or do anything that harms the company's name.

His driving mentor was the late Hiromu Naruse, the man responsible for every sporty Toyota since the 2000 GT. Naruse was Japan's master driver and was said to be the most experienced Japanese around Germany's punishing Nurburgring track. Together, the duo established Gazoo Racing.

Early days of Gazoo, before Gazoo Racing existed. Note the lack of Toyota branding but the 'Morizo' name on the window sticker

As Akio Toyoda rose up the ranks and eventually securing the position of President, so too did his pet project Gazoo, which evolved into Toyota Gazoo Racing.

Another explanation on why the Gazoo name was used was because Toyota's race engineers have this ideal image of car fans having lots of pictures of their dream cars on a wall. Again, 'gazo' means pictures and hence the name Gazoo Racing.

Now that the founder of Gazoo Racing is calling the shots, and the Gazoo Racing name means a lot to him, the TRD name had to be sacrificed to make way for a unified in-house motorsports arm. 

In the interim, the TRD name will still be used in parallel with Gazoo Racing but it will gradually be phased out. The TRD logo is still visible on Toyota Vios Challenge cars, but it will always be placed below the Gazoo Racing logo.

Until today, the original Gazoo used car platform still exists in Japan but it now carries the brand Gazoo U-Car (‘U’ for used cars).

After the Toyota GR Supra, fans can probably expect to see a GR Corolla next. There are already GRMN or GR Sports variants of the Yaris in Europe and Japan, but this is not a global model. The Yaris sold there is different from ours but the next generation Yaris will use the same TNGA platform for all markets, now that's an affordable Toyota GR model that we all can look forward to.   

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