Car-Losophy: Are sports cars becoming too alike?
With chassis sharing and engine sharing becoming more and more normal between companies, are unique driving experiences becoming a rarified breed?
PSA and FCA have combined into Stellantis and dissolved SRT to integrate those engineers into the rest of the company, VAG has been a massive automotive conglomerate for a while now, Toyota and two other automakers joined forces to create two sports cars (Subaru for the GT86 and BMW for the Supra-Z4); which was said to have been $100K if Toyota made the Supra on its own with its own platform, Mercedes allowed Aston Martin to use their engine for the new Vantage, FIAT took the ND Miata to create the 124 Spider (jokingly called the “Fiata”), and Toyota is said to be joining forces with Subaru again to create an AWD hatchback. Those are all the examples of automakers joining forces to homogenize cars that I can think of off the top of my head. Now more than ever it seems that automakers are combining into bigger and bigger companies, spreading and reducing the cost of developing cars by making them share a platform, engines, etc (the new Supra and Z4 are great examples of this). This isn't an issue when it comes to normal cars (Corollas, Rios, and the like) but when it comes to sports cars? I'm starting to get a little worried...
To fully explain what I mean, allow me to really dive into what I'm thinking here.
The Wider Automotive Industry
The 500X and the Renegade both ride on the same platform. One of the most notable differences from when I rode in both was how the D-Pillar gave the Renegade far more cargo room than the sloped D-Pillar of the 500X.
As I noted in the introduction, part sharing is quickly becoming more and more common (not that it was ever uncommon though). The first-gen Rolls-Royce Ghost was known for essentially being a BMW 7-Series underneath (though it was nothing like a 7-Series elsewhere), and the Challenger/Charger/300 all ride on the LX platform and have been for more than a decade now. I'm sure we don't even need to mention VAG, because their platform/parts sharing is simply too numerous to count.
With modern cars becoming more and more complex and expensive (not only to buy but certainly to develop and produce), it makes sense for automakers to cut needless financial waste by sharing parts and or platforms with automakers also looking to make a new model in a certain segment. Mazda did this with Scion when they gave them the Mazda2 so Scion could create the IA (later becoming the Yaris IA after Scion went kaput), Mazda also did this with FIAT when they wanted to bring back the 124 Spider (“affectionately” called the Fiata after enthusiasts believed it to be a mostly badge-engineered Miata). Mazda would yet again be the culprit of this –except the other way around– when they wanted a new small pickup truck. Calling up Ford so they could take the Ranger, call it the B-series, change the styling slightly, and put it up for sale. Ironically, Mazda would do this yet again for the new BT-50 (but with the Isuzu D-Max rather than the Ford Ranger). VW is even guilty! They took a Chrysler Town & Country, changed the styling, and resold it as the VW Routan (a car I've never seen in my life now that I think about it).
I could go on for a while but I think you get my point: This practice of sharing parts and or platforms is not at all abnormal for regular consumer vehicles. Every automaker that produces mainstream to upper-mainstream vehicles has done it so it isn't really a bad thing (provided the parts aren't crap). These vehicles aren't meant to tug at the heartstrings or feel particularly special, they're meant to get you from A-to-B (as depressing as that sounds), so sharing components and entire platforms for vehicles normal consumers won't care are bespoke or not doesn't really make a difference. Plus, not having to design a light switch, infotainment system, button, or anything like that because you share that part with another car can make that car less expensive as well (something we all want).
With that said, I think we can all agree that what we don't want is something like the Mazda B-Series or VW Routan (in terms of badge-engineering). Parts and platform sharing is OK, as long as you don't do it in the laziest way possible. A good example –I think– of platform sharing done right was the 2013-2016 Dodge Dart. That was originally an Alfa Romeo Giulietta underneath that Dodge took and made it their own. Another good example is the fifth-generation Camaro. The platform that underpins that body –technically– came from Holden, as it was originally used for the VE Commodore. Of course not all platform-siblings can be as different as the two aforementioned examples, but I think those prior cars exemplify how you can share a platform with another car yet do something fairly different with it.
This article isn't about normal cars and component sharing though, this article is about sports cars, so let's get onto how things are going in the sports car realm...
Sports Cars and Component Sharing.
Different faces, but all the same car.
Before I begin, let me preface this section by saying the following: Sports cars sharing parts is not inherently bad (just look at the Audi R8 and the Lamborghini Gallardo/Huracan). Like normal cars, I imagine most of us want sports cars that share a platform but are still distinguishable. In other words, not a Fiata situation or a Mitsubishi 300GTO and Dodge Stealth arrangement. Provided we can tell the difference between the two sports cars, then sharing a platform or some parts isn't that big of a deal (it does depend on what parts they're sharing though).
That's what has me troubled though. Like with the Supra-Z4 and the BRZ/FRS/86/GT86 quadruplets, more and more sports cars in this market are indistinguishable from each other. Not that there are many sports cars in this market as it is, but you get my point. I'm not trying to make the argument that cars which have a platform and or engines all to themselves are necessarily better (because they're not), but I'm worried that sports cars from major automakers in the segments between the Miata and Supra are going to drive less and less uniquely. Thankfully we still have the Cayman/Boxster, Alfa 4C, Corvette, 911, F-Type, and others, but things look bleak to me in the Miata's corner of the market.
This is where I have to wonder if companies like Jannarelly, Lotus, Caterham, Ariel, BAC, and more will be some of the last bastions for distinctive driving experiences in the future (even though most of those companies operate far above the Miata price point).
From this standpoint, there's even a case to be made that automakers like Mclaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and others are going in a similar direction as well. Not in the case of component sharing or anything like that, but in chasing the numbers so fervently that they're forgetting how connected cars like this should feel at your fingertips and buttocks.
More on topic though: I understand that (apparently) increasingly fewer people are buying sports cars at the Supra and Z4's price point, so not jointly-developing sports cars in this segment is not the intelligent move. What's a shame is how Toyota more or less copied BMW's homework and changed the font so it looked different. This isn't popular within the enthusiast world so I doubt it'll become the norm soon, but with more companies sharing components between each other, it's hard not to wonder if –down the road– the only companies making largely original cars (excluding the engine in all likelihood) will be companies like Jannarelly, Lotus, Caterham, Ariel, BAC, and most of the really high-end automakers (and any other company that springs up in the future). Will cars like the Supra and Z4 (in terms of their dynamic similarity) become more common? I hope not.
That's what I think though. How do you feel? Do you think smaller companies will be the ones to carry the torch or is this just an odd point in history? Let me know in the comments below! See you all next time.
Originally posted on Cody's Car Conundrum on 3/2/2021.