Believe it or not, many auto manufacturers will work with one another on occasion to insure the proper execution of a concept car, and there have been quite a few collaboration projects out there that can still be seen driving around to this day. Sure, it may look like a clunker with only one auto manufacturer’s badge on the outside, but thanks to automotive gene splicing, that car could be all mutt on the inside.
Since auto manufacturers continue to compete with one another on a daily basis, collaborative projects are still a bit of a rarity. But that does not mean there aren’t a handful of interesting “mixed-breed” cars coming to showrooms every now and then, it just means that it happens only when deemed necessary. For decades there has been a long standing rule that if there is absolutely no way of completing a project and scrapping the whole design isn’t in the cards, it might be best to swallow some pride and ask for a helping hand.
Sure there are plenty of companies that we will never see working together on a project (Ford and GM come to mind), and nine times out of 10, an auto manufacturer will find a solution to its conundrum before it will ask for assistance. But every now and then there is an ad-hoc collaboration that comes to fruition out of pure necessity and the results are sometimes… how shall we put this… questionable at best.
But on the opposite end of this spectrum are the full-blown, start-to-finish collaborative incarnations, where the vehicle is the legitimate love child of two consenting corporations, and press releases galore flood the Internet with speculations surrounding the looks of said unborn beast. While this is obviously a far more preferable means of collaboration, it still muddies the gene pool and can cause consumers to wonder what they are really buying and if a “pure-breed” is a safer consideration. Here are a few interesting mutts that have either already been put to sleep, are growing long in the tooth, or are still developing in the womb.
1. Ford and Mazda
Perhaps one of the longest and most engrossing collaborations is that of Ford and Mazda. While they certainly were able to help one another along the way (Ford helping Mazda more times than naught), the cars they produced together were often plagued by brand identity issues, mediocre sales, and recalls. Automotive News reports that Ford first started working with Mazda on an automatic transmission way back in 1969 and began investing in the Japanese company a decade later. From there they took total control of the company in 1996 to save it from going belly-up, and by 1999, Mazda was able to proudly post its first consolidated profit in six years. During this elongated relationship, the two companies were able to swap vehicle platforms, powerplants, and engineering to further one another along as both companies developed each other’s vehicles.
Oddball offerings over the years have included things like the boxy Mazda Tribute, the 3.7-liter Ford V-6 found in the Mazda CX-9, and the four-cylinder Mazda engine in older Ford Fusions, which were used because the Fusion and Mazda6 both shared a common chassis back in the day. Other notable collab projects were the now defunct Mercury Mariner, and the Volvo C30 from the days when the Swedish company was still under Ford’s wing, and receiving parts from Mazda as well.
2. Isuzu and Honda
While their relationship may not have been as long or illustrious as Ford and Mazda’s, Honda and Isuzu were able to get to together in the early 1990s for some good times, and what we see in front of us today is the end result of their “friends with benefits” relationship. But after a while, this relationship began to sour due to poor safety ratings and sluggish U.S. sales, and the companies went their separate ways in 2002.
During their time together, Isuzu and Honda were able to pop out a few oddball offerings that ended up being rebadged versions of one another, the most recognized being the Isuzu Rodeo and Honda Passport. The Honda came out sporting a lot of chrome, where the more bashful Isuzu opted for black. Both vehicles were slapped together on the Lafayette, Indiana, assembly line, and according to a report from August of 1994, by the New York Times, “Honda took the easy route, working out a deal with Isuzu to put its own badges on the four-door vehicle — in return, Isuzu will sell small Honda-built cars in Japan.” Interestingly enough, Isuzu has also had a very long bond with GM, and there has been gossip that the two will get back together for one final fling sometime soon.
3. Tesla and Toyota
Well it may have all started with fireworks and wild notions of a bigger plan for the future, but Tesla and Toyota’s joint venture on an all-electric RAV4 has left a bad taste in some peoples’ mouths. According to a report by Bloomberg Business last summer, “Toyota, whose homegrown electric RAV4 was discontinued in 2003, is distancing itself from Tesla’s focus on all-electric vehicles and embracing fuel cells, a technology Musk [Tesla’s CEO] ridicules.” They go on to say that the relationship was “marred by clashes between engineers, according to people with knowledge of the matter, and highlights how quickly marriages of convenience can turn sour in the auto industry.”
It’s a shame these two didn’t work out better, because it wasn’t like an all-electric RAV4 was a bad idea, it just had a shocking $50,000 sticker price and was only made available to consumers in California. And while the two companies have since gone their separate ways, there is still talk of them teaming back up down the line to try to make a winner one more time. According to Autoblog, Toyota said last year that “we have a good relationship with Tesla and will evaluate the feasibility of working together on future projects.”
4. Toyota and Subaru
Perhaps one of the more successful hook-ups in automotive history came to us via the nearly identical twins that Subaru and Toyota ushered into this world a few years back. While their sales haven’t been sensational, the cars themselves are actually quite good, and are undeniably fun to drive despite an obvious lack of horsepower. The coupling also makes sense given Toyota’s stake in Subaru’s parent, Fuji Heavy Industries.
The BRZ and the FR-S share almost every single trait save for some interior amenities, different badging, and some obvious external lines and aerodynamic designs. But everything else from the flat-four Subaru engine, to the sporty suspension is shared between the two cars, and the kicker continues to be that it actually works pretty damn well. While American consumers haven’t seemed to mind the fact that there are two options of the same car available to them, they haven’t been buying them up by the bushel, and sales of the tail-happy sports cars continue to remain stagnant. Time will only tell if this slick little car can have true staying power or if it will one day wind up on our list of “Fun Cars of Yesteryear.”
5. BMW and Toyota
Our final crossbreed is still in utero at this point, and according to sources will probably not be ushered into this world until sometime in 2018. Toyota has apparently learned from its last little misstep with Subaru, and said to hell with an under-powered powerplant like the one found in the aforementioned BRZ/FRS. Instead, the world’s largest auto manufacturer has given the reigns over to an unexpected European ally: BMW. According to sources, the German automaker will receive boatloads of cash from Toyota, and in exchange, Car and Driver says “the platform should have enough powertrain and dimensional flexibility to be used for other BMW variations.”
While Toyota may not make turbocharged engines any more, and must rely on BMW for their powerplants, they sure can still make one sharp looking sports car that handles like no one’s business. So when Toyota hinted at the triumphant return of the beloved Supra a few years ago, a joint-venture with BMW became a very realistic option considering the German company can churn out a turbo-powered inline-six engine in no time flat. But until this car is safely delivered to showrooms across America, all we can do is sit back and watch to see if it does indeed become the world’s next big mixed-breed mutt with gnashing teeth and insatiable appetite for the open roads of the world.
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