6:32 PM

Mitsu Yearns for Toyota's Yen

Ever since I earned my first driver's license, I've driven a Toyota pick-up as my primary vehicle. Yes, I have also owned a number of other cars and trucks along the way, but none have been able to compare head-to-head to the dependable Hi-Lux and it's newer variants like my current T-100.

So as a Toyota guy, I was overjoyed back in the early part of this century when the Japanese automaker "toyed" with us about the possibility of bringing a general aviation airplane to market. Here is a pull from Aero-News Network to provide a little "color" on that project:

"In the early 1990s, the company experimented with an aviation-tuned version of the 4.0-liter V-8 engine from its Lexus luxury automobile division. Toyota nixed the idea, though, realizing there was more money to be made in putting those engines in LS400s and SC400s. Then, about seven years ago, Toyota made a lot of noise on the general aviation scene about bringing a new, composite-bodied, four-place, single-engine aircraft to market. The company contracted with Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites to assemble a demonstration aircraft, dubbed the TAA-1, which first flew in May 2002. Little became of the program, however, following that first flight. The aircraft was rumored to be significantly overweight, and Toyota soon lost interest in the idea."
Well, it now appears they are again interested in the flying machine game, only not with a GA craft, but a commercial one. Reports out of Japan this week show that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. is planning to build a 70-to-90 seat regional jet that will compete directly against RJs manufactured by Bombardier and Embraer. To put that project together financially, Mitsubishi has approached Toyota to invest as much as 10 billion yen, or about USD $97 million in the joint venture.

And if you like Mitsu's cars but still have lingering questions about their MU-2, maybe you should have as much confidence in the company as Boeing does:
Mitsubishi Heavy has been chosen as the supplier of the carbon-fiber wings for Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, and has expressed interest in using that same technology on their new RJ, which is reportedly being designed to be as much as 30 percent more fuel efficient than existing regional jets on the market.
I am honestly a little saddened by this news. With Honda due to start delivering their beautiful HondaJet in 2010, I was hoping Toyota would jump into the GA market with something I might one day actually be able to afford. And if they [Toyota] can build such a great car as the Lexus and sell them all day long for about sixty large, is it such a stretch to have them build airplanes?

My nagging question has always been this: If you take the basic cabin/engine layout of your box stock LS or GS model Lexus, weld wings under the doors, hang a three-blade composite prop off the hood and a tail off the trunk, and swap out the panel with a G1000 set-up, wouldn't you have a damned nice AIRPLANE?
Sure, there would be significant certification costs, and yes, the market for Lexus airplanes would not be as high as their automobile line. So let's say they QUADRUPLE the asking price of a LS Hybrid Prestige Luxury Hybrid Sedan, which now commands $104,000 [ouch!] according to lexus.com. That means they rake in $416,000 for the LS/A (for airplane), which is more then enough feta to cover the airworthiness certificate, the wings, the tail and make a serious profit even after giving a chunk to Garmin for the glass cockpit.
And you can almost guarantee that at just over four hundred grand for a Lexus-quality aircraft, they could not make them fast enough. But will it ever happen? Not in a million years.

Why should the Japanese carmakers bother with the start-up costs of making a GA plane when they are having such an easy time beating up on the American companies like GM and Ford? As long as Detroit still thinks gargantuan SUVs and 4x4 Pick-ups are what Average Joe and Jane want to buy and drive, Tokyo is going to keep piling on big time, giving the out-of-touch U.S. makers a lesson in how to keep up with a changing market.

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