If we could have a drum roll please, we'd like to set the stage to introduce Turbo's latest project vehicle: the Toyota Yaris. We have patiently waited for years for Japan's Toyota Vitz (Europe's Toyota Yaris) to make the leap across the pond into our welcoming arms. (In fact, long time Turbo readers might even remember a feature we did on a Vitz that Toyota had loaned to us when they were considering bringing the Yaris over to the United States back in 2000.) We would have never guessed that the Yaris would go into production here since Toyota opted to bring the similarly pint size Scion xA out. When the xA came out we thought that meant the U.S. door on the Vitz was forever closed.
With the Yaris using the same engine as the Scion xA and xB we aren't quite sure what Toyota is banking on, or why now is the time for the Vitz. Our best guesses are for the targeting of a different consumer base and the competition of the Honda Fit having just so coincidentally also being released. From the ad campaign it's clear that Toyota is aiming for an older customer base than the youth-oriented xA model. While the premise at Scion is "the car is meant to be modified," the Yaris ads are targeting the pocketbooks of future buyers. The focal selling point is the Yaris' excellent gas mileage (40 mpg) and how much money that will save your little piggy bank. Needless to say tuners in the 18-24 age group aren't thinking about their savings accounts (heck, half probably don't know the difference between a savings and checking account). If this strategy works, Toyota will end up on top. The youth tuners will buy the Scion and spend their disposable income on dealer customization options, while the thrifty consumer worried about today's gas prices will buy the economical Yaris.
As for beating the competition, the Toyota wins the battle against Honda with the Yaris because it makes more horsepower than the Fit. The Yaris also notably has a lighter curbside weight than the Scion xA. Maybe all the anti-SUV rhetoric worked, and now the American public wants efficient compact cars. Goodness knows in the history of Turbo we have never owned an SUV or a truck.
This having been said, our armchair speculation on the marketability of the Yaris is neither here nor there. We really could care less - we're just happy that the Vitz made it to our side of the Pacific Ocean. As soon as we heard the news we gave Toyota a call and requested a Yaris of our own (5-speed, blue, pretty please) to build, and add it to Turbo's precedent of being one of the first to build Toyota's other recent debuts: the xA, xB, and tC. We weren't sure what reception we would receive, as the Yaris obviously has a different PR campaign than the Scions. However, our doubts were put aside as Toyota immediately, and enthusiastically in fact, agreed to give us a pre-production Yaris. We even got the manual transmission and blue color that we requested, which is usually unheard of in preproduction vehicles where there is little choice (hence our previous pre-production automatic xB and tC).
It turns out that Toyota is not turning their back on their long motorsports history and indeed is still looking to court the tuner market with the Yaris. While the ads on TV are flaunting miles per gallon, in actually talking with Toyota they are eager to see what the aftermarket industry has to offer the Yaris and hope to see a wide variety of built Yarises at this year's SEMA show in Las Vegas. Part of Toyota's excitement may stem from the fact that the Vitz has long been a popular tuning car in Japan. Knowing that it's a club car favorite, they might be wise to the fact that the Yaris already has a cult following in our U.S. market here. Loads of Japanese aftermarket products are already available for the Vitz, so this will make an easier transition to those companies' U.S.-based headquarters. This is great news for us performance enthusiasts and equally great for Toyota, as our consumer group is now more likely to buy their vehicle.
Once we got news that we are now the proud parents of a new Yaris we immediately rang up all the Japanese companies here we know that make Vitz/Yaris products. This is a million times easier than when we built the new Scion tC and no one made products for it yet. Having seen our fair share of modified Vitzes at Turbo's Tokyo Auto Salon Tour we knew right away whom we wanted to contact to build our dream Yaris. Like kids in a candy store everything is available - both performance and aesthetic-enhancing products. From body kits to supercharger kits, the sky is the limit. So future Yaris owners, the world is your oyster.
We're finalizing the plans for our Yaris, so expect it's newly modified debut next month. We hope to compile the best Yaris aftermarket products out there to build an all around great streetcar with both looks and performance. After we're done with debuting it at SEMA we plan to strip it down and build a pure racecar. Now that is something that hasn't been done before; we can't wait to see what Toyota thinks about that. Maybe Toyota will see the light and come out with a track-driving Yaris racing commercial like those for BMW. Yeah right...but at least we can still turn heads at the track ("Did I just get passed by a Vitz?!").