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Toyota FT-1 hints at Supra, more aggressive hybrids

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Toyota showed off the new FT-1 performance concept at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show today, and the obvious story angle is that this is the new Supra. That's enough weight for most concept cars to carry, but then we thought about it a bit more - FT-1 stands for "Future Toyota 1," after all - and re-read the hints Toyota is dropping about how the FT-1 fits into the company's future. Put all the pieces together, and we think there's a chance Toyota's hybrid models are about to get a whole lot cooler.

Technically, the FT-1 is an EV, but that's just because all it has for a powetrain is a small battery and motor to move it around on stage. This concept doesn't even have a proposed powertrain, but a production Supra could have any number of powerplants under the hood (V6, V8, hybrid and inline-six are all mentioned by Automotive News). We also like the big red start button on the steering wheel, which owes at least a little to the blue start button in the Prius. What we're more interested here is what this sleek red beast could do for the look of Toyota's hybrids.

The FT-1 could change how Toyota designs cars in the future.

To make the FT-1, Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, apparently challenged Toyota's Calty Design Research team to create a car with passion and "a palpable heart-pounding sense of excitement." Instead of making design decisions "by consensus among a large group of stakeholders," the company says "the [design] approval process has been streamlined. This new approach aims to produce cars that connect more deeply with customers." There was a sense in Detroit today that the FT-1 heralds a change in how the company designs cars in the future.

The FT-1 is apparently not the result of Toyota's hybrid supercar partnership with BMW, but we know that Toyota isn't a total stranger to a high-performance hybrid category, having built the TS030 hybrid Le Mans race car. For an on-road gas-electric from the company, though, we're much more used to the egg-shaped Prius. While Toyota has backed off a 2003 pledge to make every model a hybrid, it has said that it wants gas-electrics powertrains to proliferate throughout the line-up. And, if the FT-1 previews a new Toyota look, then at least some of those hybrids will benefit from some of the good looks on display in Detroit.

Toyota USA's national manager of environmental, safety and quality communications, John Hanson, wouldn't confirm anything, of course, but he did tell AutoblogGreen that he's been asked countless times about a hybrid sports car and just sort of shrugged with a raised eyebrow when we became the latest to do so. It's too early to know for sure what the FT-1 is trying to tell us, but we're willing to raise our expectations for future Toyota hybrids just a little bit because of it.

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