Toyota on Friday unveiled two rebuilt examples of the classic 1980s Corolla GT-S, also known by the internal model code AE86—one with a battery-electric powertrain, and one with a hydrogen combustion engine.
Debuting at the 2023 Tokyo Auto Salon, the two cars are meant to demonstrate how older vehicles—particularly ones cherished by enthusiasts—can be kept on the road even with stricter emissions standards.
“The reality is that we cannot achieve zero carbon emissions in 2050 simply by switching all new cars sales to EVs,” Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said in a speech at the opening of the Tokyo Auto Salon. Indeed, given the slow turnover rate of global vehicle fleets, older internal-combustion vehicles will remain on the road in large numbers long after new-car sales go electric. That means targeting emissions from those vehicles as well.
With that in mind, Toyoda aims to provide ways to keep existing cars on the road while still reducing emissions, which is where the two Corolla show cars come in.
“I hope to dismiss the fear that we won’t be able to drive our beloved cars when we go carbon neutral.” Toyoda said. “On the contrary, there is a carbon neutral path that car lovers can take.”
Actually, there are two. One car, the AE86 H2 concept uses a combustion engine that burns hydrogen instead of gasoline. Hydrogen is stored in two high-pressure tanks from a Toyota Mirai fuel-cell vehicle. Toyota has shown that hydrogen combustion tech might be useful in racing, and then suggested that it was even considering taking the tech to more of a production form in a Corolla Cross.
A hydrogen-powered revival of a classic car is fairly novel. Hyundai showed a retro concept for its N performance brand last year, but using fuel cells rather than a combustion engine. Dubbed N Vision 74, the concept also isn’t based on an existing car. It’s a ground-up build that borrows styling from the 1974 Hyundai Pony Coupe concept.
Alternatively, the AE86 BEV concept, is powered by an electric motor sourced from a Toyota Tundra hybrid pickup truck and battery pack from a Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. It retains the stock manual transmission, however, and engineers tried to keep the weight distribution close to stock as well, according to Toyota. For sustainability reasons, both concepts have “rejuvenated” seats and seat belts made from mix of used and recycled material.
Automakers have tended to show electrified versions of their classic models ahead of true EVs taking off on the design. One such example is Chevy’s E-10 electric hot-rod truck, followed by the production-bound Silverado EV.
Meanwhile, Toyota hasn’t made public any plan for a deeper EV commitment. It reportedly paused some of its EV development in October, as it pondered a broader EV strategy, and CEO Toyoda has said that he sees U.S. goals of 50% EVs by 2030 to be “very difficult.”