I’ve owned two Toyota vehicles during my adult life, both Celicas, both red in colour. The second one I owned for almost a decade so when we finally parted ways, I was overwhelmed with sadness. It’s strange to think of a car as a dear friend, but that car knew all my intimate secrets and it became my unofficial confidante over the decade.
It had been there to witness my many moments of joy; the excitement of heading out on dates, to parties, weddings and celebrations, gossiping and catching up with friends, the thrill of road tripping and playing my beloved music through the subwoofer. It listened intently as I sang out of tune, and never judged as I chatted to myself.
It had also been there for me in my many moments of anger and sadness, the times I flipped the bird at awful drivers trying to cut into my lane with no warning, driving on the highway trying to clear my head after fights with the ex, and even during other moments of devastation and disappointment, like when life got too much for me to handle, I would park my Celica and sob behind the wheel, tears streaming down my face as I let my emotions go.
My Toyota Celica had been there for me at the best of times, and the worst of times, so when we parted ways, my heart broke. Sounds crazy I know, but it’s the truth. So partnering with Toyota on the release of the new Camry Hybrid brought all those fond memories back. I also love sleek, sporty-looking cars and not compact cute ones (this is a no-brainer since I owned a Celica), so I was thrilled that the company had moved beyond the Prius to designing hybrids I’d actually want to be seen driving.
Now a few weeks ago, Toyota invited me to a Design Workshop to learn about their design process. I had spent the latter part of April celebrating Fashion Revolution Week and asking “Who Made My Clothes?” and I thought it was the perfect time to switch gears and ask “Who Made My Car?”
So I left the farm, jumped on a train and boarded a flight and made my way to Sydney’s concrete jungle for the event.
No More Boring Cars
“One thing about my title, I am president, but I’m really an artist and a designer so that’s my title, but I have a Bachelor of Fine Art and a Degree in Automotive Design and Transportation.”
With this opening statement, Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s North American design studio, Calty, caught my attention. The role of the design team, Hunter, explains is to fuse technology, business and art together, to create vehicle concepts that inspire.
Calty was established in 1973 and has three design studios in the United States. The Newport Beach studio in California specialises in advanced design and experimental design, focussing on concepts that are three to five years out. The Ann Arbor Michigan studio develops production design for the North American market, developing trucks for example. In their Detroit studio, they work with technical staff and engineers focussing on final output for American built cars.
While the team works with engineers, they don’t have any on staff, ensuring their studios remain a place where creativity is harnessed and where possibilities are limitless. The video below shows how the design team works (and it’s quite engaging actually, not a dull, dry product video in the slightest!)
Hunter shares how Toyota’s global president Akio Toyoda had challenged the company’s designers to create cars that spark people’s emotions. No more boring cars, he ordered them.
“The boss told everyone “We’re making bland designs, what’s going on, we can’t do this anymore” and I really appreciated his honesty and coming out and saying that,” Hunter shares. “Something needed to change.”
I found myself nodding as he was saying this. Toyota had been stuck in a rut for years and none of their cars had caught my attention in such a long while. That is, until they overhauled their offerings and sleeked up the hybrid. Had they not done this, and I had not driven that next generation Camry Hybrid last December, I doubt I would even be sitting here writing this.
So how does it get to the point where a highly-respected brand like Toyota is creating boring cars? Hunter explains there were two reasons.
“We tried to appeal to everybody, and when you do that you move to the middle and so eventually we were making vanilla. Now vanilla’s popular, everybody loves it but it’s not so exciting.”
The other issue that caused their designs to become “vanilla flavoured” was that there were too many groups with too many opinions influencing the design process. Toyota began filtering it out of the design culture so that the team could focus on pure ideas with clarity and conviction.
“We have empowered our designers and engineers to develop a creative and passionate vision of future mobility. The goal is simple, yet profound: develop future generations of products that connect on an emotional level.”
With the designers free from the shackles of ‘safe’ designs and trying to meet internal consensus, creativity soon began to flow. The result speaks for itself. Calty’s stunning FT-1 concept is a symbol of Toyota’s design future, and a design right up my alley – the sports car. “FT-1 is symbolic of a new chapter for Toyota global design,” Hunter explains. “It is a provocative concept that truly captures the passion, excitement, and energy of this new era of Toyota design.”
If they created a hybrid version, and I wasn’t living on a farm, I could definitely see myself behind the wheel of that FT-1.
Related Post: 5 Things You Need to Know When Buying a Green Car
At the end of the presentations, the team held a design masterclass to give us the opportunity to learn to sketch vehicles and make our own clay model vehicles, just as the Calty design team do.
Experienced Calty designers guided us through the sketch process. With focus, some well-placed pencil strokes and soft contouring and pencil feathering, I got the results I was after. My sketches turned out rather well.
The same could not be said for my clay model car though. It was an absolute disaster. Had I had my own clay tutor on the table, I would have managed. But alas, we were left to our own imagination. I expected the horrible result. Writing to sketching is a natural process, as you have a pen or pencil in hand. But writing to carving up warm clay with special tools and turning it into a car? That’s way too big a skill leap. I looked around and noticed the other clay cars on my table, women from esteemed publications were carving out non-amateurish sporty-looking clay cars with their tools, cutting, thumbing, shaping, coaxing the clay, curved lines in all the right places. They were writers too. Drats, I thought, I had no excuse. I held up my boxy looking thing, inspecting it closely. It was vaguely reminiscent of the time-travelling car from Back to the Future. I gave myself points for participating.
Anyway, all-in-all, I felt the event nailed what it set out to achieve. I got insights into the car design process and learned that cars, like fashion, begins with a design concept. And just as I like my fashion edgy, boundary-pushing and sustainable, I want the same for the cars being produced.
If Toyota is to capture the attention of a new generation of young people – like it had captured my attention all those years ago – it’ll want to be exciting and innovative. And if their current designs are anything to go by, I think they’re on their way to doing just that.
Disclaimer: Eco Warrior Princess received an exclusive press invite to the event. All opinions are our own.