It was bound to happen sometime. The question was when? After all, the Japan-based brand has over the years built up a bullet-proof reputation in mechanically reliable but bland looking cars. Actually, Toyota has realised in recent times that in trying to create a model with universal appeal design does get compromised – one of the reasons it feels that attributes to its ‘vanilla’ designs. But all that will change and it’s beginning to show after the arrival of CEO Akio Toyoda San.
Even volume models like the new Camry and Corolla are looking sharper and dynamic. Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s Calty design studios in California and Michigan, said the company is now okay with designing cars that don’t have universal appeal.
In a recent interaction with media Hunter said, “We were making really, really good cars, but they were pretty bland – let’s face it. Why were we making boring cars? There are probably many reasons, a lot of reasons why, but two key fundamental points were [that] we were trying to please everyone”.
“We are ok with polarising [designs] now… that’s better than being neutral, plain and forgettable. So we are going to continue to move on a very bold direction on our front face,” Hunter added.
Consensus is no longer the order of the day and the brand is prepared to take risks. To do that Toyota design has streamlined that process. “We are making more dynamic cars, more bold cars, more ‘pure’ cars that people will enjoy driving, with driver engagement now being a big factor for us. We have a good trajectory now of where we are heading, and feel really good about it,” Hunter said.
Interestingly, as design gets revolutionised, engineering too is falling into line with the new guidelines, so Toyota powertrains and performance can be a match to the brand’s sporty new aesthetic.
Do the design challenges still remain for various markets? “It’s a reality of it, designing for the global markets [a vehicle that is] iconic and distinctive, we need to do it in smart ways that we think it will appeal to a lot of communities.”
And this is where Toyota’s global design network of studios comes in handy, as in Japan the studios can take in a lot of ideas from all over the regions, and try to put these ideas together and get an optimised solution. In the US, Toyota does a lot of production design so it can really focus on specific US tastes, for instance in the segment of pick-up trucks.