Blog: Designing new Toyotas

2 Dec, 2012 1:16pm Tom Phillips

Great designs on the horizon from Toyota’s Calty Design Research facility

Toyota was the first major carmaker to open a design centre in Southern California. Its Calty Design Research facility opened in 1973, and is responsible for giving us the Toyota Celica, Previa MPV and the stunning Lexus LF-LC concept shown at the 2012 Detroit Motor Show.

Opening the Calty studio was seen as an important step in Toyota’s expansion into the US market, allowing the firm to get closer to its customers wants and needs, and allowing them to design more relevant cars.

Today, the facility is run by Kevin Hunter, who gave some interesting insight into how the studio’s role has evolved. His team now spends loads of time reviewing comments, Tweets and blog posts about Toyota and Lexus’s latest designs, so what you say in the comments really can make a difference.

That information is fed into new projects, which are now undertaken with a much greater focus on getting designers and engineers to talk to each other much earlier in new car development than before.

In theory, this means that an all-new car’s design is less compromised by engineering requirements, and that the engineering hard points of the car’s platform can be tweaked to allow the car to look better.

This is being put into practise now. Hunter said: “Lexus has a reputation for quality and reliability, we now need to add drive, engagement and emotion.”

Lexus acknowledges that it has a historical range of competent, quality but dull products, but adds that having a reputation for service and quality is a good base to build on for the future, which Hunter says takes the brand’s designs in a “bolder, more expressive direction.”

He cites the example of Apple in the late 80s and early 90s: “What saved them [Apple] wasn’t just rehiring Steve Jobs, it was appointing [design boss] Jonathan Ives. Design can turn a company around.”

And if the LF-LC is anything to go by, that looks possible, should the concept make production. Let Lexus know what you think in the comments section below…

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I've been watching Toyotas designs very closely over the past few years, especially since the likes of KIA have come in to the picture and presented some very clean, well thought-out design solutions for their cars. In 2005, Kia focused on the European market, identifying design as its core future growth engine — leading to the 2006 hiring of Schreyer as Chief Design Officer. So as European I'm going to assume that this is one reason why I like what I see coming from KIA. But, it's subsequently fair to say that this formula is working for KIA as we see it rapidly climbing the ranks as an international brand favourite.

Toyota must therefore be a little concerned, I would have thought. They build good, reliable cars but let's be honest they're just not exciting to look at. Consumers are becoming more design savvy and the proliferation of options available means that manufacturers need to focus on design to lure customers and I think Toyota have dropped the ball in this regard.

I can't help but notice the lack of consistency in the designs of their cars and wonder if this is intentional or simply "design from the East". But when one takes a closer look at the lines on some Toyota's the mystery seems to deepen. Nothing seems to connect and lines literally don't "line up" so to speak. Distinctive shapes like headlights and taillights look as though they have been stuck on to the car and often bulge out of the bodywork, disrupting the flow of the flanks and the front and rear ends. Even window lines don't connect. I accept that "connecting lines" are not the cornerstone of a good design but I also know that if you're going to do this, you need to do it with conviction such that it's intentions are clear, bold and ultimately striking enough to make people sit up and look. The disappearing side molding (crease) on the doors of the Land Rover Discovery and the work of the flame design work by Chris Bangle on BMW are examples of this, which although not to everyone's taste, where noticed simply because of their bold nature.

What Toyota needs is a design language that people can understand and that is flexible enough to add excitement to it when required. I'm seeing some evolution in the new Camry and Yaris but it's still not connecting in my mind. Lexus is also starting to define itself but it's likely to Toyota is still very evident.
Kia's Tiger nose grill is simple, it's clean and it looks aggressive and together with some well thought out proportions and lines, it works.

I think Toyota needs a face for their cars like BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Peugeot and many of other leaders in the car design field. Lexus needs an entirely new one too...