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Detroit show: Toyota gets edgy

Precursor: The FT-1 concept, premiered this week in Detroit, is a precursor to a host of more exciting new road-going Toyotas, the company claims.

Future Toyota designs, including even the Camry, to get sexier, sharper styling

Toyota logo14 Jan 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO in DETROIT

TOYOTA’S Californian design studio says the conservative design that has long served as the brand’s bread-and-butter is losing relevance in the modern age.

Instead, the company will look to inject a little more sex appeal and design savvy into its entire future model range, from fleet-friendly sedans such as the Camry to high-end sportscars, as previewed in Detroit this week by the FT-1.

The mission to grab a younger demographic in a digital age poses a set of challenges, says senior designer at Toyota Calty studio Alex Shen. The answer will add some emotional appeal to the brand’s core of build quality and reliability.

Spearheaded by Toyota president and racecar driver Akio Toyoda, the new design strategy - called “Vibrant Clarity” - will see eye-catching lines trickle down throughout the Toyota family.

This strategy, the company hopes, will give people a greater emotional attachment to their cars, and help maintain their interest in a digital age of shorter attention spans.

Mr Shen spoke of an unhealthy “consensus culture” previously within the brand, but said “we feel now is really necessary to go with the intuition of our designers and our design bosses”.

“In the past (conservatism) worked, but now people are looking for new things, constantly, and we have to up our game. Right now emotion is the next frontier.

People need to feel and get attached to their car, then they’ll think about purchasing it.

“People get tired of things a lot quicker, so how do we keep people interested in our products? One of these ways is to make the design more emotional. It’s happening, you’ll see it coming very soon.”

And it’s not just fickle young, so-called ‘digital natives’ that are driving this push to sexier design, says Mr Shen. Older buyers, long a strong market for Toyota with cars such as the Corolla and Camry/Aurion, will adapt quickly, the company believes.

“We feel that older buyers are the most open buyers,” he said. “They don’t really care what it looks like it. They’re confident enough, they’re mature enough to understand ‘hey this is a new product, it works for me’.

“We find that the styling in the younger audience, they’re more critical.”

Pressed on when we might see such designs on a road near us, Mr Shen said: “The FT-1 is the first to show it, but the first production car, I think you’ll see something around 2015 that represents what we talk about”.

Mr Shen said even the conservative, fleet-friendly Camry (fleets are no known for ranking design as a priority) Camry could come in for a design revolution.

“It’s constantly our intention to make big leaps on all product from this point forward. In terms of Camry, its segment isn’t your typical vanilla box any more,” he said.

“It’s possible (the next Camry could be a radical departure)” he said. “It’s constantly our intention to make big leaps on every product, especially from this point forward. Akio expects it, our customers expect it, so we will make big leaps.”

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