Design chief admits Toyotas were boring and vanilla
THERE has never been a better time, says Calty studio boss Kevin Hunter - reiterating a favourite pitch of our Prime Minister - to be a Toyota designer.
The way the president of Toyota's North American design centre tells it, this is down to philosophical and mechanical factors.
First, company boss Akio Toyoda has declared it should no longer make boring cars, a directive Detroit-born Hunter embraces.
On the engineering side, he says, the advent of the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform means the design teams meet the chassis, engine and bodywork counterparts on an early and equal footing.
Previously, the mechanical package determined the styling limits "but now design gets a much stronger seat at the table".
Calty Design Research, set up in Newport Beach, California in 1973, is where many Toyotas and Lexuses take shape. It started with the original Celica and along the way has styled the likes of the Lexus LC500 and Toyota C-HR and FJ Cruiser, which Hunter regards as a "home run" for the studio.
It also penned the will-they-won't-they-make-it FT-1 concept, tipped as the design precursor of a coming new Supra sports coupe ... and before the question is asked, Hunter says he can't confirm production, let alone a date.
Having the big boss, Toyoda, as "a car guy and design supporter" is a boon for the scores of other car guys and girls working in Hunter's studio and the satellite operations, up the coast in Oakland, handy to Silicon Valley, and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, near Detroit.
"How did boring happen in the first place?" Hunter says. "We were trying to please everyone, with consensus we just moved to the middle and we made vanilla cars. Now they're bold, dynamic, pure."
At a one-off Toyota briefing in Australia, Hunter details the virtues of another Calty star, the 2018 Camry. It starts with the global platform endowing a low centre of gravity and, as with all the latest Toyotas, an athletic stance.
"It's sleeker and wider, with the cabin nested in the body. We have a bold lower grille and a slim upper. That's how we make a sexy Camry."
The next step will be overall mobility, where "the car will be your friend", he says. "Artificial intelligence is accelerating the possibilities (for design) ... with the 2017 Concept-i, we started from the inside."
Interiors are the realm of Calty chief designer William Chergosky, whose credits include the Lexus LF-LC concept, the FJ Cruiser - and the latest Camry.
Beyond platforms, he is most excited by the prospect of reimagining cabins as today's regulation features become superfluous.
"Imagine what we can do with autonomous cars," he says. "If you don't need a steering wheel and if cars get so smart they don't have accidents, you have a clean sheet for a cabin."
Back to the near future, he says inspiration can come from anywhere. The theme for the Camry cockpit and centre console stack draws on a stylised slingshot - visualise the handgrip running between the seats up to the Y-shaped "ornament" around the infotainment screen.
His favourite pieces are the door handles: "Very non-Toyota ... each is a piece of art."
For the NASCAR Camry, the studio fitted the body contours over the racer chassis. "We had to make it look good and resemble the production car," he says, calling the result "aggressive badass caricature". That's not boring.
WHAT CALTY DID
2018 C-HR, Camry, NASCAR Camry, Lexus LC500
2016 Lexus RX, Avalon (US large sedan), Tacoma (pick-up)
2015 Camry, NASCAR Camry and Tundra (truck)
2014 Highlander (Kluger)
2017 Lexus LF-1, FT-4X activity vehicle, Concept-i commuter
2012 Lexus LF-LC