Toyota has revved up its design credentials with a sexy new concept for a sports car aimed at helping to reshape the previously staid Japanese carmaker’s reputation.
A race car pit crew opened a shiny red box to reveal the curvaceous FT-1 sports concept – Future Toyota 1 – to a cheering crowd of hundreds at the Detroit auto show.
“This is a symbol of Toyota’s design future, a spiritual pace car,” said Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design Research which developed the concept.
“This provocative concept truly captures the passion, excitement, and energy of the Toyota we are evolving into and embodies elements of the emotion and performance that Toyota will imprint upon future production designs.”
Toyota had previously designed its vehicles so they would be “liked by everyone and as a result we took less risks and tried not to stray too far,” Hunter said.
But Akido Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder and a race car enthusiast who took over as chief executive in 2009, is determined to invigorate products with waku-doki: a palpable heart-pounding sense of excitement.
The aim is to move away from design by consensus and to build cars that spark an emotional reaction in order to connect more deeply with customers.
While Toyota currently has no plans to bring the FT-1 to its showrooms, it is a model of the “engaging design” being implemented throughout the world’s largest car maker’s line-up, said Bob Carter, head of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales USA.
Toyota’s more emotive styling helped it grow US sales by seven per cent last year to 2.3 million vehicles, Carter said.
The FT-1 was initially devised for the popular Sony Playstation racing game Gran Turismo.
Akio Toyoda tested it out on a virtual Fuji Speedway and was so captivated by its styling and performance that he gave the go-ahead for a live model, Hunter said.
And while it may be years before Toyota brings a sports car back into its line-up, enthusiasts won’t have to wait to share Toyoda’s joy at testing out the FT-1.