Toyota’s new design language is finally flourishing on its latest models – including the Camry and Corolla – as the Japanese giant moves further away from its consensus-driven design methodology into a new era of risk-taking.
Speaking to Australian media in Sydney last week, 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.
“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,” he said.
Giving background on how Toyota gained the reputation for creating reliable but plainly-styled vehicles often referred to as 'white goods on wheels', Hunter said the company's design language was consensus-driven before new CEO, Akio Toyoda, came on board.
“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," Hunter told the assembled crowd.
"We wanted to make everybody happy, not one person disappointed. Problem is, when you try to do that – try to please everybody – we ended up making really, really good 'vanilla' cars.
“We had a large consensus-driven organisation, and the more opinion you get together and try to satisfy everybody’s thought and opinions, you get into the middle.”
Things have changed now, with designers reporting to far fewer executives, driven by Toyoda himself.
“We’ve streamlined that process, we are making more dynamic cars, more bold cars, more 'pure' cars …. 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.
Now, the rest of the organisation is falling into line with the new guidelines, so Toyota powertrains and performance can be a match to the brand's sporty new aesthetic.
Asked how Toyota – which no longer manufactures cars in Australia – designs its vehicles for global markets like ours, Hunter admitted some compromises needed to be made.
“We have to take a measured approach," he explained.
"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.
"It’s one reason why Toyota has a global design network of studios, because in Japan they can take in a lot of ideas from all over the regions, and try to put these ideas together and get the best solution. In the US we do a lot of production design, we can really focus on US tastes, like for our trucks.”
Regardless of the reasons behind the change, whatever Toyota is doing with its latest cars is a monumental step up from what it was doing in the past. What do you think?