NAIAS 2018 | Episode 9 : Toyota

Toyota’s big news at the NAIAS was the new Avalon.  The previous editions were not particularly attractive and this one continues that trend.  The huge gaping mouth grille with a “diamond” texture for the regular model and horizontal bars for the hybrid is just too big and clumsy, the strange hood cut line above the grille looks awful on light colored cars, the body forms at the base of the A-pillar are awkward, the semi-fastback design doesn’t seem to fit the intended customer base.  In addition to all this, Toyota having been stung by “boring cars” criticism, seems hell bent on making everything sporty and aggressive.  Prominent air intakes flank the grille, even the base car has a black decklid spoiler (styled-in spoiler on the hybrid) and there are four exhaust pipes.

The interior is decent.  The dominant centre console has the infotainment screen extending above IP surface, but still integrated.  Somehow the console is a bit dated looking.

New for the US, was the boxy FT-4X Concept.  An interesting design study aimed at creating something new in the small SUV category, maybe even Toyota’s answer to the Jeep Wrangler.  The asymmetrical design is rather complicated, with many interesting feature lines, openings and colour treatments.

The C-HR is also new to the US.  An interesting small vehicle that is hard to position in the market.  The design is busy, with complex shapes and feature lines.  The roof extension is exaggerated, there are large “stand off” taillamps and the rear door handles are semi-concealed.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 9 : Toyota

What better place to present the replacement for the best-selling car in the US than Detroit. Toyota unveiled the highly significant, all-new Camry on the second press day. Toyota has responded to the long-held view that the Camry is a dull, boring car.

With more powerful engines, a focus on performance and driving dynamics, plus aggressive exterior and interior styling they plan to push the Camry in a new direction.

The bold front end includes a ‘spindle-like’ grille stolen from the up-market Lexus; there are strong feature lines on the hood and body side; and a long roof that creates an almost fastback look. The instrument panel is equally bold with sweeping feature lines from both right and left combining to form a unique look for the panel as a whole – impressive new ground from Toyota. The hybrid model has some unique design features and a more evolutionary front end. Unfortunately, the wide lower grille makes the car look like a giant bottom feeding fish!

After some years of concepts, Toyota finally has a sub-compact SUV. The C-HR is quirky inside and out – thankfully not Nissan Juke quirky, but quirky none-the-less. It is quite faithful to the original 2014 Geneva show concept. The exterior has bold features and shapes, dramatic taillamps and neatly executed concealed rear door handles high on the C-Pillar. The interior is similarly bold with anodized aluminum trim pieces flowing across the instrument panel and into the doors. With plenty of powertrain options including a hybrid version, the C-HR should find plenty of customers.

CES 2017 | Toyota Concept-i

Toyota has introduced a concept car at the CES 2017 in Las Vegas. Showing that the CES (and similar events) is THE place to be for carmakers.
Designed by Calty Design Research, their Californian design studio based in Newport Beach, Toyota is demonstrating their will to conceive vehicle “around” the user versus “for” the user.
The new technologies must be(come) friendly and playful. The user experience must be immersive.
The Concept-i, is using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) able to build a true relationship with the driver to anticipate the user needs…In a certain way, this vehicle is designed to communicate and interact naturally with the human.
The Concept-i is supposed to build a relationship with its user and it is supposed to learn and understand how the driver feels, to improve his/her life quality.
Thanks to the technology, the driver will have the choice to drive or to use the autonomous mode. But more than anything, if he/she choose to drive, the car will continually give an assistance…can we call that Augmented Driving?
The new design trend is to design a car from the inside to the exterior…That’s why Calty’s designers have imagined a digital platform called YUI which is the A.I. agent. YUI can communicate throughout the whole cockpit with light, sound, and touch. Basically, you have few screens. They are not necessary anymore. The vehicle gives you different information’s in different ways: from colored lights down your feet to indicate if you are in autonomous mode or not, to head up displays…
The exterior itself communicate with people around. Giving message while you are turning and welcoming the user with YUI appearing on the side panel…
As you can see, we are not talking about engines or propulsion technology anymore. We are a step beyond…
Well a nice concept car introducing what the close future (present?) could be.


Photos : Toyota Press and Charles Mombelet © 2017

NAIAS 2016 | Part III : The Japanese brands

Naias 2016-3

Honda’s big announcement at the Detroit show was the new Ridgeline pick-up truck that continues to feature a monocoque construction rather than the body-on-frame construction of most others. The previous model was ungainly and awkward, but this latest version is a big improvement, although its clean lines and ‘crossover front-end’ are not at all rugged looking.  This new model has a number of interesting features like a two-way opening tailgate and hidden storage under the load floor.
Acura revealed the ILX, a stunning concept car in a beautiful shade of red. This quite large, pillar-less four door was as dramatic as it was beautiful.  Strong feature lines, bold shapes and many interesting details, make this a strong contender for the best concept at the show.  Bright trim pieces sweep up across the A-pillars onto the roof towards the centre of the car, flowing seamlessly into the formed rear window.  The high mounted stop lamp is like a spear extending over the backlite – quite unique.  The taillamp and exhaust outlet shapes and dramatic and complement each other on the Kamm tail.  The interior is equally strong with four bucket seats separated by a prominent center console, a rectangular steering wheel, a surprisingly small instrument cluster and the inevitable large central infotainment screen.  There is not much chance that this concept will make it into production, but this could signal a breakout for Acura design going forward – something they badly need!
Frankly, the Toyota display was rather boring and very similar to last year. The only vehicle that was new and interesting was the Kikai, which is a crazy cartoon of a car, but it is fun to see what happens when you let designers run free!
On a more serious note the Mirai (which means Future) is here! Toyota will sell 200 of its fuel cell vehicles in Southern California during 2016 at a price of $57,500.  Of course they are all spoken for already.  Toyota showed two special versions of the Mirai, one of which had an experimental flat panel roof antenna that will provide much improved communication with satellites.  The second was a gull wing two-door concept with cool chrome wheel covers.
The FCV plus (previously shown in Tokyo) is not intended for production, but it is a vision the future of fuel cell cars with electric motors at each wheel and wildly futuristic appearance inside and out.
Toyota’s youth brand, Scion showed a very interesting concept called C-HR. This small coupe actually had four doors, the rears being cunningly disguised to maintain the coupe appearance.  The car features big (21 inch) wheels, strongly emphasized wheel arches and very interesting front and rear lights – the rears appearing to float above the quarter panel.
Stop the presses! Toyota just announced that the Scion brand will be dropped in August of this year.  Apparently the slow sales of the brand can no longer be tolerated and the Scion products will be folded into the Toyota line-up where appropriate.
Lexus debuted two interesting cars at the show. First was the LF-FC, which is a large four-door concept with fuel cell power.  The proportions of the vehicle are excellent, with elegant lines, a strongly sculptured bodyside and dramatic lights front and rear.  Like the Acura ILX there are no door handles – great for the design, but perhaps not so practical….   The large air intakes, plus the sharply angled headlights and running lights further dramatize the now familiar and very prominent “spindle” grill.
The LC 500 could be seen as a more realistic and practical version on the exciting LFA coupe, but it is actually the realization of the LF-LC concept shown here in Detroit 4 years ago. It will be the flagship of the Lexus brand when introduced in 2017 with lots of power and a beautiful design.  Even the obnoxious spindle grille looks somehow better on this svelte design, framed as it is by the intricate front lights and air intakes. The rear lights are not so pleasing, with blank white lenses when unlit and elongated spears going in two random directions.  We love the exhausts, however, and the unusually strong feature lines embracing the exhaust outlets and the license plate that sweep towards the center of the vehicle.
The Nissan display was an exercise in contrast. On one side was the IDS concept, which is an autonomous, ‘zero emissions’ EV four door sedan; while on the other was the Titan Warrior pick up concept, the rock crushing opposite to the “tree-hugging” IDS.  Like many concepts these days, the IDS features a pillar-less suicide door set up.   The design is much more pleasing than the homely Leaf, but it may be a little too extreme for production.  The “buck-tooth” grille, as well as the front and rear lights, are evolved from the current Nissan look.  There are some new features, like an illuminated Nissan badge at the rear and a messaging system across the base of the windshield!  This would allow the driver to say things like “After you” to pedestrians or other drivers.  The potential messages have the imagination running wild!
The Warrior truck concept is well executed, with all the right macho elements. It further reinforces Nissan’s determination to gain more market share in this important US segment.  With its recently introduced new version of the Titan pick-up – which now comes with a V8 Cummins diesel engine – they could do just that.
The Infinity QX30 crossover had been shown as a concept a year or so ago and more recently announced for the US at the Los Angeles show. It is faithful to the original concept and should be nice addition to the Infinity Range.
Also revealed at the show, was the Q60, a two-door coupe version of the Q50 sedan. Again, it is very close to the concept unveiled at last year’s show and succeeded in being both elegant and sporty.
Rounding out the Japanese exhibitors, Subaru presented the Impreza Sedan Concept. In common with most of the Subaru line, the concept didn’t try to be outrageous or futuristic, but it was a clean well executed design, with some nice fresh touches that should work well for Subaru, assuming that something like this reaches production.

NAIAS 2015 : AMERICA IS BACK ! – Part V [end]

Acura made the biggest splash among the Japanese brands with the long awaited production version of the Acura NSX.  The car is stunning, as well as being a technological tour de force.  Interestingly, the production design was completed in the US by a team led by Michelle Christensen, the engineering/development was done in the US and the manufacturing will be conducted in a new ‘craft centre’ at the Honda plant in Ohio.  Full marks to Honda for allowing the vehicle to be developed outside Japan and in its major market.  The final version is faithful to the concept model, even though the packaging went through several iterations to accommodate various different powertrain permutations and the dimensions grew in both length and width.  The end result is suitably dramatic from all angles — if only we could drive one.
During the press days Honda displayed their fuel cell concept, presumably to match the one also found on the Toyota stand.  Neither car is particularly attractive, but they are distinctive and standing out is certainly an appropriate goal for a vehicle powered by this future technology.  Now all we need is a hydrogen infrastructure……..
Honda also demonstrated their racing prowess with a display featuring the Honda powered 2014 Indy 500 winner and the 1965 Mexican GP winning F1 car.  We look forward to the return of Honda to F1 this season.
Toyota displayed the FT-1 concept car again — this time with gunmetal grey metallic paint.  Frankly it looked a lot better than with last year’s red paint job.  The big introduction for Toyota in Detroit was the new mid-sized Tacoma truck.  No big design breakthroughs here so let’s move on to Lexus.  The signature “bobbin” grilles are getting bigger and bigger, but they are still hard to love.  If you can get past the grilles, there are some decent looking products available from this brand — the GSF 4-door and the RCF coupe being two great examples.  The ground hugging GT3 racing version of the RCF coupe painted in bright white made a dramatic statement and a strong declaration of intent.
Nissan’s big news was also on the truck side of the business with the introduction of an all-new Titan full-sized pick-up.  Neither Nissan nor Toyota have been as successful in the large truck market as they expected, but this is probably another step in the right direction for Nissan, especially with a brand new V8 Cummins diesel available under the hood.
The Infiniti Q60 concept was one of the most interesting designs at the show.  The Q60 is 2-door coupe (yes, really!) with strong and interesting design cues from front to rear.  The front end is dramatic, with sinister ‘hooded’ headlamps, a bold grille with a large illuminated emblem and two large lower air intakes with integrated fog lamps terminating in bold character lines sweeping up towards the headlamps.  The side view is equally strong with big wheels, deep sculptured panels and an interesting quarter window termination.  The theme continues in the rear with bold shapes around the exhausts an integrated decklid spoiler and taillamps that echo the “hooded eyes” of the front.  Let’s hope they build this one!
It is good to see the success of Jaguar/Land Rover under Tata management.  Jaguar introduced the XE sedan (a BMW 3-Series fighter) at the show to complete their range of handsome sedans.  The XE has the appearance of being a little bigger than the BMW, but in our opinion it is the best looking of the three cars.  Land Rover came to the show with the latest version of the Discovery and some new diesel powered models.


All in all the Detroit show was good this year.  The atmosphere was upbeat and confident with some stunning designs to grab our attention.  The 4 cars that stood out for us were the Ford GT, the Acura NSX, the Buick Avenir and the Infiniti Q60.
Now it is on to Geneva.

GENEVA 2014 | Aygo, C1 and 108

Toyota, Citroen and Peugeot have released the replacement of the three sisters…
If the first opus was essentially three identical cars (with just small differences to provide identity), now we can talk about three quite different designs, even though the cars have been developed on the same platform.
Each car now reflects the spirit of its brand.
The Toyota Aygo has a very aggressive look, while the Citroen appears more product design oriented and the 108 more “chic”.
While the Aygo is graphically complicated and looks very sporty, the C1 is very Citroen-like, showing a friendly face using the superposition of lights similar to the C4 Picasso. The Peugeot is more into the French Chic with a simple shape, but using different color combinations for graphic effect.  Interiors emphasize the “onboard wellbeing” design philosophy.


The wildest and most exciting car at the show was undoubtedly the Toyota FT-1 concept — which stands for ‘Future Toyota – Number 1’.  Designed at the CALTY studio in California, the FT-1 certainly lives up to Akio Toyoda’s new ethos “No more boring cars”.  Its Formula One style nose, splitter, rear diffuser and ‘rain light’ scream “speed”.  The huge 21 – inch wheels, sleek sculptured body, exposed engine under a clear panel in the hood and giant deployable rear spoiler yell “more speed”.  Then when you open the door and see the minimalist interior with heads up display and Formula One style steering wheel, you just want to jump in and drive!
In contrast, the Toyota FCV fuel cell concept car was downright ugly.  Its gaping ‘mouth’ and huge ‘gills’ at the front create a face only a mother could love.  The strong bodyside feature line originating at the rocker just behind the front wheel, climbing up over the top of the rear wheel and terminating in the taillamp does little to minimize the high belt and awkward proportions.  No CALTY Design here……….    The FCV concept was gone by the time the show opened to the public.  It was replaced on the very large turntable by a very small, tilting, three-wheel, mini vehicle.  Maybe the ugly concept car wasn’t so bad after all?
New from Lexus was the RC 350, another 2-door coupe to join the fray.  It is attractive from the rear and rear three quarter views, but the front end is way over the top for our taste.  The Lexus “bobbin” grill has grown to maximum proportions with three different insert textures, plenty of brightwork and two small round (fog ?) lamps integrated into the bright trim below the bumper area.  It is all just too much.  To make matters worse there is a feature line that starts alongside the headlamp and wanders up over the wheel flare to the base of the A-Pillar.  It does not help.
The performance version of this coupe, the RC F, helps things a little with a less complex grill — but it remains huge and unattractive.  Some scoops and other performance ‘add-ons’ also help, but I think we will “pass” on this one.
As a possible entry in the luxury compact SUV club, Lexus displayed the LF NX concept.  Unfortunately this one does not work for us either.  The huge Lexus grill is, well, huge.  The body has extreme sculpturing, it sits too high on wheels and the rear end has over-sized elaborate tailamps, plus a diffuser fit for Le Mans.  It was all too much and I would rather not talk about it any more!
The best thing on the Lexus exhibit was an LFA on a simulated rolling road with the associated sound track of the car going through the gears.  Music to the ears!