Toyota exec: ?Golden age’ of design in pod-car era


NISSHIN, Japan — Toyota’s e-Palette, which takes to Tokyo’s streets next year for the Summer Olympics, might perfectly epitomize a faceless future of boring pod vehicles. The nondescript monolithic boxcar can carry everything from people to cargo.

But Toyota’s global design chief, Simon Humphries, says the advent of vehicles such as the e-Palette will actually usher in a new “golden age” of creative and personalized automotive design.

Why? Because as Toyota sees it, future vehicles will polarize in two directions. At one pole will be utilitarian runabouts such as the e-Palette that are dedicated to getting people and things from A to B. And at the other end will be ultraspecialized vehicles for personal use.

And that’s where the fun starts for designers. Demand for unique sports cars, off-roaders, luxury sedans or other provocative niche vehicles may actually increase, Humphries reckons.

That’s because the spread of on-demand, new-mobility people movers will eliminate the need for people to buy a humdrum, one-size-fits all vehicle, such as a family SUV or midsize sedan.

“There’s going to be a split in the way things evolve in the future,” Humphries told Automotive News last week at a design studio here, east of Nagoya. “The optimized world is there to cater to your day-to-day transportation needs. But the opposite side of the equation is that you can buy a car that you really want. The all-rounder that we have right now, that we make right now, is theoretically going to go away.”

For Toyota, the e-Palette represents its idea of mass-market optimization. Humphries says the market will have to wait for what the company has in mind on the fun-to-drive niche side. But he says there is plenty of room for adrenaline-pumping design down the road.

“I think a lot of people are too pessimistic about the future,” Humphries said. “We look optimistically and say it would be the golden age again of transport design. It’s going to broaden out of its current middle-of-the-road area and become much more emotional.”

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