Toyota Auris (2006)

Published: 13 October 2006

Into the style factory

Toyota threw open the doors of the hi-tech design studio behind its most important forthcoming car – the crucial Corolla-replacement Auris – underlying its ambition to makes cars that are stylish and good-looking as well as reliable and environmentally-conscious. The normally top secret Toyota Europe Design Development centre, or ED2, in the south of France – a suitably James Bond baddie type lair nestling in tranquil woodland overlooking the Cote d’Azur – boasts an impressive back catalogue of concept and production cars since opening in 2000.

ED2’s design pedigree

ED2’s ‘Greatest hits 2000-2006’ back catalogue include concepts like the sleek 2003 CS&S roadster (above), the oddball 2004 MTRC race car, the urban compact 2005 Endo as well as the current production Yaris exterior, Land Cruiser and Avensis and the Lexus SC430 A whistle-stop tour of the site did reveal a slick-looking facility with a predictably minimalist reception with designer chairs, a floor-to-ceiling glass-windowed main hall, all the car design tools you could wish for and even a rooftop balcony, with sea view, for inspiration.

The bigger voice

What this visit did suggest is that Toyota is taking design more seriously, as Lance Scott, assistant chief designer explained: “Design has a bigger voice within the whole project conception now. Toyota was built on a reputation of reliability, durability, and never breaking down. But most other companies have that now, so we have to do something more. “We’re changing our design to get away from this reputation for being very boring and conservative. In the last five years we’ve been developing a new philosophy for both Lexus and Toyota and now the fruits of this philosophy are starting to come into the public eye.”

Moving away from dull design

According to designer Laurent Bouzige – the man behind the striking Endo concept – the fact the design department has been separate from the engineering department for two years has certainly helped the design team express themselves. As to how Toyota’s new design philosophy translates to the finished product is less clear. Trying to define it through nebulous catchphrases like “vibrant clarity” (the idea of pulling together potentially contradictory values like dynamism and rationality), the “J-factor” (drawing on hi-tech and traditional Japanese design traditions), and “PASS” (standing for “Proportion, Architecture, Surface and Something special”) didn’t help vocalise the visual.

Step by step

ED2 is an impressive place and Toyota has definitely woken up to the fact that its cars need to look good as well as be reliable, but the weakest link of the brand that is about to take over the automotive world is still the conservatism of its production design – particularly those cars bound for Europe. The designers’ skills and boldness – judging from their recent concept work – is not in question. The management’s speed in bringing it to market is. Scott deserves the last word: “Our Japanese company is very much step by step – rather than 15 steps forward in one go.”

By Guy Bird

Contributor, cultural curator, design commentator