Era of boring, bland Toyotas is over – designer

If it seems obvious to you that Toyota is finally making better looking cars, well, then it’s finally on the right track, more so for a design-conscious market like ours. The person responsible for this pivotal emphasis on design is none other than Toyota’s president himself – Akio Toyoda.

According to Automotive News, a good chunk of this new vibe comes from Ian Cartabiano, a 43-year old Californian designer who penned the curvaceous C-HR and the all-new Camry. Cartabiano, who joined Toyota in 1997 is also heavily involved in styling the upcoming Supra (FT-1 Concept, pictured above), the FT-4X “casualcore” SUV and to some extent, the ornate Lexus LC. “The era of boring cars, of bland cars and anonymous design is over,” said Cartabiano.

The designer attributed this fervent pursuit of emotive styling to two key factors – the new TNGA modular platform and Toyoda’s decree to stop making “boring cars”. The idea is similar to Volkswagen Group’s approach with its MQB platform (which debuted on the the Golf Mk7), allowing for improved cost effectiveness via sharing of parts and powertrain.

The Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) is specifically developed to do three things: induce higher levels of performance (the platform sits lower, reducing centre of gravity), promote greater styling flexibility and reduce expenses through commonalisation of parts and technology. In that, Toyota aims to build half of all its new models globally based on this platform by the year 2020. The first model to be built on TNGA is the fourth-gen Prius – the first ever Prius to receive independent double wishbones on all four corners.

Toyota executives also promised to channel the savings back into the design department. For the C-HR alone, the design budget was increased by 25%. “It has brought down cost in some areas, which allows more cost to be spent on more expressive design. It’s something that would not have happened in the old ways of doing things,” added Cartabiano. He also said “the side panel of the C-HR would look really cool hung on the wall as a piece of art”.

The C-HR’s massive success paved the way for more design risks to be taken with the new Camry. One salient styling point is the sharp kink in the C-pillar, which lets the rear window “curl” itself around each end of the car. This gives the Camry proportions akin to that of a rear-wheel drive sedan, said Cartabiano.

Era of boring, bland Toyotas is over – designer

At first, the idea seemed like a pipe dream, but because more money was being spent on design, the engineers and designers finally figured a way to make it work. Believe it or not, even the door handles of the Camry took Cartabiano two months to design.

“It’s almost impossible to miss or ignore Toyota’s products anymore. It’s so difficult to get a large corporation to understand the importance of design as a strategic tool and a product differentiator. Apple understands this. Toyoda understands this and has unleashed Toyota’s designers to be as creative as possible,” said John Manoogian, former designer for General Motors turned professor of transportation design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Ian Cartabiano comes from an artsy family; his mother is a painter and his father is a toy designer, most famous for devising My Little Pony figurines for Hasbro. As a child, Cartabiano was always fond of cars, and says that there’s no better time to be a designer at Toyota than now.

Era of boring, bland Toyotas is over – designer

But will it work for a mass-market brand like Toyota? Not according to experts, citing poor sales from the new Prius due to the angular front face. The drastic move can alienate a core customer base looking for reliable cars, experts warn.

Cartabiano defends by saying that Toyota’s design renaissance is starting to grow on customers. “In the olden days, when we had brand identity, we would just throw it out the window with the next car. It frustrated a lot of us,” he said. “But now, we’re not throwing out what’s good. We’re evolving it. Often, when you design something, you can see the compromise when you see it on the road. But when I see these cars just driving around here, I don’t see compromise. I see purity.”

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