LOS ANGELES - Although retro is the industry's hot, hot trend, with everything from Nissan's 240Z to Ford's mid-'50s Thunderbird making comebacks, don't look for Toyota to join the nostalgia.
The reason? There's nothing back there to bring back.
'Toyota doesn't have the history that other companies have in the U.S.,' said Kevin Hunter, vice president of design at Toyota's Calty Design Research Inc. 'There aren't a whole lot of Toyota products that Americans would recognize to the level of a T-Bird or a Volkswagen Beetle.'
But the lack of a past-generation icon doesn't put Toyota behind the design curve, Hunter said. That's because the market is opening to a greater variety of design styles.
'As far as Toyota's concerned, we'll keep pushing the future,' he says.
Hunter says the industry's fascination with rough edges and geometric shapes may have run its course in favor of softer styling.
'There's going to be a countermovement from hard-edged, geometry-derived shapes to something more shapely, more sculptured, more sexy-looking,' Hunter said.
Hunter cautions that the push to generate greater production efficiencies through platform sharing and consolidation can strangle good design. 'It has the potential to restrict design,' Hunter said. 'Every company is looking for some new angle, some new way to maximize their components. How they do it depends on the imagination of the designer.'
Calty's priorities are designs that appeal to younger buyers who have increasingly spurned Toyota products as unhip. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. CEO Yoshimi Inaba has called the aging of Toyota's buyer base a major problem.
'The RSC is a good example of a project that was initiated by Calty to target young buyers,' Hunter said. 'And the 2000 Celica has been doing its job of attracting young buyers. The 2002 Matrix has more of an adaptable design, more utility-based - but still has sports performance, which will appeal to young buyers.'
The Rugged Sports Coupe is a muscular crossover vehicle inspired by rally cars and built on the RAV4 platform. It debuted as a concept at the Chicago auto show in February and is being considered for production.
Still, Hunter concedes the Toyota name doesn't conjure images of flashy, futuristic body styles and segment-breaking innovations. But, he says, the absence of an overall theme to Toyota design gives it a comfort level for creating new looks.
Said Hunter: 'Toyota has the flexibility to take on any appearance. Depending on what the circumstances are, we can dial in more European flavor or dial in more American flavor. There's no strong design DNA to Toyota products overall. Their foundation is our reputation for high quality.'