TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. introduced a vehicle here last week developed from the outset for ease of access and use. The vehicle, the re-engineered Raum tall wagon, incorporates a number of "universal design" features that may begin showing up on other Toyota models.
Universal design is an approach that seeks to maximize ease of use for all consumers, including the elderly and those with infants. It is expected to become more critical in Japanese design because of the rapid aging of the Japanese population.
Japan trails only a few Scandinavian nations in the percentage of its population over age 70.
Among the Raum's new features: The center pillar on the passenger side has been eliminated for easier entry and egress. The rear door can be opened before the front door, unlike the design on the pillarless Mazda RX-8. The main gauges are centered on top of the instrument panel, while the warning displays are in a thin bar on the instrument panel directly behind the steering wheel, which has been made elliptical to improve gauge visibility. The rear gate swings to the side, rather than up. The shifter juts out from the instrument panel, an increasingly common Toyota feature aimed at saving floor space. An infrared camera measures the driver's body heat as part of the automatic air-conditioning system. The seat fabric on some models is made of a material that incorporates the protein sericin, derived from natural silk, to reduce skin irritation. Recyclable plastic made from lactic acid derived from plants such as sugar cane and corn is used for the spare tire cover and floor mats.
Toyota aims to sell 4,000 Raums a month in Japan. Pricing starts from ¥1.398 million, or $11,650, with the high-volume G-package selling for $13,480.
The name is derived from a German word that means "space" and is supposed to convey the car's roominess.