While working at Toyota's design studio in France, Wahei Hirai had a revelation.
"I don't know why, but German cars look very German; French cars look very French; and Italian cars look very Italian," the company's top designer says. "Why don't Toyota cars look more like a Japanese car?"
Toyota Motor describes that Japanese design originality as the "J-Factor." It incorporates everything from traditional Japanese art to high-tech industrial design. Drawing from it, Toyota Motor has set design themes for its two brands: "L-Finesse" for Lexus and "Vibrant Clarity" for Toyota.
"L-Finesse is more mysterious," Hirai says. "Vibrant Clarity is more pure and direct."
Lexus unveiled its L-Finesse theme at last year's Tokyo auto show in the shape of the L-FS concept. Lexus described the design concept as "incisive simplicity, intriguing elegance and seamless anticipation."
Toyota-brand designs based on Vibrant Clarity, "while simple and full of vitality, clearly express their theme or concept," according to a Toyota design brochure.
The Toyota brand's first attempt to express Vibrant Clarity was the CS&S concept car. It was a hybrid roadster unveiled at the 2003 IAA in Frankfurt.
Toyota followed that with the Motor Triathlon Race Car, or MTRC.
The MTRC is featured in the Sony Playstation Gran Turismo 4 video game.
Hirai sees the MTRC as part of a long-term process of changing people's image of Toyota.
"In Europe, establishing our own brand image will take time," Hirai says. "So we have to start to appeal to the next-generation users."