FRANKFURT -- The Toyota brand's flamboyant new global styling chief wants to put an end to a long tradition of conservative design.
In the future, he says, the styling of Toyota-badged vehicles will be more aggressive, reflecting the more emotional approach being called for by Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda.
In charge of the design metamorphosis is Dezi Nagaya, a veteran Toyota designer who dresses like he's on his way to a trendy Shibuya nightclub rather than off to work at Toyota.
"Toyota has been criticized for being quiet and nonoffensive, of having too friendly an image while lacking emotion," Nagaya said during an interview at the auto show here.
"We are going to be more dynamic, more masculine, sportier, with a more obvious design theme and a face to represent the company and the brand," he said. "We have eliminated emotion. We need to pump that up."
But for the ebullient 50-year-old designer, it also means walking a tightrope -- trying to upend several generations of conservative design in a risk-averse, consensus-driven corporate culture.
And Nagaya needs to juggle design strategy for global markets that may have quite different perceptions of what a Toyota is.
So while he tosses around such words as "passion" and "emotion," Nagaya also frequently returns to expressing the need to have "rational value" in Toyota design.
Nagaya listens carefully to constructive criticism about vehicles Toyota has delivered, including some of his own work. And he says he knows Toyota's styling ethos needs to change.
That's why the concepts for the sporty FT-86 coupe, which first arrives next year as the Scion FR-S, have become more aggressive, rather than less so -- even though manufacturing engineers may wonder how they are going to bend the metal.
Of course, the new direction may give Toyota designers fits: Trying to evoke emotion in a car like the Camry.
"The Camry has a wide selection range with customers who don't want something too aggressive," Nagaya said. "But it has the responsibility of being the highlight of the lineup."
For vehicles such as the Camry and Prius, Nagaya says, the sliding scale of emotion and rationality leans more toward the rational.
"If we don't stand between those two pillars, then it won't look like our product," he said. "But each needs to have its own distinct element besides the family resemblance."
He says Toyota needs to be like "a department store," where there is a united styling language among many products that have little to do with each other. In that sense, if there are five styling cues that are similar on a Prius, Camry, Land Cruiser and FT-86, the rest can be wildly different.
This line of thinking goes back to when Nagaya was general manager of the Lexus planning department in Tokyo and one of the creators of the "L-Finesse" design language for Lexus.
In developing L-Finesse, Nagaya said he wanted to avoid what he calls the BMW design strategy of "small, medium and large sausages."
As chief designer of the second-generation Toyota Prius, which debuted in 2003, Nagaya took that thinking to the extreme.
"Some people don't know what a Toyota is, but with the Prius, people knew it was a hybrid, even if they didn't know it was a Toyota," Nagaya said.
But when overseeing the expanding Prius lineup, Nagaya said the family resemblance needs to be apparent. So even though the Prius C subcompact concept shown earlier this year seems distant from the regular Prius, the production version likely will be much closer in appearance.
"It has to keep the Prius styling language," Nagaya said. "You have to tell it's the youngest brother, that it has the Prius image. The current Prius is too serious, so the Prius C will be more optimistic.
"That's how design works," he said. "It gives people information. It tells them what the function is, what's inside. It's not just styling; it means something."