Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described a newly created job charged with shepherding a vehicle from concept to production at Toyota's design studio. It is project chief designer, not product chief designer.
TOYOTA CITY, Japan -- Four years before taking the helm of Toyota Motor Corp. in 2009, Akio Toyoda began quietly studying auto design under a veteran stylist at the carmaker's dome-roofed creative studio here. Call it a premonition.
The founder's grandson perhaps realized that the company's bland designs were a chink in Toyota's armor that he would be uniquely positioned to mend.
Fast forward eight years: President Toyoda's fixation on sexier styling is about to bear fruit. At his behest, global design chief Tokuo Fukuichi finally has reworked Toyota's frumpy looks.
The new design elements have been creeping into the lineup since last year's debut of the Auris hatchback, a compact sold in Europe. But the makeover will be on full display in the next-generation Prius scheduled to arrive in 2015.
The revamped hybrid will be a turning point, says Fukuichi, who oversees all designs for Toyota, Lexus and Scion. It will be the first car based on Toyota's new modular product development strategy. But it will also showcase his aim to breathe vim and vigor into looks long dismissed as safe but uninspiring.
"It's very important," Fukuichi said of the overhaul in a Sept. 3 interview. "We always thought our designs were emotional, but people didn't see them that way. That's because when you compare the designs with our competitors', ours weren't distinctive."
It will be Fukuichi's job to mold Toyota's new looks to the company's new modular product development strategy, known as TNGA, for Toyota New Global Architecture.
The makeover carries risks. TNGA's goal is massive use of common parts. Choose unsightly door handles, for instance, and the mistake multiplies across the lineup.
But Fukuichi is confident that he has found a winning formula -- and that design unity will be a positive byproduct of using common parts.