Editor's note: The inner sanctum of an automaker's design studio is as classified as a top-secret government spy shop. Even many top executives aren't allowed inside, much less civilians or the media. But after months of negotiations, Toyota Motor Corp. allowed Automotive News inside its Calty design studio in Newport Beach, Calif., to track the development of the FT-1 concept car. This is the story.
Kevin Hunter knew he had a winner.
Presenting a full-sized model of Toyota's next-generation sports car concept to a roomful of executives in Nagoya was going to be a pressure-packed performance. What if Toyota Motor CEO Akio Toyoda didn't like the car? What if the Japanese design chief wanted big changes made? Would there be enough time to make changes before the public unveiling at the Detroit auto show in January, less than nine months away?
But Hunter, the quiet, reserved president of Toyota's Calty Design Research studio in Newport Beach, Calif., had an ace up his sleeve.
In addition to the in-your-face styling of the FT-1 concept he was presenting, the Calty team had brought along a video-gaming pod with a Gran Turismo simulation of the FT-1 installed.
After giving the gleaming red sports car an approving walk-around, Toyoda climbed into the gaming pod, tearing off virtual hot laps at Toyota's home track, Fuji Speedway.
After a few minutes, he climbed out of the pod, beaming that the FT-1 was faster than his real-world lap time in an actual racecar.
Hunter breathed easier. He knew the concept was a go.