SUNTO-GUN, Japan -- Should it be more man or machine?
That question hounded Shunsaku Kodama, chief designer of the next-generation Toyota Prius, as he tried to recoup the hybrid car's high-tech aura while keeping it rooted in human touch.
Bosses overruled his earlier design as too soft and organic, so Kodama recalibrated to techy. What emerged were the sharp creases and crisp graphic lines of the 2016 Prius.
Another design headache with the upcoming car: Sculpting a silhouette even slicker than the super-aerodynamic outgoing Prius. Kodama managed, with some tricks.
Kodama's team confronted those and other challenges as it embarked on a risky gambit. The mission: Spice up Toyota's flagship hybrid so it's no longer just a frumpy, fuel efficiency play. Give it emotion, make it sexy. And somehow keep it true to its green-car DNA.
"There were very high expectations for the Prius," Kodama, 46, recounted at a Nov. 13 test drive here. "As a concept, we were thinking Lady Gaga. We wanted to be more extreme in our design."
Whether the new look will draw more customers is unclear because the design is more polarizing, said John Manoogian, a professor of automotive design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and a former General Motors designer. But it stays close to the triangular themes that make the Prius instantly recognizable.
"If the design goal was to create an edgier, emotional design, they are successful," Manoogian said. "The new car took their already iconic design vocabulary to the next level. ... It stands out from the sea of look-alike cars."