NAGOYA, Japan — Toyota's new global design boss, a British stylist who draws inspiration from 1980s Sony gadgets and has a taste for curry and beer, doesn't buy into the vision of a bland future of commoditized, cookie-cutter pod cars.
On the contrary, says Simon Humphries, 50, the coming era of car-sharing and autonomous driving will trigger a boom in cool, ultraemotional designs for personal transportation.
"A lot of people who really do like cars are kind of worried about the future, and I see it the opposite way," said Humphries, who started Jan. 1 as executive general manager for design of the Toyota and Lexus brands, filling the shoes of former design guru Tokuo Fukuichi.
"It's going to be more beneficial. You're going to get much more specific cars."
Future streets undoubtedly will be clogged with commodity runabouts tasked with getting people from point A to point B, he conceded. But with people relying on common mobility networks as their basic transport, they can better afford specialized niche vehicles for private use.
"If the majority of your transport needs are fulfilled with that type of transport system, then the other side of it — the good side — is you can buy a sports car that really is a sports car," Humphries said.
The Toyota designer begs to differ with the likes of former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who envisions a sea change in which "human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways" and replaced with autonomous modules — all as early as 20 years from now.
"The specific mobility — the stuff that you are buying for yourself — will become increasingly emotional or specific to purpose," Humphries said. "And that's a really good thing."
Humphries believes that the divergence between utilitarian "mobility pods" and ultrapersonalized private rides will occur sooner than many people assume.
"We've passed the tipping point," Humphries said. "Everybody's taking it incredibly seriously and now it's a race. But there are lots of hurdles before it reaches that utopia."