Toyota‘s e-Palette makes a LOT of sense, but it’s still uuugly

Thoughts on Apple Car, Part 100

Finally, somebody aims to think through the whole stack of future mobility.

Toyota took the stage at CES 2018 to discuss their idea of a mobility platform that is designed to be modular and create new business interfaces.

What Toyota got right

There is a basic principle to the e-Palette concept: Modularity.

With all the use cases to be found in future mobility scenarios, Toyota aims to design a platform (both technically and business-wise) that can address all of them.

The manufacturing platform can expand to truck-length, but also stay compact for individual urban trips.

To cover all possible journeys, Toyota crafted partnerships not only with Microsoft – founding ally for Toyota‘s connectivity lab – but also with the existing and upcoming major players who will shape transportation and logistics going forward: Amazon, Didi, Uber.

What Toyota got wrong

In a word: Design. Specifically, industrial design and interior design.

The whole design part of the concept seems like an afterthought and begins how the vehicle was presented on stage: What’s inside was only shown on screens (or projections onto the car) and – it didn’t move.

The changing interior was so overwhelming on breadth, none of the executions seemed to have nailed it. It comes at no surprise that I find it hard to remember one of those variants.

But the final question mark remains with the first impression:

Why do Toyota designers think this new vehicle needs to look like a Darth Vader sketch of a car?

Many other car companies make this futuristic mistake:

And finally, what does e-Palette even mean? Toyota has a history of great product brands, and still they got this one so wrong.

We can find explanations in the words of Simon Humphries, Toyota chief designer:

“On one side we’re going to see this optimized (transport) system, but on the other side you’re going to see a pure race car.“
“There will be an emotional solution, and a practical solution. So maybe the story is that the middle ground is increasingly going to disappear.”

It seems they don’t think that the practical solution would need to have consumer appeal.

They might want to reconsider.

We can find some hope, though, in another quote from Humphries:

“At the moment everything in a car from a design point of view is based on a 100-year old package – engine in the front, and a driver holding a steering wheel behind”


“When you don’t have to hold a steering wheel, the world is your oyster.”


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