Conceptual Innovation

We list our favorite Toyota concepts and project vehicles from the last five years

July 19, 2017
How Cool is this Car? -- This is the Lexus UX. It's amazing. You can see more of it below. 

As Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) president Akio Toyoda has hammered home the guiding principle of waku-doki (heart-thumping excitement) and ever-better cars in recent years, Toyota finds itself the midst of a sea change in terms of design. Reviews for the all-new 2018 Camry, C-HR and Lexus LC signal that the days of reliable-but-boring are over, and new Toyota and Lexus vehicles will be built to stir emotion inside of drivers.
 
Much of that emotion was born in the concept vehicles that graced the stages at auto shows and special events. While they may never make it to the assembly line, their legacies will live on for years as they inspire production vehicles.
 
Today, we celebrate those cars with a list of out 10 favorite Toyota and Lexus concepts and project vehicles of the last five years.  
 
There’s one major rule: If a car debuted as a concept, but later made it into production, it was ineligible (sorry Mirai, C-HR and iM). 
 
And, of course, we understand that this could cause some spirited conversations. So if you think we screwed up by leaving out your favorite concept, feel free to let us know at driverseat@toyota.com.
 
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s our list:
 
 

FT-1

 
Debuted – January 2014, North American International Auto Show, Detroit
 
Designed by – CALTY Design Research, Newport Beach, California
 
Why we love it – No car on this list has triggered the frenzy the FT-1 (above) did after its reveal in Detroit. The FT-1 reminded enthusiasts of Toyota’s sports car roots, going back to the days of the Supra, Celica and even the 2000GT. The FT-1 is everything a concept should be – compelling, emotional and exciting – and it’s no surprise that, immediately, a hungry consumer base began calling for a production version. Will they get it? We’ll see.
 

uBox
 
Debuted – April 2016, Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, Detroit
 
Designed by – Students at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR)
 
Why we love it – The uBox is the rare vehicle designed by the demographic it is intended for. Toyota’s partnership with the CU-ICAR brought together students and Toyota designers and engineers to the tune of quirky, fantastic results. The uBox features a few tricks younger drivers love: an interior that can be rearranged to match your activities, along with vents, dashboard display bezels and door trim that can be personalized. Essentially, it’s just a really cool idea brought to life by the engineers of tomorrow.
 
 

 Concept-i

 
Debuted – January 2017, Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas
 
Designed by – CALTY
 
Why we love it – The Concept-i unveiled a fun, high-tech version of Toyota’s vision for the future of mobility. Besides its space-aged body, the Concept-i marked the debut of Yui, an interactive artificial intelligence interface that basically acts as your best friend and assistant while you’re on the road. Yui flows throughout the car, helping to keep drivers safe, and offering tips on directions and roadside attractions. Cool, right?
 
 

iRoad

 
Debuted – March 2013, Geneva Motor Show
 
Designed by – Global Design Division, Toyota Motor Corporation
 
Why we love it – The ultra-compact iRoad is a two-seater, three-wheel electric car that’s just as fun as it is adorable. The iRoad has already been the focus of urban car-sharing programs in Japan and France, and it made appearances at both the ground breaking and grand opening of our new North American Headquarters in Plano, Texas (above, with TMNA CEO Jim Lentz at the wheel). It’s kind of like a motorcycle, but enclosed. And it’s kind of like a car, but more in tune with your body. Plus, the iRoad could play a critical role the future of urban living.
 
 

Lexus UX

 
Debut – September 2016, Paris Motor Show
 
Designed by – ED2, Lexus’ design center in the South of France
 
Why we love it – This compact SUV gives off a strong “rugged luxury” vibe. But perhaps the most remarkable part of this powerfully stanced car is the seats. That’s right, the seats. The UX employs a Lexus breakthrough called the Kinetic Seat Concept, which stabilizes head and neck movements, uses a spider-web pattern to help you sit comfortably for long periods, and does it all with environmentally conscious “synthetic spider silk materials.” There’s all that, along with an outer shell that looks like something out of The Dark Knight.
 
 

FT-4X 

 
Debuted – January 2017, New York International Auto Show
 
Designed by – CALTY
 
Why we love it – It’s certainly the only vehicle on this list to feature heating and cooling compartments in the back. For the FT-4X crossover SUV, CALTY observed how city-dwelling young professionals lived, and built a car directly for their lifestyle. And while the exterior is striking, it’s the inside that sets the FT-4X apart. It features open spaces, loads of clearly marked storage space. Also, the center console is actually a usable sleeping bag. It’s no surprise the FT-4X created some buzz in New York this year.   
 
 

Back to the Future Tacoma

 
Debuted – October 2015, Mirai media launch, Los Angeles
 
Designed by – TMNA PR and Vehicle Marketing
 
Why we love it – In the original 1985 movie, Marty McFly yearned for a black Toyota SR5 pick up truck. Well, when Back to the Future Day arrived on Oct. 21, 2015 (the day Marty and Doc went to in the future), Toyota decided to recreate Marty’s beloved truck with a 2016 Tacoma. It was a passion project for Toyota’s Craig Taguchi and James George, who modified the truck with, among other things, a custom light bar, front and rear Tubular Bumpers and custom exterior paint. They showed it off at the Back to the Future-themed launch party for the Mirai.
 
 

Lexus LF-C2

 
Debut – November 2014, Los Angeles Auto Show
 
Designed by – Lexus Design Division
 
Why we love it – The LF-C2 thrust Lexus into a whole new era of design. Since the concept debuted, Lexus has produced heart-racing cars like the RC and LC. Jeff Bracken clued in consumers at the car’s debut, saying “The LF-C2 concept shows what’s in store for our brand’s future design direction.” He wasn’t kidding.  Perhaps more than any other Toyota or Lexus concept, the LF-C2 was a harbinger for the immediate future. And it makes sense, as the car’s dancing lines and open-air convertible design elicit a visceral response that leaves jaws on the floor.
 
 

Ultimate Utility Vehicle (UUV)

 
Debut – November, 2013, SEMA, Las Vegas

Designed by – Ricky Leos

Why we love it – It’s menacing, intimidating and just freakin’ cool. The UUV features the spacious body of a Sienna on the frame of a Tacoma. It served as the command center for the Ever Better Expedition, Toyota’s cross-continent road trip devoted to gathering input from customers to make ever-better vehicles. The UUV is equipped with all kinds of high-tech features, including satellite TV and night vision cameras. The challenge for designers was creating enough room for inside operations on a vehicle that could handle America’s toughest terrain. That’s how the Sienna body on Tacoma frame concept was born.
 
 

Kikai
 
Debuted – October 2015, Tokyo Motor Show
 
Designed by – Toyota Motor Corp. (TMC)
 
Why we love it – Though the Kikai debuted alongside two other awesome concepts – the S-FR and FCV Plus – the Kikai brought an unmatchable charm with a body that was somehow both retro and futuristic. It’s a center-drive three-seater that has many of its working parts on the outside. TMC said: “This concept takes the machinery, normally hidden beneath the vehicle body, and makes an open display of its beauty. Directly expressed in this way, the vehicle's inner workings become part of the exterior.”
 
By Dan Nied

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