Toyota FT-1: Interviewing The Designers

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We here at have been avidly following the FT-1 (Future Toyota-1) since its debut in January. The FT-1 started with a red concept, and just before unveiling a graphite-colored version at a Pebble Beach event, Toyota invited us to check out the new shade and interview the CALTY Design Resarch design heads behind it.  It confirmed that whatever the FT-1’s color, it is a concept with some welcome potential corporate influence.

The first FT-1 concept is provocative in red…


And the second one in graphite looked promising in the advance pics.


This meet-and-greet with the car and its designers was hosted for a enthusiastic Toyota crowd, judging from some of the rarities in the parking lot.


On hand to remind us of Toyota’s sporty heritage were the short-lived Lexus LFA…


…and a Scion FR-S, along the car that most closely points to the FT-1’s target audience, the last Supra, complete with its ’90s-outrageous wing.


The FT-1 is not just a precursor of a production car: it’s a tacit admission by Toyota that it has become staid, both in product and public perception. It was time to loosen the designers’ leashes, and the toy FT-1s sprinkled around showed a willingness to create an icon with the result.


It was time to reveal the star of the show.


Then they found the button that lit the model’s lights and popped the doors, and that’s when the collective grin spread through the crowd. The FT-1 is a concept of few compromises, and the fun that was had building it is felt when you see it come alive.


The designers – Studio Chief Alex Shen and Product Design Manager William Chergosky – discussed their respective roles in the exterior and interior. Chergosky talked about limiting interior padding to the touch points…


…an effect that is even more dramatic with the new, saddle-colored upholstery.


Those winged toggle switches are neat…


…the flat-bottomed steering wheel is race-ready…


…and the door contours are saucy, inside and out.


The exterior is full of neat details, like the islands of venting and taillights.


The wheels mean business.


To this admittedly pro-Toyota crowd, the FT-1 was an unqualified hit, and just the thing to lurch Toyota out of its sportiness lull.


There were the usual unanswerable questions: What kind of engine will it have? When will it be built?  At this early stage in the FT-1’s birthing, that’s like asking a child when the purple elephant in her coloring book will be coming to dinner.

But CALTY President Kevin Hunter perked my ears when he said that one influence the FT-1 may begin having is a lowered center of gravity for Toyota’s sedans – in fact, he called out the next-gen Camry and Avalon as beneficiaries of these FT-1-ish priorities.

Check out the interviews below for each designer’s take on the FT-1, now that it’s been banging around their studio for about a year now. Also check out Toyota’s own video of the hopped-up FT-1 “Vision GT” slated for September release in the Sony Playstation3’s Gran Turismo 6.