Next month, Toyota will make a fittingly stylish first appearance at Milan Design Week by debuting the Setsuna, an attractive new concept car made primarily of wood.
The decision to use wood―a material that is durable yet prone to change over time―reflects Toyota’s efforts to give form to the developing relationships between people and their cars.
The Setsuna symbolizes how cars undergo a gradual transformation over the years, as if absorbing the aspirations, memories, and emotions of multiple generations of a family. With the Setsuna concept, Toyota is expressing the notion that, as a family accrues time and experiences together with their car, lovingly caring for it and passing it on to the next generation, that car will acquire a new type of value that only the members of that family can appreciate.
The car’s name―Setsuna, meaning “moment” in Japanese―was chosen to reflect that people experience precious, fleeting moments together with their cars. Toyota believes that, over time, these collective moments make their cars irreplaceable to their owners.
To embody this concept, Toyota picked a variety of distinctive types of wood for different parts of the car, including the exterior panels, frame, floor, and seats. Wood provides uniquely appealing characteristics that are not offered in conventional cars: it can last for many generations if properly taken care of and it also changes in coloration and texture in response to its environment (particularly temperature and humidity) and conditions of use, taking on a unique character and depth.
According to Forbes, the Setsuna uses six lead-acid batteries that give the vehicle a total range of about 16 miles (about 26 km) and allows the electric motor to accelerate the roadster to 28 miles per hour (45 km/h).
Kenji Tsuji, the Toyota engineer overseeing development of the Setsuna, said of his process: “We evaluated various ways to express the concept and selected different lumber materials for specific applications, such as Japanese cedar for the exterior panels and Japanese birch for the frame. We also paid particular attention to the sizes and arrangements of individual parts. For the assembly structure, we adopted a traditional Japanese joinery technique called okuriari which does not use any nails or screws. The completed body line of the Setsuna expresses a beautiful curve reminiscent of a boat. We would also like the viewer to imagine how the Setsuna will gradually develop a complex and unique character over the years. The car includes a 100-year meter that will keep time over generations, and seats that combine functional beauty with the gentle hue of the wood.”