The Japanese design aesthetic is undeniably unique and generally revered, guided by principles of wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging), and yūgen (profound grace and subtlety). These principles are visible in all the best Japanese art, architecture, and interior designs. So why do so many recent Japanese car designs look so strange? Here are four examples of new designs spotted on the floor of the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show that appear—at least to these western eyes—desperately short on wabi, sabi, and yūgen.
Just as Toyota finally, at long bloody last, transforms its hideous Mirai into a gorgeous swan of a well-proportioned, beautiful sedan, Lexus goes and steals the original Mirai’s ungainly, jowly front air intakes flanking a 21st-century cow-catcher. Then it adds a bunch of disjointed scoops, planes, and angles and decorates the whole thing with peculiar boomerang taillamps. Lexus has our blessing to tame this design WAY down before rendering it for tooled production.
This reinterpretation of the starship Enterprise’s shuttlecraft Galileo with wheels was shown by subsidiary Toyota Auto Body, which specializes in van and minvan production (they build the Toyota Noah and Voxy). It may look straight out of Star Trek, but the PMCV is envisioned as an autonomous people mover and is likely to be pressed into just this sort of service during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Very little information has been disseminated about the PMCV, aside from the bare essentials. It carries seven people and measures 181.1 inches long on a 129.3-inch wheelbase. It’s 70.5 inches long and 69.3 inches tall on an electric skateboard chassis, and would probably look spectacular in strange new worlds out on the final frontier, where no man has gone before…
All GaN Vehicle
Okay, this one isn’t being displayed by a proper car company but rather by the Nagoya University’s Research Center for Future Materials and Systems—albeit with help from the Toyota Advanced Power Electronics Research Division. So maybe it deserves a pass on the looks front. “GaN” refers to gallium nitride, a chemical compound that works wonders in the semiconductor field, especially as it pertains to optoelectronics (light-emitting diodes) and power amplifiers. As such, this electric concept features multiple applications of gallium nitride: in the DC-DC converter, which allows a 50-75 percent reduction in size of such devices; in the traction inverter, where it is credited with improving efficiency by 20 percent; and in laser lighting, where it helps detect obstacles such as pedestrians at night.
This shared-mobility concept imagines a box vehicle with four seats suitable for public carpooling. These seats can then autonomously fold up and slide forward to greatly increase the cargo floor area available for autonomous package-delivery drones to drive in and secure themselves and their cargo until the vehicle reaches the delivery destination. Then the rear hatch opens, a ramp deploys, and the delivery drone dispatches its cargo. Ensuring vehicles can be kept busy with profitable pursuits during an owner’s workday is a common theme as futurists work to pencil out the high cost of level 4 or higher autonomy. But does it help at all to render the vehicle in such jarring proportions with such unusual surfacing and non-standard detailing and color work?
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