Toyota Setsuna – a wooden car

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It’s a no brainer that modern day Milan in Italy has become synonymous with style, which makes it the perfect city to launch Toyota latest design marvel concept – Setsuna. To call it a “design marvel” is no exaggeration, as it is a driveable car that is predominantly made from wood. The open-top two-seater will be the focus of Toyota’s first appearance at the Milan Design Week (12 – 17 April).

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The reason to use wood as the primary material for Setsuna’s construction was to express the notion that love grows as time passes, and changes in colour and feel in direct response to the love and care shown to it. The Setsuna symbolises 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.

However, the Setsuna is not a piece of furniture – it is a fully functioning car, although not road-legal. For this reason, different types of wood were chosen for specific parts of the vehicle – including Japanese cedar, with its vivid grain and flexibility for the exterior panels; strong and rigid Japanese birch for the frame; hard-wearing Japanese zelkova for the seats; and smooth-textured castor aralia for the seats. The panels feature different grain patterns in the cedar, achieved with straight and cross-cutting of the raw timber, creating attractive contrasts.

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The concept of an “accumulation of moments” is expressed through the vehicle’s radial, circular emblem. While giving the impression of a blooming flower, the design also evokes the appearance of a clock that shows each individual moment. It is a symbol of hope that both family and car will grow together, just as trees grow larger and stronger ring by ring.

While it’s also worth noting that there were no screws or nails used to assemble the Setsuna, its body comprises 86 handmade panels. Considerable thought was given to the design and creation of the panels, each of which offers unique changes as the car ages. If repairs become necessary, individual panels can be replaced rather than large sections of body. It should then be possible for owners to identify areas of the car where remedial work has been done by hand, adding to the memories being passed down.

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To create contrasting elements within the overall design, aluminium has been adopted in parts such as the wheel caps, steering wheel and seat frames. Like wood and leather, metal is also known to change appearance over time, making it a material that will also develop its own unique look and character.

On design, Kenji Tsuji, the Toyota engineer overseeing development of the Setsuna, says: “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 metre that will keep time over generations, and seats that combine functional beauty with the gentle hue of the wood.”

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