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The Camry of SUVs

High hopes: FT-SX concept of 2005 was said to be a preview of Kluger II.

The pressure was on to get Toyota’s mainstream family SUV looking right

6 Jul 2007

TOYOTA has revealed that designing the second-generation Kluger proved difficult.

The medium-sized SUV, due in Australia in August, is the work of Calty Design Research, Toyota North America’s studio located in California.

Calty competed with two Japanese proposals for the Kluger II.

In styling the original renderings that became the new vehicle, its young American designer, Ian Cartabiano, revealed that he wanted to emphasise the ‘SUV-ness’ of the vehicle, particularly in profile.

“It has a stealth horizontal shape,” Mr Cartabiano says, “with a new focus on the wheels.” “It’s not lying about what the car is,” he explained to GoAuto. “You haul people in it.” Mr Cartabiano, who has been with Calty for a decade and drives a current-model Lotus Elise as well as the latest model Toyota Avalon that he is also responsible for the look of, described the outgoing Kluger as having wheels that “were sucked in, kinda small and wobbly.” “We really wanted to get the wheels out there, and focus on the fender shapes,” he added.

A more expressive body side and cabin design were also high on the Kluger II’s aesthetic brief.

8 center imageErwin Lui, Calty’s studio design and resource manager, explained that within this “stylish box” is where the new Kluger’s real design progress can be found, highlighted by a much strong shoulder line, larger wheel arches and tauter surfacing than before. Nevertheless, Mr Cartabiano says that Toyota did not want the Kluger II to ‘step on’ the toes of its more rugged truck-based SUVs such as the upcoming 200 Series LandCruiser, Prado and retro FJ Cruiser models.

“There is a little more car/truck division that we had to think about after the initial sketch,” Mr Cartabiano admitted.

So a lot of things devised for the new Kluger in its first design phase had to be abandoned in the second round of styling mock-ups.

An example is the grille, which was a fuller-length item on the original Kluger II proposal, but was deemed too rugged and truck-like for the target audience.

“This is the hardest project I’ve ever had to work on, actually,” Mr Cartabiano revealed.

“It’s so mainstream. I think when you work on an FJ or a 4Runner, it’s pretty obvious what it is. It’s rugged.” The Kluger II designer explained how he had to walk a very fine line between keeping the SUV fresh and appeasing the massive buyer base that is essentially very conservative.

“Highlander is squarely at the centre. This is the Camry of SUVs,” he declared. “It’s a huge-selling product and it has to appeal to a lot of different people with a lot of different tastes… and not encroach on our super-rugged SUVs.

“(Considering that) the RAV4 has moved up in size and power… this car had to be so targeted.

“If you imagine an XY chart, you had to hit the centre.

Mr Cartabiano also had to instil his design with “Vibrant Clarity” – Toyota’s buzzword for the visual language that the marque is trying to achieve – but with a flavour that appealed to both American and Australian consumers, since these two markets were identified as the most vital for the Kluger II.

“We had to establish an original identity based on the global pace, but with a feel for the US market,” he said.

With about three years passing between the first sketches and the final product, and with many of the changes instigated by Toyota’s Japanese design office, Mr Cartabiano admitted he was not prepared for what awaited him when he finally saw the Kluger II in the metal for the first time at the Chicago auto show in February.

“I was actually disappointed personally.

“It wasn’t what I was hoping for when I was working on it.” But on a second viewing outside of the show lights, Mr Cartabiano said he quickly changed his mind.

“Oh, this is what I imagined,” he exclaimed.

“It looked fantastic after all.”

Family SUV: the design pressure

TOYOTA established its Calty American design studio in 1973.

A play on the words ‘California and Toyota’, the aim, according to Erwin Lui, studio design and resource manager, was for Calty to be “… a conduit for American tastes and the American market.” Besides providing styling proposals that compete against other Toyota global design centres such as head office in Japan and the ED2 centre in France, Calty also assists with US and Canadian vehicle production in matters of colour, material trim and wheel design. It also fields ideas for Lexus and Toyota’s youth-orientated Scion brands.

Perhaps the most important vehicle Calty was involved with was the second-generation Toyota Celica of 1978.

Working as a car-park attendant at the time, Mr Lui describes his reaction to seeing this Celica in the metal for the first time: “I just wanted to work there,” he told GoAuto.

Mr Lui’s personal-favourite design work is the 1990—2000 Toyota Tarago, the second-generation ‘egg-shaped’ people mover that broke new ground on many levels.

Described by some as avant garde, this Tarago – known as the Previa abroad – also featured an innovative (though costly) mid-engine rear-wheel drive layout, all-wheel drive capability, and a dashboard that smashed the mould of generic heater/ventilation design for Toyota.

Other Calty vehicles include the 1979 HiLux, 1989 (fifth-generation) Celica, the 1990 Lexus SC400/Toyota Soarer, first-generation Prius hybrid, the final (1999 seventh-generation) Celica, 2000 RAV4 II, 2006 FJ Cruiser, 2007 Tundra truck and the upcoming Kluger II.

A number of Toyota, Lexus and Scion concept vehicles are also from the penmanship of Calty, with the number increasing exponentially since the mid 1990s. In recent years, Calty has expanded to include three buildings and an outdoor area featuring three outdoor ‘turntables’ that enable Toyota executives to view future and concept models bathed in California sunlight.

“Japan and Detroit are a little bit hazy,” jokes Mr Lui.

Read more:

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