European is the theme underlying the new Toyota Yaris. It was designed in Europe, in Toyota’s Brussels-based Epoc (or European Office of Creation) and developed in Europe. And, after an initial year in Japan, all European-market Yarises will be built in a new plant at Valenciennes on the French/Belgian border, starting early in 2001.
Though Toyota wanted the Yaris to appeal to European tastes, the brief to its designers was not specifically to make it look European, says Kazuo Okamoto, Toyota director and general manager of the company’s Japan-based front-drive vehicles development centre. ‘It’s designed for the global market and happens to have been developed by Epoc,’ he says.
But he adds that the Yaris reflects a worldwide trend favouring designs with a more ‘robust European’ feel rather than a Japanese style.
Epoc won the Yaris project in competition with the company’s other design centres in Japan and the US. Three offices developed full-scale models before the Epoc version was chosen.
‘At focus groups of potential customers the majority overwhelmingly preferred the Epoc design,’ says Sotiris Kovos, stylist of the Yaris and assistant chief designer with Epoc’s exterior design department.
Kovos says the Yaris design was approached on a number of levels. Visually, the car was inspired by the image of an athlete on the starting blocks. The compact front bonnet represents the head, while the car’s rising profile represents the line along the athlete’s shoulder and back. ‘The image of an athlete is pure, it embodies a lot of power in a very sculptural way, and it’s a very healthy image,’ says Kovos.
On a practical level, the team asked: what are the needs dictated by people’s lifestyles? A key aim was to maximise interior space in the minimum external length. ‘We wanted a lot of interior space plus plenty of luggage space for things like golf bags and sporting gear. At the same time, external dimensions have to be kept to a minimum because of city traffic and to make parking easier.’
The Yaris’s 1,500mm height helps to achieve this internal space, providing extra headroom but also allowing passengers to sit higher, improving visibility and safety. And the capability of moving the rear seat 150mm back or forward allows interior or luggage space to be maximised.
Dynamically, the car’s ride and handling has been tuned to European tastes. How popular will it be in Japan? ‘It’s been on sale since January and it’s sold more than double the number expected,’ says Kovos.