When 46-year-old chief designer Shunsaku Kodama was honored with overseeing Toyota’s hugely important 2016 Prius redesign, he mixed human elements, techie features, and was inspired by Lady Gaga.
“There were very high expectations for the Prius,” said Kodama of his first assignment overseeing a revised nameplate to Automotive News. “As a concept, we were thinking Lady Gaga. We wanted to be more extreme in our design.”
The Prius is now extreme, though after input from others, the end result has been seen as polarizing between those who like it, and others who have bluntly and frankly said they do not.
Not alone in his visionary endeavor, Kodama’s first design proposal to his bosses had more “soft and organic” elements, but was rejected by the higher-ups, who told him to make it more techie.
Practical elements in the more edgy and angular presentation we now know as the 2016 Prius included retaining enough familiarity and design continuity with what has been called, as has Lady Gaga, an “icon.”
Other practical elements were in improving the aerodynamic coefficient of drag from 0.25 to 0.24, and in improving occupancy room in the slightly larger midsized hybrid.
“The hardest issue was trying to keep the triangular silhouette,” Kodama said, but clever engineering helped with the packaging.
Another goal was increasing the visceral reaction the car imparts over what is supposed to be an expression of high tech machinery.
The Prius since its 1997 Japanese debut was perceived with each new generation as less exciting, according to internal studies done by Toyota.
The new 2016 aims to fix that, and here’s where Lady Gaga’s in-your-face ethos was “channeled,” said Automotive News.
Beyond the outlandish star who may also have her detractors, merged into the design was an “organic” and “humanistic” feel along with perceptibly futuristic features.
Like Lady Gaga, the car is different, and certainly does stand out against a sea of me-too designs.
“We have to create a new value, something completely different from our competitors and other environmental vehicles,” Kodama said. “Being emotional and creating excitement is something I strived for as the designer of the fourth-generation Prius.”
Design elements considered “human” or organic include rounded and flowing surfaces, and Kodama had been predisposed toward this sensibility from the start.
Executive Vice President Mitsuhisa Kato who also had oversight in the Prius redesign hwoever told him to err on the techie side which explains some of the jarring features.
Radically flaring headlights, “zigzagging” taillights, and the creased hood were among the results, as was a bisecting aggressive fold and other details.
The humanity was preserved with things like a rounded wrap-around dash and air vents, among other subtleties.
Every detail was sweated, thought about, and analyzed, but in the end, the product will need to sell well, and it may to people who buy not just for what it looks like, but what they perceive it is.
Toyota has the longest head start with the Prius first launched in the U.S. in 2000. Many people buy it just because it’s a Prius, and a known quantity.
The look does stand out, but in the end, the newness – or offensiveness as some have loudly proclaimed – may wear off.
Others who like it will meanwhile be pleased, regardless whether or not they are a fan of Lady Gaga.
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