Crafted almost entirely of wood and assembled using traditional Japanese joinery techniques, Toyota's exquisite Setsuna concept is designed to improve with age.
BBC By Ken Wysocky 6 April 2016 Photo credit: Toyota
In an industry that honours planned obsolescence, the Toyota Setsuna — a concept car built largely of wood — stands out like a sequoia in a forest of dwarf firs.
The roadster’s superb craftsmanship is reflected in its stout Japanese birch frame. Precision-cut pieces were assembled using classic Japanese joinery techniques called okuri ari and kusabi, which connect pieces not with nails or screws, but with exquisite housed-dovetail and blind double-wedged mortise-and-tenon joints. The 86 exterior pieces were hand-fashioned from Japanese cedar, and the seats frames, wrapped in simple leather swaths, are crafted of polished castor aralia wood, a species typically used for traditional Japanese tableware. The result is something decidedly more nautical than automotive; the Setsuna's gentle curves and high belt line evoke the sensual style and sumptuous patina of a classic 1940s Chris-Craft motor yacht.
Why wood? Toyota points out that with proper care, it can last for generations, and that, like fine furniture, its appearance can improve with time, assuming a richer tone and depth — maybe even changing color or texture. Said Kenji Tsuji, the Toyota design engineer who oversaw development of the car: “We would like the viewer to imagine how the Setsuna will gradually develop a complex and unique character over the years.”
With a driving range of 16 miles and a top speed of just 28mph, the battery powered Setsuna is not built to win at Le Mans. Instead, it champions a different cause altogether: a car-owner relationship that’s focused more on an intimate journey than on crossing finish lines.