By on April 26, 2013

One (not the) car of the future will be extremely low cost, extremely simple, extremely light, it won’t need maintenance, it will be extremely cheap to fix – or so cheap, that it can be tossed when broken. It could look something like the Me.We, a concept car developed by the French architect and designer Jean-Marie Massaud for Toyota.

The car consists of a tubular aluminum structure that carries interchangeable body panels designed in expanded polypropylene. Yes, Styrofoam. The car weighs only 1,650 lbs, the car body itself weighs only 31 lbs. Floor, roof, hood are made from wood, actually from bamboo, wood that grows like weed.

The car can be turned into a pickup, a convertible, an off-roader a small city car.

Massaud’s car is powered by electric wheel hub motors, but that’s not the important part. More important is that there is no adjustable suspension, no panoply of plugs, switches, no electric motors for any and everything that add to the weight clever engineers just have saved. No other technical data are available. “The car drives,” is all a Toyota spokesperson would confirm to Der Spiegel.

We’ll probably never see that car. But it points to one part of the automotive future. Whether we like it, or not.

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62 Comments on “Car Redux...”


  • avatar
    old fart

    Car sells for $2000 globally, and $20,000 in the USA because the market can bear it.

  • avatar

    Hummm, kind of explains why when I first saw it I liked it. I was surprised as it was a Toyota and visually Toyota has not done anything for me lately. Being French may explain why I liked it on first view.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Yes, I like it a lot too, so it’s guaranteed that Toyota has no intention of ever building one.

    • 0 avatar

      French is definitely special in the world of cars, from Cugnot’s Fardier a Vapeur to the DS and the Peugeot 404.

      But this thing reminds me of the simplicity of the original Mini Cooper

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Me too. When I first saw the picture, I thought it may have been some sort of Fiat or Renault styling exercise. I guess I was close.

      There’s some elements of the Fiat 500L in this car, which also appeals to my more pragmatic side. Depending upon the exact dimensions of this car, I could so see this as my daily driver.

      I don’t care if it has iPhone connectivity, but it will need a nice turbo motor… ;)

      EDIT: I guess I should explain, I’d be happy with a conventional ICE drivetrain, rather than the one described here.

  • avatar

    Mr. Jagaimo Head. Mix it up any way you want it.

    This could be a huge hit in Japan where Kei cars already tear open like they are made out of styrofoam.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      Which means the NHTSA would never approve it.

      I really like the center caps on those wheels… reminds me of the 14″ VW steelies that were on the late 80s jetta and cabrio.

      When I got my xA, i found a set of the center caps at the junkyard, bondo’d out the VW logo, sanded and sprayed em (and the stock steel wheeles)black.

      Looked more interesting than the 2006 wheel cover choices, but not as cool as a set of chrome trim rings and baby moons

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Being a French design I imagine safty would play a big role. I don’t know enough about the materials to seriously comment but I am thinking the plastic panels are able to absorb quite a lot of impact, like a motorcycle helmet. A bit like building a house out of sand bags.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Cheap cars are a great idea. I’ve often wondered why things like Polaris four-wheelers and hunting camp “pickups” couldn’t be used in cities.

    ATVs would make great winter vehicles in places like New York and Chicago. Four-wheel-drive, small, maneuverable and not too expensive.

    Why not?

    • 0 avatar
      Ltd783

      I live in a subdivision near some ATV trails, and I can say one reason you wouldn’t want this, from just the few people that ride their ATV’s down the street to get there, Noise. Some of these ATV’s make a Harley sound like an electric car. I couldn’t imagine how loud a single one would be blasting off the buildings in NYC, much less a few thousand.

      That being said, some sort of in between would be nice. In my state, Kei-trucks can be tagged and driven on the roads. Used imported JDM ones had become rather popular among ranchers and hunters for use on farms, and a legislator wisely thought it’d be economical if they could drive them into town too, instead of firing up the horse-hauler F350. Now a Chinese manufacturer builds gas and electric versions in state.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        The noise made by them in your neighborhood is not enough reason to be anti ATV. That’s like being anti honda civic because of the drivers who are kids with backwards hats and fartcan mufflers. I would buy one of these if it were made with durability in mind and I could drive it on the street. I don’t live in the city but frankly it shouldn’t matter. Half of asia seems to drive the cab forward mini’s and I wish I could. A small bed and heavy springs would be all I need for my small (and getting smaller) operation. I have a Yamaha DT175 that I can take into the boonies and do. My truck would get stuck some of the places I have to go.

        We need a smart state legislator here who would let me drive to town. What state are you in?

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      yeah, downtown? sure. why not? they allow motorcycles and scooters

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      A Polaris ranger 900 has 60 bhp and a MSRP of 13 grand, that’s 800 bucks more than a chevy spark, has no heating or doors and you’re dead if you ever get into an accident. It’s also too slow to ever go on the freeway, the 4wd system is unsophisticated, the service intervals are short, they’re loud, the fuel economy is bad and the amount of engineering going into the whole polaris lineup is probably less than the engineering hours that’s spent on the right hand side headlight of a proper car.
      The big mystery is why anybody would buy a Side-by-side at all when a used pickup will go most places, and be cheaper in the long run, while having exponentially greater utility.

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        You make good points. I wasn’t aware of the engineering level at work there.

        That being said, I like some of those ATV pickups a lot more than anything in the “small urban runabout” class from the major manufacturers.

        And $13,000 is a LOT less than what they want for a Fiat 500 or Mini, which are also billed as good in densely-packed urban areas.

        Hell, that kind of money isn’t even too far above what a nice crotch rocket costs. Which will also kill you in an accident.

        I guess if you compare ATVs to a car, they’re inadequate to the task of city operations. But think of them as big, caged motorcycles, and the idea looks a lot more promising.

        • 0 avatar
          MeaCulpa

          But you could still get the spark instead of the 500/mini. A bike is a lot more nimble, has a level of performance that’s head and shoulders above a sbs, can be driven on the freeway, has some actual handling and you don’t look like you work for the parks department. A sbs is sort of an amalgamation of all the bad things with a bike combined with all the bad things with a car, but it does have a roof.
          Not as bad as a can-am spyder or a road going ATV (whenever I see one in a city I think, “learn to ride a bike or just buy a convertible”)

          An Aprilia MP3 with the roof from a BMW C1 would make a somewhat appealing city vehicle IMO though.

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        You just described most Harleys…

        • 0 avatar
          MeaCulpa

          Well having four wheels helps eliminate the “old guy on chrome barge tapdance” at traffic lights. You know when the rider has zero balance and starts tapping his toes on the ground 1/4 mile before the lights, or anytime the speed is below 6-10 miles an hour, walking the bike so he doesn’t fall over. It sort of kills the bad boy image the Harley bandana and HOG leather jacket wearing 63 year old dentist tries to convey on his “factory custom FXXLFGHASFEFA Midnight screaming eagle limited edition fatboy drag appearance package vance and hines loud pipe option interstate panier preped” 2013 Harley with tassels.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Hey now, Don’t be talking bad about a ATV’s now

        I don’t have the polaris ranger, but I have a Case Scout with a diesel, and it definately has an enclosed cabin with dealer installed heat.
        Only goes 25mph, but many can go in excess of 70 mph.
        And how sophisticated can you make 4wd? you can make it more unreliable, but reinventing the wheel doesn’t make it better.

        It’s not a mystery after you have ran in one, their great fun, the price really isn’t that big of a deal, and you definately wouldn’t catch me in a spark…

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      I read a safety report a while back on the use of ATVs on the road. It mentioned that ATVs would need adequate lighting and braking. They also need an open or unlockable differential (sometimes called lawn or turf mode) for driving on asphalt: since paved roads offer too much grip compared to dirt or loose gravel, the wheels cannot rotate at different speeds to allow easy turning with no rear differential. Injuries and fatalities happen when the ATV operator fails to stop in time, or careens off the road.

      Me, I’d like a maxi-scooter with a sidecar.

      • 0 avatar
        cargogh

        I saw how concrete gives good grip to my nephew’s John Deere gator. He and my niece both just shoot out backwards at full throttle from the garage. While I could get eight cars I want (all 8) for what that thing cost, they actually use it several times a day on the farm. It hauls chicken and rabbit feed, the trash, and food down the road to Grannie’s house. Their road deadends there and the only other house is my sister’s, so it is essentially a mile long driveway. It has been convenient for them until they are old enough for licenses.
        On the other hand, they are fairly large and powerful. The nephew mentioned he bumped my sister’s car when he was backing out. A door, window, mirror and $2500 for labor; no damage to the Gator.

  • avatar
    c5karl

    It reminds me of the Chrysler concept of about a dozen years ago that had body panels made of unpainted, color-impregnated plastic. That car was described as a light, easy to assemble, inexpensive car for developing markets. It seemed like a good idea to me at the time, but I’m sure the dismal failure of the Nano has narrowed the odds we’ll ever see anything like this on the road.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    That pegboard look is so nostalgic. I’d like to have one just so I could paint on outlines of saws, wrenches, hammers… just like in Mr. Patz’ shopclass.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    nothing in the article nor in the comments (yet) on how it might have to change to meet crash/safety standards. want a reason it wont come to fruition? that’s it in a nutshell.

    yet the concept is so plain to see. that’s where all appliances have gone over the past 50 years; more so in the last 15. put this up against even a chevrolet spark and see who wins.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Living in the country yo could sell me on driving an ATV trucklet. Trips to the feed store etc would not take more than that. Already need two cars and that would fill the number two nicely.

    I like electric cars and even tried making one once but I think I’m going to pass on this. Wake me up if it comes here.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    This concept combined with even 1 iota of concern for performance would make for a thrilling car. You look at something like the F5 818… if it didn’t have to pass crash regs, and was sprung + retuned for street duty, it would make an awesome awesome sports car. There is no reason why a basic 2 seater should weigh 3000lbs.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    I think I prefer the yellow Bonnie and Clyde version.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    I don’t see any mention in the text of which aspect of this trinket is to be taken seriously. The hub motors? The aluminum frame that may somehow meet crash regs?

    Or this just an irrepressible French designer convincing Toyota that French whimsey imparts global cachet?

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Actually, Styrofoam is extruded polystyrene. Extruded polypropylene is a much denser material, often used for storage and manufacturing drums due to its durability and resistance to many chemicals, as well as its insulating properties (think ice chest beverage coolers). It probably would make a pretty durable skin for a car, albeit one likely to be quite dull after getting scratched up.
    *edit*
    In fact, Gordon Murray of Formula1 fame has a very similar idea about streamlining the manufacture of small cars by attaching a plastic skin to a steel frame:
    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/09/gordon-murray-qa/
    He believes that safety is not compromised with such a design. I think that the idea makes a lot sense for Third World markets where functionality at a low price trumps marketing concerns.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I’m not entirely sure if cheap disposable cars are progress.

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      As opposed to the EXPENSIVE disposable cars we already have?

      • 0 avatar
        slow kills

        Bingo. I’d bet the lifespan on the throwaway car could easily rival, say, a typical modern Mercedes and at a fraction the cost. Some things may wear out, but they’ll be cheap and easy to replace. Like a motorcycle, this is a distinct absence of extraneous stuff to break.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Expanded polypropylene? No it isn’t. It’s made of cheese.

    For added lightness, use Swiss.

    Avoid mice. And direct sunlight.

    Bring crackers on long trips. Or nacho chips.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    THIS is the kind of car Scion should be selling. NOT the xD. Quirky and functional. Cheap and cheerful. If only the iQ was brought out within a year of the Smart car…

  • avatar
    niky

    I’m thinking such a thing could be quite safe. An appropriately designed aluminum tube frame should be very stiff.

    I don’t see anybody arguing the safety of an Atom or a Caterham.

    Automotive finishes may be getting more durable, but modern car bodies are a pain-in-the ass to keep in good repair. Ever since flame-surfacing, bides have been covered in so many compound curves and sharp lines that conventional panel-beating has become a difficult endeavor.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Track day cars doesn’t exactly get into a lot of head on collisions and they are used in an environment that is vastly more safe than most roads in the world. The numbers of atoms and caterhams is also minuscule and the number of miles on roads and streets they rack up is small and probably not the typical commute come rain or snow.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        Track cars have to be built extra strong to withstand high speed impacts with immovable barriers.

        There’s a reason you’re required to put a rollcage in a “safe” unibody car, but not required to build a safety cell around a tube-frame racing vehicle. A properly triangulated tube-frame is superior to a regular unibody. Cars aren’t made that way because a properly made tube frame is ghastly labor-intensive to build.

        One tailored for mass-production, pehaps with the tubes stamped into shape already instead of being machine-bent, won’t be any different than most road cars. Most road cars use extra-high tensile strength steel for load-bearing members and crash structures (pillars, door reinforcements, etcetera) and softer steel with little contribution to safety in the body.

        Polypropylene is pretty robust stuff. It should help absorb shock loads very well, too. Funny thing… racers already fill the cracks and spaces in their unibodies wit Polyurethane to strengthen them. (I know it’s not the same thing…)

        • 0 avatar
          MeaCulpa

          Achieving strength in this day and age is hardly a problem. The problem, that track day cars doesn’t have to address, is dispersing the energy as there’s not a lot of fixed objects that a car can run into on the track and even fewer that the car will run into head on.
          Run an ariel atom head on into a brick wall at 45 mph and then do the same thing with a brand new golf, a human sitting in the golf would have a far greater chance of getting out unharmed then somebody sitting in the atom if they both were wearing a standard three point restraint.
          All those fancy crumple zones are there for a reason on formula one cars and on street cars but not on a “cheap” track day cars as the atom and seven.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            And that’s because the Atom is designed with that in mind. If you design a tube frame car to “give” in a crash, it will. Modern cars are a whole lot like tube-frames, all the stress goes through the pillars (and some through the roof and floor), while the doors and fenders are unstressed parts.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    I’d drive a modular little car like this as a daily electric runabout!

    I’d keep the Sienna, which would last forever on road trip and group-hauling duty – and save a ton of gas.

    Being able to reconfigure and customize it means that I like it for the same reason I I’m secretly fascinated with Jeep wranglers. Hackability.

    If Protean Electric delivers their hub motors as promised, the rest of this design is fairly straightforward. Except for the crash analysis, but I have friends and former colleagues in the academic supercomputing and structural analysis disciplines who could do the job, so that analysis is very possible – and a first pass would probably only cost a few hundred thousand dollars. Toyota already has those capabilities and expertise in-house, and a lot of experience though, so they’re an ideal partner. But you could build this car without Toyota, if you wanted to.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    You’ll know these have caught on when the dead ones out beside the shop have weeds growing out of them.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    c2v deux.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “One (not the) car of the future will be extremely low cost, extremely simple, extremely light, it won’t need maintenance, it will be extremely cheap to fix – or so cheap, that it can be tossed when broken.”

      That’s exactly my sentiment! There exists a dire need in the America of today for such basic transportation for the great unwashed masses.

      A lot of people who have seen or, like me, actually got to drive a 2CV in Europe, would readily admit that it wasn’t fancy, but it served a need and got people from point A to point B.

      Another such candidate I like to list is the Simca 1000, widely available throughout Europe, along with the Fiat Milicenti of the fifties and sixties and the Fiat 500 of the late seventies, before the 500 got all gussied up in 2009, pretending to be something it’s not.

      This is the perfect outline of a ‘throw-away’ car. The crop we have today in the econoboxes offered in America is just way overpriced. In the past we had the LeCar and the Geo Metro, but they didn’t come close to being inexpensive, nor throw-away cars.

      I do NOT promote the creation of a Trabant for American commuters, but even the lowly and lousy plastic Trabant allowed more people to transport themselves protected from the elements, and away public transportation.

      Will it ever come to pass in America? That’s a sucker bet because it never will. The UAW and current automakers in America would fight that tooth and nail.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    Love the concept. I remember a joint Chrysler/Briggs&Straton project in the past with an air cooled engine (what else?) and a blow molded body. The car resembled a 2-CV in shape and size and was to sell at a very low price. That also did not happen.

    Exploring these possibilities is wonderful and some fallout could be useful to all autos at some point. The molded styro body could have saved me a bunch in repairs when my youngest was learning to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The Saturn was supposed to be such a “people’s car” concept and I bought into the concept by buying one for my daughter so she could commute to college, back in the nineties. I had owned a VW Bug that gave me excellent service and that’s what I compared that Saturn to. But was I ever wrong!

      I believe I paid somewhere around $12K outright for that stick-shift, four-door plastic car, and right off the bat we had problems with the check-engine light coming on and staying on until serviced under warranty. We went in four times for that little glitch, losing the car three days each time.

      At around 50K miles during the commute to school it blew its head gasket and physically destroyed the engine when the coolant entered the combustion chambers at high speed (70mph). It was FUBAR. It also destroyed my daughter’s confidence in that car and I was forced to buy her something else. We bought a Corolla to replace the Saturn.

      So a people’s car Saturn was not and neither was it a throw-away car. Closest thing on the market these days are the lowest cost entries from Kia and Nissan, but they aren’t exactly inexpensive either.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Bamboo, very strong and does not rust. Interesting!


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