No More Vanilla! Toyota Promises Pistachio

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Toyota has a new global styling chief that makes heads turn in Aichi and Bunkyo, even before he has shown a rough design: “Eeeh? Look at that shirt! And did you see the gold chain???” Or as Frau Schmitto-san, TTAC’s advisor in multicultural matters exclaimed: “Global styling? He needs to style his hair!” It takes a lot to shake up Toyota’s culture, and Akihiro “Dezi” Nagaya has what it takes.

Charged with putting an end to the long tradition of conservative design, Dezi Nagaya definitely looks the part. According to Automotive News [sub], he “dresses like he’s on his way to a trendy Shibuya nightclub rather than off to work at Toyota.”

Cornered at the Frankfurt Auto Show (even there he stood out), Toyota’s new head of styling promised:

“We are going to be more dynamic, more masculine, sportier, with a more obvious design theme and a face to represent the company and the brand. We have eliminated emotion. We need to pump that up.”

Of course, all too radical design changes can be deadly. The challenge in the business is to look new and exciting while evoking associations with a familiar past. Nagaya promises to go easy on cars like the Camry and the Prius, which cater more to the left side of the brain than to the right.

Nagaya is against a rigid look like that of BMW, which he compares to “small, medium and large sausages.” He wants Toyota to be more like “a department store,” where many different products can live under one elegantly designed roof. Instead of scoops of vanilla, Nagaya offers the refined tastes of a high-end gelateria.

Like nearly everybody at Toyota, the 50 year old has been there forever. As general manager of the Lexus planning department in Tokyo, he was one of the creators of the “L-Finesse” design language for Lexus. Later, he became chief designer of the second-generation Toyota Prius, which became a sub-brand of its own. Said Nagaya to AN:

“Some people don’t know what a Toyota is, but with the Prius, people knew it was a hybrid, even if they didn’t know it was a Toyota.”

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Eldard Eldard on Oct 06, 2011

    Toyota really had no choice. The Hyundai-Kia juggernaut is knocking at the door. If Samsung was able to crush the global favorites Sony and Panasonic, what makes you think HK won't be able to crush Toyota? And they're now bigger than all of the #2 car makers from Japan, Germany and the US.

  • Zackman Zackman on Oct 06, 2011

    As far as styling goes, it's quite subjective. I still like the Impala, but wish it had a more distinctive front end as well as three tail lights, but that's me. We had one as a rental in SoCal last week and it was just fine for us - fuel-efficient, good visibility except for too-small outside mirrors, but otherwise just fine. It also handled Coldwater Canyon Road very well - I drove it faster than I ever have and my wifey kept telling me to slow down! All other roads? It did as well as my own Imp. In Phoenix we had a Kia Forte and I continue to be impressed with Kia's offerings, whose design appeals to me very much. Last spring we also had a Forte when in Florida and that's why we agreed to another one. Driving dynamics? Well, in the Phoenix area, for the most part, all roads are straight and flat, and it held the turns at intersections superbly and tracked straight and true. The gentle curves on the freeways? Yep! All in all, in the last three years, our worst rentals were the miserable Corolla in SoCal in 2008 and Hyundai Sonata last November. I hope Toyota wakes up for their own good - and I'm not a fan.

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