Car companies mostly use concept cars to test new styling directions and preview advanced technology features. Toyota’s ME.WE concept aims offer a mobility vision that responds to the social and environmental issues of today, in essence substance with style. To develop the ME.WE, Toyota’s European Design & Development (ED 2) studio partnered with Jean-Marie Massaud, an independent product designer and architect.
The design team targeted three goals:
1. Pertinence – A passionate but considered vision of the car, rather than simply an intellectualised concept that Jean-Marie Massaud is creating with Toyota. The quest is to deliver an absorbing sensory experience that is adaptable to a wide variety of lifestyles, alongside the essential need for high quality and innovation.
2. Synthesis - Reduction and consolidation – an approach based on a genuine shift away from auto industry tradition, to remove excess and suggest a new way of responding to how we behave and the expectations we have, and a proposal for an alternative synthesis based on personal choice in the fields of vehicle architecture, cost reduction and user behaviour.
3. Modernity - Now is the time to challenge current conventions and look for change. A car that is not satisfied simply with looking good, but goes further through the experience it offers, the intelligence of its solutions and its desire to exceed our needs. Ultimately, a car that reflects the values of forward-thinking individuals, rather than simply reflecting their social status.
So instead of designing for some imagined future, ED 2 and Massaud took a realistic view of developing a car that can easily adapt to different lifestyles and designed it in a WYSIWYG functional approach. Their direction offers an alternative to cars designed around abstract terms like passion and performance.
The design team created the concept with the widest range of user needs in mind. Overall, the size of the ME.WE is small but instead of functioning as just one vehicle type, it has the ability to transform into a pickup, convertible, off-roader and small city car.
Tubular aluminium forms a lightweight structure of the ME.WE. This is clad with interchangeable body panels made of expanded polypropylene, a tough, 100% recyclable plastic that can be molded in color. It is basically the same material used on left-over food storage containers. In contrast to traditional metal body panels that require expensive tooling and large presses to fabricate, the plastic panels are cheaper to make and can be more easily varied in shape and color. This gives owners the ability to easily vary the look of the car to reflect their personality and also update the car to look ‘fresh’. It is a bit like changing the case on a smartphone.
The ME.WE name refers to simultaneous concern for personal well-being (ME) and the well-being of others (WE). The use of sustainable materials aids in careful use of natural resources. The ME.WE is powered by an electric motor in each its four wheels and is zero emission meaning driving the car does not directly pollute the air.
Whether the ME.WE has any chance for production remains to be seen. The interesting issue that this concept does raise is questioning the drive towards excess, be it technology and complexity of modern cars. The design team is proposing that the car be offered ‘with no extras’ and likely sell for a single price instead of the range of model variants typically sold today. ME.WE offers a view of automotive design from the point of intelligent reduction.