Toyota has created a car that lasts 100 years so it can be passed down within the family from one generation to the next. “But they already make the Camry!” you might say. That is true, but the Toyota Setsuna concept isn’t just an insanely reliable machine that defies even the most careless teenager’s attempts to kill it with neglect. It’s designed specifically to fade as time goes by, absorbing a household’s memories as it changes.
“When we created the Setsuna,” says chief engineer Kenji Tsuji, “we envisaged a family pouring its love into it over generations so that the car gains an irreplaceable value. Continuous development is possible in the form of bonds between the car and the family, like the growth rings of a tree.”
That’s apt, since the car is made almost entirely out of four types of wood. The frame is Japanese birch, selected for its strength and rigidity. Body panels were shaped from cedar for its flexibility and grain pattern. Durable zelkova is used for the floor. And leather-covered castor aralia, which will conform to the passengers bodies over time, makes up the seats.
Using the traditional joinery methods of okuriari and kusabi, the component wooden pieces are fastened together without screws or nails. Instead, they’re cut with interlocking shapes or passed through one another with precise tolerances. These techniques have been used since ancient times to build everything from the intricate frames found on Japanese screen walls to furniture to entire houses.
The “body” of the car is made from 86 (hmm, wonder if that number is purely coincidence) individual pieces. In the event the Setsuna sustains damage, these smaller pieces can be swapped out rather than replacing entire body panels.
Even if they’re not damaged, you can still swap them out for a different look. The Setsuna comes with two types of exterior wood — straight-grain and cross-grain, depending on how close to the center of the tree the wood was cut from.
As it ages, the wood will change shape, its bends becoming more pronounced, according to Toyota. The colors of the wood and lacquer will evolve as well. Should Toyota build more than just one Setsuna, no two will ever look exactly the same.
Setsuna means “moment” in Japanese, but the concept deals in time scales far larger. In lieu of an odometer the dashboard sports a 100-year-meter, whose short hand makes one revolution in 24 hours while the long hand takes 365 days (after which the counter will roll over by one). The Setsuna emblem is a stylized S over a sundial-like shape that represents “the accumulation of moments”.
The Setsuna comes on the heels of other whimsical Toyota concepts, like the Camatte, Camatte Hajime, and Kikai, each exploring a wholly new interpretation of the car. While the goal of making a car that lasts longer than most people will live is an admirable one, it’s something Toyota already accomplished long ago. For every lovingly preserved Cressida, restored Celica, or customized AE86 that you see, there was a setsuna that made the owner desire to keep it rather than trade it in for a new Highlander.
The Toyota Setsuna will be revealed today at Milan design week.
Images courtesy of Toyota.