Toyota’s Wood Car Captures Material Beauty Over Time

This week, Toyota is presenting for the first time Setsuna, a new roadster concept crafted in wood. It will be on show throughout Milan Design Week (12 – 17 April).

Why Wood?

The concept behind this organic material choice is to highlight the affection owners develop for family vehicles. Unlike many modern high-tech materials, wood is a material that changes in colour and feel over time and responds to the love and care that is shown towards it. According to its creators, this sits in contrast to the more disposable attitude that is often taken towards the latest high-tech materials and devices of the day.

A fully functioning car (although not road legal), Setsuna is made of different types of wood for particular parts of the car. Japanese wood, for example, with its vivid grain and flexibility was selected for the exterior panels, while strong and rigid Japanese birch is used for the frame. For the seats, a durable Japanese zelkova was seleted along with a smooth-textured castor aralia. By straight and cross-cutting this raw timber, different contrasting grain patterns are achieved across the panels.

Traditional Techniques:

Throughout the development of Setsuna’s design, the Toyota team consulting with many traditional woodworking experts including carpenters who specialize in building shrines, temples and ships. Setsuna was ultimately constructed using traditional Japanese joinery techniques such as okuriari and kusabi.

Okuriari is a technique whereby panels can be fitted without nails. As a result, the panels can be easily removed and replaced when needed. This techniques also makes for strong joints and allows minor changes to be made to the mortise and dovetail joints if they become worn over time. Meanwhile, the joints in the car’s frame feature split tenons fastened to through-tenons that pass through several component parts in the frame to give a secure hold.

The Aging of Materials:

Each of Setsuna’s 86 handmade panels change in appearance as the car ages. These individual panels can be easily removed and replaced without requiring the entire bodywork to be taken off. The new panels tell a story about the car’s history over time and add to the organic and individual character of each car.

To bring out the beauty of the wood grain, a wipe-lacquering hand finishing was applied. The wipe-lacquering is applied to the door mirrors, seats, steering wheel and the banding line on the bodywork. Like the wood,, the colour and intensity of the wipe-lacquering changes also changes over time over time to reveal the enduring nature of the design.

As an accent material, aluminium is used for parts such as the wheel cars, steering wheel and seat frames

Marking The Passage of Time: 

While the wood materials and finishings used for Setsuna were deliberately chosen to show the passage of time of a valuable objects, the design calculates the passage of time also in a more direct way. Every new car has a clock in the dashboard, but the timepiece in the Toyota Setsuna doesn’t only mark the minutes and hours, it also counts the passing years. It will mark up to a century to record its years of constant service to successive generations and its evolving role as a valued member of the family in its own right.