Toyota has introduced a variety of eccentric urban vehicles out of its concept labs in recent years. In a new model aimed at members of the Maker Movement, Toyota is presenting the Urban Utility (U²) concept vehicle at the World Maker Faire on September 20 in New York. A preview in San Francisco revealed a highly flexible automobile that would be as useful transporting bicycles as it would be hosting a tailgate party or offering an impromptu sunbathing bed or base of retail operations.
According to a company statement, handling tight street corners yet satisfying the needs of the entrepreneurial, creative, hands-on individuals known as Makers was the goal of Toyota with the U² concept. A tailgate that folds down into a ramp joins retractable roof panels, fold-up seating (including a removable passenger seat), and customizable utility rails to fit just about every need someone might have inside a vehicle.
“Toyota saw an opportunity for a new approach to an urban vehicle based on increasing re-urbanization of our cities and urban drivers’ desire for flexibility, fun and maneuverability,” said Kevin Hunter, head of Toyota’s North American design studio (known as Calty) out in Newport Beach, California. Hunter and his team used input from Maker Faire participants and Toyota research into the trends in urban living during the design process of the U².
The result, which the automaker describes as “the size of a compact car with the functionality of a compact truck,” offers its most Maker-friendly features on the interior, where Toyota got creative.
Like a cargo van that can be stripped down to everything but the driver’s seat, the U² concept offers the option to pull out the passenger slot for added room. Flip-up windows and a roof that retracts suggest Urban Utility drivers could go so far as to sell products using the vehicle as a portable stand. The entrepreneurial aspect of the Maker Movement was not forgotten in the design.
Though it may be an alternative-lifestyle movement, there is nothing that suggests an opposition to commercial instincts. Maker Faire VP Sherry Huss suggested the Urban Utility vehicle was just one product in what promises to be a long line aimed at Makers. Benefits were available for both parties, Huss believes.
“Leveraging the growing Maker movement and Makers’ broad sphere of influence can impact the success of consumer brands and future products,” Huss said.
Toyota’s sensitivity to modern drivers’ needs has paid off handsomely for the automaker, especially when it has focused its energies on in fuel economy and reliability. Urban utility may be the next frontier.