Posted Sep 14th 2014 4:00PM
There's a quiet revolution happening in North American cities. People want to mix an urban lifestyle with a connection to nature and appreciation for craftsmanship. The result of all of this is folks pursuing things as varied as urban farming, home brewing and the whole maker movement. Toyota thinks it has the perfect concept for these intrepid customers with its new Urban Utility – or, U-squared, not U2 like the band – concept that it is debuting during a panel discussion hosted by Make: magazine in San Francisco and debuting publicly on September 20 at the World Maker Faire in New York City.
The Urban Utility concept can best be described as a modern take on the old panel van. Designers from Toyota's Calty Design Research centre in California interviewed Maker Faire participants to find out what its users want from a novel vehicle like this. "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, president of Calty.
On the outside, the Urban Utility doesn't really scream for attention. It's meant to meet users "desire for greater utility but a smaller vehicle footprint," according to the release, but the shape is still very much a van. The designers do try to lend it some panache with the LED headlights up front and checker board side panels. It's really more about utility than looks, though, because the roof can roll back for taller loads, the rear glass retracts into the tailgate, and the whole rear can fold down as a ramp to load stuff more easily into the cabin. Toyota isn't talking about a powertrain yet but claims that the underbody is also especially durable for a long life in the big city.
Inside, things are a lot more adventurous. The cockpit has a mix of weird, organic shapes with an undulating steering wheel, oval speedometer and iPad. The oddest part of all is the centre console that looks like the top of a bike emerging from the van, with the armrest as the seat and the gearshift displayed on the top of the head tube. A utility rail system in the back acts as a mounting point; plus all of the seats fold down when not needed. It should make loading very easy. Scroll down to read Toyota's full release about its urban-centred console, and to see a brief video walk-around of the concept.