TOYOTA is at it again with yet another radical concept car design. Called the uBox, their latest creation is aimed at Generation Z, which I’m told is generally defined as birth years starting from the early 2000s.
I lived in Tokyo for four years in the 1990s and was surprised at how staid and conservative most Japanese appeared to be, but not, it seems when it comes to unconventional and, at times, whimsical car designs.
Like all car makers, Toyota needs to have a good idea of what young buyers are looking for. Many Gen-Zers are now in their teens and itching to get behind the wheels of their own cars.
According to Toyota, Gen-Zers want a car that stands out and what better way to do that than in a vehicle that looks like nothing else on the road. The uBox certainly fills that bill!
It’s the result of collaboration between Toyota and South Carolina’s Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research as part of the school’s ongoing Deep Orange project, which each year churns out a new vehicle concept aimed at young car shoppers.
The hand-made uBox is a sort of middle ground vehicle – somewhere between a minivan, SUV, and armored truck.
The chunky, clamshell door-equipped crossover features an electric powertrain that can deliver take-off power for tools and electronic equipment when the vehicle is parked, and a reconfigurable interior with sliding, nesting seats that can juggle between cargo and people carrying, as needed.
The uBox is as much an exercise in engineering as design. It was built with a unique roof structure comprised of rails made from carbon fiber composite pultrusions bonded with aluminum. They’re shaped into suspension bridge-style buttresses that extend beyond the windshield, and leave plenty of open space above for transparent ceiling panels.
Toyota also says the team developed an industry-first manufacturing technique that bonds composite carbon fiber with aluminum. The structure is used to support the large glass roof.
Another industry first is an interior that uses 3D-printed door trim, bezels and vents that would allow owners to design their own parts to customize the car if the uBox went on sale.
As a concept car, it won’t end up on the production line. The project was meant to help students learn the ins and outs of car design and manufacturing, but some of its ideas could end up in future models if Toyota finds out that the rest of the Gen-Zers think the same way the Clemson students do.
But the uBox design has not been greeted with enthusiasm by everyone.
Comments from some observers – possibly those from Generation O (old codgers) – have been positively hostile.
One commentator said "Congratulations Clemson students, you did it, you figured out how to design the world’s ugliest automobile."
And observer, Joe Roth, was equally critical "Please keep it off the road. It makes me sick looking at it. I don’t want to mess my car."
But as the old proverb says "we shall see what we shall see". In the meantime, my seven-year-old Gen-Zer son, Robert Jr., loved the uBox.