From Mild to Wild at Toyota's Kenshiki Forum 2020

By Rob Clymo on at

With everyone going mad for anything electric at the moment let’s spare a thought for hydrogen-powered vehicles. And, more importantly, the manufacturers who are brave enough to invest in the big H. After all, it's not easy to fill up with hydrogen, with a far-from-liberal smattering of just 17 pumps here in the UK alone.

No wonder Toyota spent time underlining the increased-by-30-percent range of its new Mirai saloon at an event last week to reassure anyone with nagging doubts about buying such a car. There’s a lot to like about the Mirai, which appears to be much improved over its earlier incarnation that first appeared back in 2014. Toyota has actually sold 10,000 or so of the original model, which is impressive given the scarcity of refuelling points. A range increase from just over 300 miles to 400 certainly helps.

So, fair play to the Japanese car-making giant for pressing on with a second generation Mirai. The zero emission fuel cell electric vehicle, or FCEV, has managed to have its range improved by the introduction of three newly designed tanks, one long and two short, that allows for an extra kilo of hydrogen to be stored in the car. What you get from the exterior perspective, meanwhile, is a saloon that’s long, low and pretty good on the eyes, especially with its sizeable 20-inch wheels.

Inside the sumptuous interior there’s a cool dashboard layout that features a 12.3-inch central display and, usefully, the new edition turns what was a four-seat saloon into one that offers plenty of space for five passengers. Toyota has a new modular TNGA platform that allows for greater flexibility during the design and construction processes. So then, buying one is going to be easy. Filling it up with hydrogen, less so.

Designing hydrogen fuel cell cars is complex, expensive and time-consuming. Concepts are too, but moving from the rather mild-mannered calm of the Toyota Mirai on to another thing entirely meant that it was time for a rendezvous with the Lexus LF-30. Created as a vision of what we might be driving ten years from now, this wild all-electric car-cum-rocket ship ticks all the boxes when it comes to nutty concepts.

Lexus is the premium arm of Toyota and so, as you’d expect, the LF-30 has futuristic looks, some bonkers features, lots of very technical ambitions and luxury aplenty. But, according to Ian Cartabiano, who heads up the design team who produced it, the Lexus LF-30 isn’t so ridiculous it might not one day happen. In fact, we even got to see it drive on stage, and then off again, so it does at least move.

If the LF-30 did happen then what would you get for your money if you were able to buy one in the year 2030? Cartabiano took us for a tour around the futuristic car and there was much to take in over the 20-minutes or so. From the exterior perspective, alongside the stunning lines of the bodywork, it’s the wheels that grab you the most. Produced in collaboration with Goodyear the tyres actually merge with the wheels allowing for air to be sucked in, presumably for cooling the in-wheel transformers.

“They’re actually functional,” says Cartabiano who explains that three words sum up this extravagant experiment: brave, artistic and futuristic. The design team were effectively given a blank sheet of paper to come up with something from scratch. Using a new combination of VR sketching, 3D polygon modelling and rapid prototyping they developed a design that delivers an extreme windscreen angle, while also offering luggage space up front.

The rear peak, meanwhile, offers passengers more room inside while the exterior angles help increase airflow. “As the car moves from front to rear it becomes more crystal-like and more edgy,” comments Cartabiano, “almost like water changing from liquid to ice.”

Airflow is a big part of the equation, with large intakes in the sides, starting from the front wings that the designer explains are his favourite features of the car. There are other neat touches too, like the platinum window trim that highlights the profile but also incorporates side mirror cameras. The colour, meanwhile, is Voltaic Skies, which says the designer will look different in every one of the many pictures being taken. “It captures the feeling of an electric charge going through the atmosphere,” explains Cartabiano.

One of the huge gull-wing-style carbon fibre doors is opened and we get our first look at the interior, which furthers the designer, delivers “a symbiotic connection between the driver passenger car and road.” Things are dominated up front by a three ring sequential holographic meter, which actually works. “When the three rings line up it creates this very strong depth of field that connects you to the road ahead.”

The fixtures and fittings, naturally, reflect the Lexus dedication to Takumi craftsmanship. “The pleating on these doors is handmade by a craftsman in France, but the materials are actually woven metal fabric from recycled metal. Which I think is cool,” enthuses the designer. Meanwhile, the platinum inlay in the floor reminds you of a circuit board. It’s all pretty wild.

There’s a party piece though as Cartabiano picks up a shiny hockey puck-sized creation that is ‘the key’. This is the soul of the car he says and will be used to hold all of the owners data, plus their driving preferences and so on. Created by a designer who normally produces jewellery and perfume bottles the key is an undeniably opulent affair.

“These black striations are actually the carbon capture from the production of the LF-30,” says the design boss looking suitably chuffed with the shiny disc in his hands. “It's an interesting and bespoke way to talk about sustainability in a high-end luxury piece.” Though presumably just as easy to lose as a normal set of keys. The Lexus LF-30 might be of the future, but some things never change.