Toyota will debut a particularly interesting concept car at Milan Design Week this year, making a point of being both environmentally friendly and emotionally valuable to the individual that buys it. The Toyota Setsuna, powered by an electric motor and with a retro open-wheel and open-cabin design, is built from Japanese wood — cedar and birch, with no nails or screws to hold it together — and is built to last a century of use.
Setsuna means moment in Japanese, and is a nod to Toyota’s notion that an owner and family will experience a unique relationship with their car over its life, and the two will evolve together — including when a car is handed down to the next generation. Wood is certainly durable — the Morgan Motor Company knows that — and Toyota wants the two-seat, electric-powered Setsuna to last for a century and be usable over that entire time.
The Toyota Setsuna’s wooden bodywork and frame don’t use any nails or screws, instead with okuri ari, or housed dovetail joints, holding panels and beams together. As well as the exterior and frame, the floor and seats of the car are wooden. It might not be the most comfortable nor practical material, but Toyota’s right in saying that it does take on a “unique character and depth” over time.
Kenji Tsuji, the Toyota engineer overseeing development of the Setsuna, said of his process: “We evaluated various ways to express the concept and selected different lumber materials for specific applications, such as Japanese cedar for the exterior panels and Japanese birch for the frame. We also paid particular attention to the sizes and arrangements of individual parts. For the assembly structure, we adopted a traditional Japanese joinery technique called okuriari3 which does not use any nails or screws.
The completed body line of the Setsuna expresses a beautiful curve reminiscent of a boat. We would also like the viewer to imagine how the Setsuna will gradually develop a complex and unique character over the years. The car includes a 100-year meter that will keep time over generations, and seats that combine functional beauty with the gentle hue of the wood.”