Toyota's Setsuna Concept Car Is Cutting Edge

Concept cars have been around since the 1930s as a way to showcase carmakers' cutting edge style and technology. Well Toyota's latest effort, its Setsuna concept car, has just given cutting edge a whole new meaning. In Setsuna's case cutting edge involves saws and chisels.

Take a look at it. If it looks like it's made of wood there's a very good reason for that - it is, and not just any old plank lying out in the backyard. The Toyota Setsuna has been lovingly handcrafted out of Japanese cedar and birch using traditional carpentry skills without nails or screws. It's reminiscent of a wooden boat, as much as a car, and Toyota called on specialists in building shrines and temples, as well as shipwrights to create it.

"Sumitomo Forestry, a company that fully understands our concept, shared their knowledge of wood construction with us, and together we engaged in various types of joint development from the early stages, including wood selection and proposals for processing techniques and assembly methods," said Kenji Tsuji, the engineer responsible for the Setsuna's development.

Toyotas have long been highly regarded for their build quality and durability but the Japanese giant reckons this is one Toyota you could pass on to your children and grandchildren as a family heirloom, much like your ancient grandfather clock in the hallway. With that in mind it's even got a "100 year meter" inside it ticking away the years and decades as your grandchildren, or perhaps their children, reach for the O'Cedar Oil to give the lovely old thing another polish.

"When we created Setsuna, we envisaged a family pouring its love into it over generations so that the car gains an irreplaceable value," Kenji Tsuji said.

It's a curious blend of the old and the new with its electric motor, but it does make you wonder about its safety features and crash performance. Have modern crumple zones been dispensed with in favour of flying planks and splinters? Ouch, what a feeling! Come to think of it, where do you take it after you've crashed it: a panel beater or a cabinetmaker? The latter would be my guess.

The Setsuna is not so much a practical car as a work of art - an impressive blend of design and traditional craft skills, so it's fitting that it first went on public display at Milan Design Week in April, rather than any of the big international car shows.

Toyota, however, reject the idea that it creation is just a piece of furniture:

Setsuna is not a piece of furniture; it is a fully functioning car, although not road-legal. For this reason, different types of wood were chosen for specific parts of the vehicle: Japanese cedar, with its vivid grain and flexibility for the exterior panels; strong and rigid Japanese birch for the frame; hard-wearing Japanese zelkova and smooth-textured castor aralia for the seats. The panels feature different grain patterns in the cedar, achieved with straight and cross-cutting of the raw timber, creating attractive contrasts.

Toyota's Setsuna Concept

So is the cutting edge Setsuna, or anything remotely like it, heading to a Toyota dealership near you anytime soon? Well it may be breathtakingly original, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it.

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