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Toyota Crafts Setsuna Concept Electric Car From Wood

More and more carmakers are developing and launching electric vehicles, but Toyota ups the ante with some serious design style and a wooden body.

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Japanese carmaker Toyota is bringing a fresh twist to the expanding market of electric vehicles with the debut of a wooden concept car set to premiere at Milan Design Week in Italy.

The two-seater concept car, called the Setsuna, is supposed to symbolize how cars undergo a gradual transformation over the years. That's the reason the company decided to use wood -- a material that is durable, yet prone to change over time.

Setsuna, which means "moment" in Japanese, is made from a variety of distinctive types of wood for different parts of the car, including the exterior panels, frame, floor, and seats. The exterior panels of the car were developed jointly with Sumitomo Forestry, which has offices in Seattle.

(Image: Toyota)

(Image: Toyota)

If properly taken care of, the car could last for several generation and will undergo changes in coloration and texture in response to its environment -- particularly temperature and humidity -- and in conditions of use.

"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," Kenji Tsuji, the Toyota engineer overseeing development of the Setsuna, said in a statement. "We also paid particular attention to the sizes and arrangements of individual parts."

Toyota's philosophy behind the concept is to imbue a family vehicle with the type of personality and memory association one has for a member of the family, a history "absorbing the aspirations, memories, and emotions of multiple generations" of users.

For the assembly structure, the company adopted a traditional Japanese joinery technique called okuriari, which does not use any nails or screws.

"The completed body line of the Setsuna expresses a beautiful curve reminiscent of a boat," Tsuji continued. "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."

The Setsuna may be one of the most unique electric vehicles yet developed, but it is far from the only design-conscious model around. While this vehicle is unlikely to see mass production, other automakers are pressing ahead with more mainstream options for energy-conscious consumers.

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In December, American automaker Ford announced its intention to invest $4.5 billion in electric vehicles (EVs) by 2020, and to add 13 new electrified vehicles to its portfolio by the end of the decade. That number would represent more than 40% of the company's global nameplates.

Ford's first vehicle to launch under the initiative will be an updated Focus Electric. It will debut later this year, with an improved DC fast-charge capability that the company claims will deliver an 80% charge in around half an hour.

In September 2015, a report in The Wall Street Journal said Apple has authorized the leaders of Project Titan -- widely thought to be the company's EV project -- to triple the size of the development team, which currently stands at 600. That project's team is swelling with ranks of former auto industry leaders.

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

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