Setsuna. Not just a car. A friend for life

Toyota’s Setsuna Concept Car Debuts at Milan Design Week

Not another concept car!

Exactly right. The Setsuna is not simply another concept car. It’s so different, so unique, so aesthetically beautiful and wonderfully crafted that you’ll wonder what planet it’s been designed on.

For a start, it’s made of … wood!


Yes, you read that correctly. Toyota has made a car out of wood. And not just one type of wood, but wood from five distinct species of tree.

Its exterior panels are made from Japanese cedar; its frame from Japanese birch. Toyota used Japanese zelkova (a type of elm) for the floor, Castor-leaved aralia for the instrument panel, driver’s seat and passenger’s seat, and Japanese cypress for the steering wheel. All these wooden elements were put together not by screws and nails but by using a traditional Japanese joinery technique called “okuriari”. It’s a method that creates concave and convex areas that are then joined together.

Why wood?

It’s all to do with relationship.

Do you have a relationship with your car? It’s not a crazy question. Ever since the Model T became accessible to the masses in 1908, a special bond – some would say a mystical link – exists between cars and their owners.

One way of proudly displaying this relationship is to give your car a name. Have you named your car? Be honest now. If you have, you are not alone. Research indicates that one in three of us name our cars. It’s not surprising. Sometimes our cars feel like part of the family.


What’s this got to do with wood?

The Setsuna was made from wood to reflect this ongoing, ever-growing, continually developing relationship between people and their cars.

Wood breathes. It comes from a living organism. We often look at an ancient oak tree and say “If that tree could talk, what memories it would share!” Well, what if a wooden car were to soak up our memories and emotions? What if it were to absorb our aspirations and dreams? And not just ours, but our family members too; even those who inherit our car? What if those memories would lead to a gradual transformation of the car over time?

That car would then surely acquire a new type of value that only the members of that family would be able to appreciate.

This is the thinking behind the Setsuna. And it’s why Toyota called it the Setsuna, because the word means ‘moment’ in Japanese. Its name embodies the concept that people experience precious, fleeting moments with their cars. Over time these collective moments make their cars irreplaceable to their owners.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth …

The Setsuna is a roadster and has no windows; it does have a front windscreen made of transparent resin. It can reach a top speed of 45 km/h, although not on public roads. A child can also learn to drive it. It has adjustable pedals and seat positions. In this way a parent can teach a child how to drive the Setsuna while assisting with steering and braking operations from the right-hand side.

It’s powered by an electric motor and uses six 12-volt lead-acid batteries. They give the Setsuna a driving range of about 25 km.

It has been designed to be durable. If it’s looked after – and given that TLC mentioned earlier – it could last for a hundred years. A 100-year meter in the cockpit will help future generations keep track of how long ago the car was built.

The Setsuna was jointly designed by Toyota engineer Kenji Tsuji and Kota Nezu, who used to work in Toyota’s Design Division before he founded znug design, inc. in 2005.

Come along and say “Hello” to it!

So if you are at the Milan Design Week, April 12-17, feel free to drop by the Toyota booth. We’ll be delighted to introduce you to the Setsuna.  Marvel at its sleek cedar panels, admire its soft curves, whisper words of affection. Who knows, it might be love at first sight? Even better, it might be mutual!

And if you give it a name, you will have made a friend for life.


At the Milan Design Fair we will be collecting feedback from visitors on the subject of people’s emotional attachment to cars. Your input might help us in the development of our next-generation cars. Looking forward to seeing you there!


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