Toyota FT-1: The 'Secret' Concept

Toyota revealed its next sports coupe concept at the 2014 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit on January 13, after managing to keep it a secret leading up to its world premiere. Those looking to make a statement — a “Yes, take a look at what I’m driving over here, seriously!” statement — should find that the FT-1 more than fits the bill as long as any potential final production version bears enough similarity to the aggressive concept.

Speaking of the aggressive concept, Toyota’s FT-1 is obviously more practical and compact than, say, Tim Burton’s imagining of the Batmobile. However, the car superficially appears no less futuristic and perhaps only slightly less ostentatious than the vehicle that plowed through the streets of Gotham City in that Michael Keaton action classic, especially as it popped onto the Detroit show floor in candy apple red. We’re going to heavily doubt Toyota designers took any real inspiration from comic-book based superhero rides, so where did they derive the inspiration for the aggressive, swooping lines of this concept?

Toyota’s Calty Design Research Facility in California drummed up the front-engine, rear-wheel drive concept initially as a digital entry for the Gran Turismo franchise on Sony’s PlayStation home video game console. The moniker “FT-1” was given at the time with simplistic reasoning: “FT” stood for “Future Toyota”, while “1” stood in for “ultimate -always”. As for a more distinct design lineage possibility (such as what we saw during the Detroit Auto Show with Porsche’s new unveiling of the 2014 Targa), there is a link to the now defunct Toyota Supra, which has long been rumored to have an upcoming replacement, but the Japanese manufacturer isn’t burdening the FT-1 entirely with that responsibility. Instead, Toyota is dancing around the Supra issue a bit, denying that the FT-1 is assuming any particular throne or encapsulating the spirit of any one previous Toyota vehicle line.

The Toyota FT-1 is said to focus on Toyota’s rich sports coupe heritage, going as far back as the 2000FT and including not only the Supra but also the Celica and MR2. Even still, Toyota has been quick to firmly insist that the FT-1 is merely a “design exercise”. Design exercise or not, let’s take a look at what the future may hold.

3 Exterior Design

Toyota is calling the design of the FT-1 “audacious”, as it represents the height of the Calty Design Research Facility team’s design expertise in their 40th year of operation. The team drew upon a design ethos that Toyota calls “Vibrant Clarity”, a design type that draws upon “emotional and rational factors” intended to create a unique, albeit unmistakable, Toyota identity that is more dramatic and exhilarating than previously encountered. It’s all about connecting emotionally with the customer, and they’ve worked toward this goal by streamlining the design process.

Previously, Toyota’s design decisions were made by a consensus vote from a large number of individuals. In the case of the FT-1, leader Akio Toyoda instead chose to streamline the approval process in order to create a sense of “Waku-Doki”, which Toyota translates as “a palpable heart-pounding sense of excitement”. This probably leaves you wondering: What does all this actually mean regarding exterior design, and where does all this sense of the audacious specifically come from?

“Our team was heavily influenced by Toyota’s sports car past, especially Celica and Supra, and we sought to capture some of that history," said Alex Shen, Calty’s Studio Chief Designer. "It is an aggressive, track-focused sports car concept with a presence that has been amplified for shock and awe”.

Toyota wasn’t kidding around, using the “shock and awe” statement to describe the FT-1, as the car has some seriously mean lines to it. It’s meant to act as a design reference point for the next-generation of Toyota’s future sports cars, and this seems apt considering its exterior design, which benefits from Toyota’s “function-sculpting” design language. The FT-1 is low-slung and hugs the ground, and as many have pointed out, the protruding, narrowed nose on the vehicle’s front fascial draws immediate comparisons to a Formula One racer. Ducting and vents are meant to exemplify the FT-1’s track-ready purpose, and at high speeds a tilting rear wing deploys to add additional downforce. Taken together, this design language is intended to create a body that is shaped by the wind.

The FT-1’s cockpit is moved rearward within the wheelbase thanks to a front engine rear-wheel drive configuration, which in turn improves weight distribution. The sportscar’s wraparound windshield is an intentional reflection of the styling of the Toyota 2000GT.

2 Interior Design

Toyota has chosen to refer to the interior of the FT-1 as a “place of business”, emphasizing that this is a serious road machine and that people who aren’t serious about their driving need not apply. The cockpit features A-pillars to assist in improving cornering vision, while the display zone is delta-shaped and assigned to surround the driver, making him or her feel a part of the vehicle as opposed to simply being along for the ride. Light weight components in the minimally padded seats continue the business-like approach, while a color heads-up display (HUD) helps the driver keep their focus on the road. At the heart of it all is the F1 inspired steering wheel at front and center of the driver, completing the interior experience.

1 Availability

Those wishing to get their hands on the FT-1 — or something like it — will be disappointed, as the current iteration was merely a demo unit, devoid of a true powertrain. With that in mind, hard details do not yet exist on what may one day exist under the hood of the FT-1 or the real-world production car it may eventually inspire. Toyota is only saying the coupe will be propelled by “a high-technology, high performance internal combustion engine”, and via the press release that the car will act as “a symbol that captures elements of the emotion and energy we can expect to see in future Toyota vehicle designs”. That’s not exactly telling us something we didn’t already know, so in the interim, fans will have to fill in all the potentially glorious details and specifications themselves. If there’s one thing that can be assured, the real-world “FT-1” will not come cheap, but like everything else, you tend to get what you pay for, and this is one serious piece of early design.

Looking for something substantive from Toyota regarding the FT-1 concept sports coupe, if not something immediately tangible? Turn your eye to the virtual world, as Toyota has allowed Polyphony Digital, the video game developers of Gran Turismo, to include the FT-1 concept in Gran Turismo 6 via DLC (downloadable content), as one part of GT6’s Vision series. It may not be anywhere close to what you had hoped for, but at least you’ll be able to get your hands on a virtual version of the inspired new Toyota design, making the long-wait for the real thing perhaps slightly more bearable in the short term.

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