TOYOTA CITY, Japan — Notice anything different about the look of Toyotas these days?
Toyota sure hopes so.
From the drool-worthy FT-1 Concept to the funky C-HR compact crossover, and even the new "sexy" Camry sedan, the brand is looking much less ho-hum and way more oh-yum.
Part of that new vibe is coming from a star American designer who is pushing the brand's styling to new limits under Akio Toyoda's decree for "no more boring cars."
- Title: Studio chief designer at Toyota's Calty Design Research Inc.
- Age: 43
- Nationality: American
- Hometown: Torrance, Calif.
- Education: ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, Calif.
- Joined Toyota: September 1997
- Family: Married, 1 daughter
- Noted designs: 2018 C-HR, 2018 Camry, 2012 LF-LC Concept, 2017 Concept-I, 2013 Avalon
- In his garage: Lexus RX; Toyota 86, C-HR, Camry; 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302
- Design hero: Raymond Loewy, creator of the Coke bottle
- Dream car: Orange Lamborghini Countach LP400
- Favorite vacation spot: Italy
- Favorite food: Mexican
- Hobbies: Hiking, painting, classic cars, playing guitar
- Quote: "You will see a lot more strong and bold designs from Toyota and Lexus. The president of the company believes in design and in making bold statements."
- Quote: "I respect something that's new but not perfect, rather than something that's beautiful but nondescript. I'd rather be challenged than made comfortable. Polarizing is OK."
Ian Cartabiano enjoys a good bowl of ramen and cruising backstreet boutiques in Tokyo. But it's clearly his California flair that's giving his U.S. studio outsized influence at Japan's No. 1 carmaker at the moment.
He and his colleagues at the Calty design center in Newport Beach, Calif., are shaking things up.
The in-your-face C-HR and the curvaceous new Camry are two recent hits. So is the FT-4X Concept, a Tonka-truck trail hawk shown in New York last April. Watch for more handiwork soon when Toyota unveils, as early as this fall, an all-new Supra sports car as previewed by the sublime FT-1.
Cartabiano, 43, a laid-back, blue-eyed, bearded stylist who joined Toyota in 1997, had a hefty hand in all of them — as well as in the super svelte Lexus LC sports coupe. But the veteran designer credits the surge in emotional design to two factors: CEO Toyoda and new modularized platforms.
Car-crazy Toyoda unchained designers to break boundaries by demanding hotter-looking rides. And thanks to the Toyota New Global Architecture, a series of revamped vehicle underpinnings that allows Toyota's cars to be lower, wider, leaner and meaner, designers are free to deliver.
"The era of boring cars, of bland cars and anonymous design is over," Cartabiano said at the Japanese carmaker's global headquarters here. "It's what Akio expects. When the president says something like that, it really allows designers to feel creative freedom."