Toyota's reluctance to entertain the notion that battery-electric cars have any place in the future of zero-emission vehicles is well documented by now.
So it was a surprise when the company announced that it would show an all-electric concept car, the Setsuna, in its first appearance at the Milan Design Week events that kick off on April 11.
Until you look at the details, anyway.
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The car's name―Setsuna―means "moment" in Japanese. And it's far from a practical road vehicle.
Instead, Toyota says, it's an expression of the idea that "people experience precious, fleeting moments together with their cars" and that, "over time, these collective moments make their cars irreplaceable to their owners."
2002 Toyota RAV4 EV on eBay. Image: Plug In America
The decision to use wood for its body, a durable material that nonetheless changes over time, "symbolizes how cars undergo a gradual transformation over the years―as if absorbing the aspirations, memories, and emotions of multiple generations of a family."
Multiple types of wood have been assembled without nails or screws, in traditional Japanese joinery technique that's known as okuriari. The cockpit includes leather and aluminum.
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Anyone looking at the 10-foot-long car is likely to see similarities to a wooden boat, albeit one with a particularly blunt prow. Toyota explains:
The completed body line of the Setsuna expresses a beautiful curve reminiscent of a boat. We would also like the viewer to imagine how the Setsuna will gradually develop a complex and unique character over the years.
2012 Toyota RAV4 EV powered by Tesla, at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show
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 can be driven, but it's so conceptual--with no plans at all for production--that Toyota hasn't included the requisite equipment to make it street-legal in Japan, Italy, or elsewhere.
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It is powered by a single electric motor, output unspecified, with energy provided by six 12-volt lead-acid starter batteries.
That gives it a stated range of roughly 16 miles (25 kilometers), according to Forbes, at speeds up to 28 mph (45 km/h).
Toyota i-Road Concept, 2013 Geneva Motor Show
In other words, Toyota's belief that electric cars are only suitable for low-speed, low-range urban use remains intact.
[hat tip: Brian Henderson]