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For more than 40 years Toyota has paired its own ‘j-factor’ design ethos with global influences at its California-based design studio

The 1978 Calty design team pose with the iconic Toyota Celica Liftback

Although Toyota’s roots are in Japan, your Toyota is just as likely to have been designed in California or the south of France. Toyota’s designers are hugely proud of the company’s Japanese heritage. It inspires their ‘j-factor’ design ethos, which takes Japanese design themes such as natural patterns, miniaturisation, and the harmonisation of seemingly conflicting priorities, and uses them to create distinctive cars.

But Toyota realised long ago that for its cars to have global appeal, its designers had to be exposed to global influences. So in 1973 the Calty design studio was established (the name is a hybrid of ‘California’ and ‘Toyota’) to expose Toyota’s designers to California’s vibrant car culture. California’s design culture is strong, with one of the world’s best automotive-design schools in Los Angeles, and other design-led companies such as Apple headquartered there. For proof that it works, you need look no further than last year’s exuberant, bold Toyota FT-1 sportscar concept.

The same thinking inspired the creation of ED2, Toyota’s design hub in the south of France, opened in 2000. Here, around 40 designers immerse themselves in European car culture, which emphasises beautiful lines, sportiness, as well as economy and practicality. The studio’s well-hidden outside viewing areas let the team examine their models in the same famous Provençal light that inspired van Gogh.

The designers themselves, of course, can come from anywhere, and all three of Toyota’s design studios have a multinational staff. Calty is led by an American, Kevin Hunter, but Simon Humphries, the general manager of Toyota’s global design headquarters in Japan, is British. “One interesting point about the j-factor approach is the enthusiasm for it from the foreign members of the design staff,” says Simon. “We put tremendous effort into creating cars that are not only unique and exciting, but also relevant to each and every person’s lifestyle.”

The 2014 Calty team present the FT-1 sportscar concept
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