An Unexpected Turn for Avalon
With its longer stance and aggressive lines, Toyota’s flagship strikes a marked change from previous generations.
That’s nothing new for Toyota’s latest generation of products. In recent years, both Prius and Camry wowed – and polarized – customers with more daring designs. But for the Avalon – a full-sized sedan that has until now been comfortable as a bastion of top-notch quality, durability and reliability – the change is downright striking.
That’s why we sat down with Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s Calty design studio, who oversaw Avalon’s dramatic transformation that will, hopefully, appeal to a different generation of drivers.
Toyota Today: Let’s start with Avalon. What was the process of designing this car?
It was designed in the Calty design studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We are trying to go after Generation X with this car in a big way. So that means a lot of aggressive styling. Something more purpose-driven. We’re trying to go after a different mindset and a different image.
How does that balance with the typical Avalon customer?
We won’t discount our loyal Avalon buyers. They’re critical to the segment. But they want to feel youthful and progressive. We try to appeal to their mindset as well with a more aggressive approach to our design statement.
As a designer, how in tune are you with the market and what Gen X wants? And how do you incorporate that?
We think Gen X appreciates the engineering and technical aspects of products. We’ve been moving in a more sculptural and bold direction. These are very taut surfaces. We tried to get more crispy edges, even in our sheet metal stamping. We created a more engineered and technical look, while maintaining beauty.
What does Avalon represent to its customers?
We think of this car for people with older children who may be moving out of the house. Avalon is sort of a reward vehicle. You did a good job raising your kids, they’re gone, what do you want for you now? This is that car.
Where does this aggressive look for cars like Camry and Avalon come from?
Fundamentally, it starts at the top. That’s Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) President Akio Toyoda. He’s set a mandate that we’re not making boring cars anymore. Once you have a high vision at the top, that really releases everybody to just go after it and make a big impact, make a huge statement about who we are as a company. It’s a lot of effort to produce a car. Let’s make something we’re proud of. Let’s make something dramatic that gets people excited.
At its January debut in Detroit, it was clear that making Avalon a success involves plenty of teamwork. While Hunter (far right) led design, (from left) Group Vice President and General Manager, Toyota Division Jack Hollis has his eye on sales; Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky President Susan Elkington will oversee assembly; and Avalon Chief Engineer Randy Stephens ensured a uniquely smooth ride.
What part of Avalon stands out to you?
For me, I love the rear view. There’s an interesting thing going on with the back bumper. It’s angled forward and the lights have this technical wing shape. There’s a lot of deep sculpture in the rear that you don’t normally see on sedans.
What are you getting asked about most?
The front face. I was expecting people to say, “Can grilles get any bigger than that?” The problem we’ve had in the past is we were worried about appealing to literally everybody. And that’s how we got into doing some bland designs. So, we’re fine with polarized design now. If it’s iconic – if it has identity that’s memorable – that’s what we’re looking for in our cars.