Toyota’s wacky, boxy TJ Cruiser concept crossover could get the green light for production if reaction at the Tokyo auto show and other forums is positive.
Although it rides on a longer wheelbase than the current RAV4, it is shorter in overall length, width, and height. Those dimensions are more in line with a Honda HR-V.
Another reason for fast-tracking the TJ Cruiser: Toyota does not sell the RAV4 in Japan anymore. It needs a small SUV for its home market dealerships to attract young buyers, said Mai Takeuchi, a Toyota product planner who was part of the concept’s development team.
“We still need to know how marketable and usable the TJ is,” Takeuchi said through an interpreter at an event on the eve of the Tokyo Motor Show. “We have no type of car for young, active people. They love the Land Cruiser. They just can’t afford it.”
Designers developed the TJ Cruiser with the TNGA platform in mind as its underpinnings, said Hirokazu Ikuma, Toyota’s lead designer on the project.
Whereas some concepts are created as whimsical flights of fancy, the TJ’s design brief was “to come up with a design that was very real so that if the company wants to build it, we can put it into production very quickly,” Ikuma said.
Ikura points to the detail of the TJ’s B-pillar. Most whimsical concept cars have a B-pillar that is just for show, if it exists at all. But the concept TJ’s B-pillar is a sculpted piece of support structure. The design team worked with both product planners and engineers in the development feasibility of the concept—such as regarding the size of the wheels and tires, the width of the vehicle, and its load height when considering a potential hybrid variant, Ikura said.
Whether the TJ would make it to American dealerships is still undetermined. One issue is whether American buyers would embrace the second-row sliding doors, a touch that would not be changed for different markets, Ikuma said.
But Americans might appreciate the “tool box” practicality of the TJ’s interior—from it’s ability to fit a 9-foot ladder to all the tie-down hooks located throughout the cargo area and second-row seats. Neat little touches exist, such as the front seat’s ability to fold flat for long cargo and the narrow gaps in the load floor so that a bicycle can fit standing up without having to remove its tires.
How soon might it arrive in showrooms? It took Toyota two years from pen hitting paper to the rollout of the concept vehicle, Ikura said, noting that the TJ has not yet received the green light from the board.
Creating a production-ready design, once approved by Toyota’s management, would take the better part of a year, perhaps less. From design freeze to Job 1 usually takes two to three years. But Toyota also has been known to rush cars into production; the original Scion tC made it from design freeze to Job 1 in 13 months.