Concepts that time forgot: the Toyota Setsuna

By topgear, 23 July 2020

What is this magnificent bit of DIY?

This is the Toyota Setsuna, a concept car built specially for the 2016 Milan design week. It’s made of wood and looks slightly like a boat, but the fancy design types with expensive glasses must surely have lapped it up.

STORY Sam Burnett

The Toyota Satsuma? What a funny name

Actually, the name of the concept – Setsuna – means ‘moment’ in Japanese, as in ‘just give us a moment while we come up with a proper car’. Actually, what Toyota was hoping to get across was what it called the ‘precious, fleeting moments’ that people have together with their cars – Sunday afternoons spent sanding and varnishing them, perhaps.

Of course, if the company really was serious about paying tribute to the sum total of our experience with our cars, some designers could have been paid a lot of money to take an old Corolla, scratch the bumpers and scatter some old cheese and onion crisps under the passenger seat. 

What wood is it made of?

A fascinating question, tree fans. Toyota said that the wood would change over time, depending on where it was kept and how it was used, so it carefully chose Japanese cedar for the exterior panels and a lovely Japanese birch for the frame.

Toyota’s craftsmen also turned down the opportunity to screw the Setsuna together with a handy power drill in favour of using a genuinely entrancing traditional Japanese joinery technique called okuriari

Wait, even the seats are made of wood? 

Even the seats, although they get nice little leather covers so you don’t end up with splinters in your special area. There is also some aluminium in the cabin, and of course the tyres are made of rubber, so it’s not completely made of wood. That’d be stupid. 

One nice touch inside the car (which is really outside, because it doesn’t have a roof – presumably you have to wait for one to grow) is a meter that tracks the age of the car over 100 years. No, we’re not sure why either. 

What’s under the bonnet?

Now this is interesting – Toyota has for a long time sworn off full battery electric cars, saying that its hybrid tech is good for now and pumping cash into long-term hydrogen fuel cell development.

This makes the Setsuna something of an odd fish in the Toyota city pond – under the wooden bonnet are six 12V lead-acid starter batteries presumably nicked from the back of the factory somewhere, giving the car a 45km/h top speed and 25km range. Not bad for 2016. 

Does the Setsuna float? 

Sadly the Setsuna is only designed to vaguely resemble a boat, it doesn’t have the ability to traverse water, which would have made it irrefutably cool. If you tried to take this car into the water it would no doubt sink quickly thanks to the number of holes in the underside, but on the plus side the considerable water damage would affect the wooden superstructure in beautiful ways that would mark your time together with an exquisite car. 

What happened to the Setsuna concept? 

Sadly it was chopped up for firewood, it gets very cold in Japan in the winter and needs must. Actually that’s completely made up – the Setsuna is probably sitting in a store room in Japan next to a load of Formula 1 cars somewhere, its 100-year meter slowly ticking forlornly away. 

Why didn’t the Setsuna go into production?

Would you have bought one? Sadly Toyota didn’t even pretend to make the car street legal, so there was no chance of seeing one on a road near you. Some of the firm’s recent offerings might have been criticised for their wooden handling and firm ride, so the legacy does live on. Still no electric car on the scene, but hopefully those range issues will be sorted properly when it comes. 

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