1991 Toyota Avalon Concept
Okay, so the cat’s out of the bag. The Avalon concept technically can be shorter than a GT40, however, whilst occupied it cannot.
This certainly demonstrates a vertical space-savings can be achieved via automotive contortion but, unfortunately, comes at the cost of reduced interior space, added weight and complexity, and practicality issues. Apart from modest benefits at stackable parking garages, the fundamental question remains: why? Any benefits from lowering your car’s height — structurally — by 15 percent when unoccupied, elude me. My confusion wasn’t unwarranted.
Candidly, the Calty rep told me that the press and even Toyota headquarters expressed similar reservations when presented with the concept. She also pointed out, however, that the Avalon concept was considered a “concept for designers,” explaining its appeal was directed more at artistic peers than average car buffs.
If there is just one thing I understand about abstract art, it’s that it isn’t typically rooted in rationale. From that perspective, I was told, the Avalon concept was almost universally praised for its fresh design approach and even those practical executives at Toyota considered it a work of beauty.
The Avalon concept’s curious collapsing roof structure did incorporate one feature that would work its way into reality. The sliding rear canopy had integrated solar panels which, reportedly, could gather sufficient energy to power the roof’s automatic opening and closing functions. There is also a rear spoiler, and lips installed atop the window frame and sides of the front seat headrests, which routed airflow around passengers. Keep in mind the car was exclusively a convertible so, in the event of an accident, a deployable safety bar and “surround air bag” system provided passengers with protection.
Though I didn’t get any shots of the interior, it was described as having both a premium and casual feel, with “ample space for double-date driving” (I was given heads-up that translations aren’t always perfect). The Avalon concept’s passengers were cradled in bucket seats at all four corners, in a layout that encouraged communication between couples. Up front, the panoramic instrument panel consisted of multiple LCD screens and a rear-view monitor.
Care to guess the specific and only innovation from the Avalon concept that’s been shared with every production Avalon since? Its name. It’s a reference to the city on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California. Apart from that, there was no correlation.
It’s been almost 25 years since the Avalon concept debuted and, sadly, its story ends missing the chapters following its days on the show circuit. Having tapped even the institutional knowledge of seasoned designers back in Japan, the rep said the only part of the Avalon concept’s fate that is certain is that it no longer exists.
Many thanks to Calty and Toyota for their contributions of both time and materials.