The Toyota Compact Cruiser EV recently won the Automotive Design Awards 2022, although it is still in the design stage. According Toyota, the award’s generic name belies its prestige. To be fair, the off-road-inspired design of the Compact Cruiser EV isn’t generic at all. I’d rather call it nostalgic, resembling the distant Toyota FJ Cruiser. And, damn it, this (concept) EV looks good.
Toyota specifically calls the first generation land cruiser as inspiration, but by the transitive property, the FJ Cruiser is there too. The black and gray bumpers of the Compact Cruiser EV are pure FJ, as well as the block mirrors. I’m not sure about that rear visibility, though.
Other than that, the Compact Cruiser EV looks to make a friendly daily driver if it goes into production, and it looks less heavy than its predecessors. It also looks relatively small, which seems like a good thing for an EV (looking at you Hummer).
If it ever makes it to land, Toyota says it will be aimed at young professionals living in cities who love the great outdoors. It sounds like Toyota is talking about the off-road capability issue, but the automaker says the Compact Cruiser EV would at least have all-wheel drive.
But there are more than design notes to be gleaned from the price announcement. Toyota’s EV Strategy beyond the bZ (coincidentally, meaning beyond zero) is still vague, but the Toyota design team’s remarks contain some insight.
Simon Humphries, Head of Design at Toyota, had this to say:
“Our research on electric vehicles has been going on for more than 30 years and we have come a long way. After a first phase of contact with electric vehicles, people will want zero-emission cars that speak about them and express their way of life. And the Compact Cruiser EV is a perfect example of this trend.
Toyota’s plan, it seems, is to lead the electric vehicle charge with a crossover like the bZ4X. Call it a lay-up, a way to score points easily. People really love crossovers, and beneath its quirks, the bZ4X is a bland, even boring entry into the EV landscape. But it’s a safe bet, and it’s mostly harmless.
After this “initial phase of contact”, however, Toyota may follow with more exciting electric vehicles. Toyota presenting an all-terrain electric vehicle also seems like an easy choice, but I’m not complaining. It’s a deliberate choice, which means it’s a choice at all.
In addition to becoming more affordable, this is also what electric vehicles should do to convince drivers. They have to branch out and be electric cars other than to be electric cars. The fact that these cars are fully electric isn’t entirely irrelevant, but it’s also not the only reason they should exist.
When Toyota revealed a room full of EV concepts in 2021, it looked like the company was catching up with rival automakers who were defining their roles in the transition to electric vehicles. Ford has the F-150 Lightning and the Mustang Mach-E. Chevy and GM have the Bolt and the Hummer EV – for better or for worse. Tesla has the Model 3.
The Toyota bZ4X has less appeal than some of these EVs, but that may be by design. If it really turns out to be the electric welcome wagon, and cars like the Compact Cruiser EV are next, then I’m pretty excited to see what Toyota plans to do beyond the bZ4X.