The Setsuna: Toyota’s wooden concept car

The Japanese car manufacturer has created a functional concept car inspired by the emotional connections we have with family vehicles.

Whether you are staring sleepily out the window of your parents' old station wagon or receiving the keys of your very own set of wheels, there is always an emotional significance to the automobiles we use to carry our families from point A to point B. To explore the ties we develop to our family automobiles, the Toyota Setsuna uses an unexpected material: wood.

Toyota's engineers decided to return to traditional carpentry techniques for this exhibition vehicle. On display at Milan Design Week 2016, the concept car is designed to express this sentimental value that humans attach to their cars – especially the shared vehicles that carry memories passed down from one generation to another. Dubbed the Setsuna (the Japanese word for “moment”), the wooden vehicle symbolises the wear and tear that makes our family vehicles unique.

It was designed to defy the trend of flashy modern vehicles that rely on digital devices and cutting edge features. According to Kenji Tsuji, the supervising project engineer of the Setsuna, such high-tech cars ultimately become more like clinical, disposable objects rather than vessels for human life and familial memories.

“The completed body line of the Setsuna expresses a beautiful curve reminiscent of a boat. We would also like the viewer to imagine how the Setsuna will gradually develop a complex and unique character over the years."

The Toyota Setsuna has an open, two-seater configuration. It’s body consists of 86 individual wooden pieces that can be removed with ease. It has accents of brushed aluminium on its wheel caps, seat frames and steering wheel for stylistic contrast.

The car was designed and assembled to have zero screws or nails. Traditional Japanese carpentry methods used in the build include “okuriari”, which is a kind of dovetail joint mechanism and “kusabi”, the rudimentary conjunction commonly known as mortise and tenon.

Setsuna’s outer body is comprised of Japanese cedar wood, chosen for its refined grain and flexibility. The car’s frame is crafted from the much more stern Japanese birch and its floor is fashioned from a slab of durable Zelkova wood. It is a fully functional vehicle, but technically unfit to drive on public roads.

The Setsuna comes equipped with a 100-year timer, which will be used to indicate its age and allow viewers to track the changes the exhibition is intended to highlight.

"As a family accrues time and experiences together with their car, lovingly caring for it and passing it on to the next generation, that car will acquire a new type of value that only the members of that family can appreciate," says Toyota.