Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter
  • |
  • |
  • Interview With 2016 Toyota Tacoma Designer Kevin Hunter

Interview With 2016 Toyota Tacoma Designer Kevin Hunter

Sculpting The New Tacoma

Gary Witzenburg
Jun 24, 2015
Photographers: Courtesy of Toyota
Kevin Hunter grew up in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, Michigan, in a family of auto engineers, while cultivating loves for art and automobiles. "I took a lot of art classes," he says. "I loved drawing and painting and cars. My whole family worked in the car business, so cars were about all we heard about at the dinner table every night. Around the beginning of high school, I started doodling a lot more cars, and that became a fascination. It was a way to exercise my artistic abilities in something that I really loved." He was also fascinated by trucks. "Sports cars are a blast, but I've always loved trucks and always wanted to design an 18-wheeler."
Photo 2/6   |   Kevin Hunter
In high school he learned of a Chrysler-sponsored program for aspiring young designers, submitted a portfolio of drawings, and was one of six students chosen to spend a summer working at Chrysler's design center. "It was a really great program and it hooked me," he says. “I knew then that I wanted to be a car designer."
Hunter also enjoyed an opportunity to work for legendary GM Design Vice President William “Bill” A. Mitchell in a studio that Mitchell established after retiring from General Motors. He worked there part-time and in the summers for two years during college, mostly on Yamaha products. When he graduated in 1982 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in transportation design, Toyota's Calty Design Research hired him and put him to work on a small Toyota Pickup in Southern California.
Photo 3/6   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma
Since then, he has progressed through a number of jobs and worked on a variety of products from sports and luxury cars to trucks before being named Calty's first American (and first non-Japanese) president in 2007. In that position, he oversees research, advanced and production design at studios in Newport Beach and San Francisco, California, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the ’16 Tacoma was designed.
TT: What is your design philosophy?
KH: To look at the big picture—who you're designing the product for, what's going on in the world and where we're moving as a company. For example, we're moving in a much bolder design direction and challenging packaging to create better-proportioned cars, so we're thinking about how those issues relate to our target buyers, what their values are and what our goals are. If we can solidify those things early, we'll have a much better chance of success.
TT: How do you learn what your customers want and need?
KH: We do a lot of different things. Toyota truck buyers tend to be loyal, so we talk with them and listen to what they're saying about our current products. We talk to dealers and sales people who are in face-to-face contact with customers, and if a product is doing well, they'll say don't change anything. But if we do that, we'll end up behind the ball at some point. I also think history is important with trucks, having some heritage behind your product. And we have to think beyond what we're hearing to predict where we think customers' tastes will be moving. Typically, customers can tell you what they want today, not three years from now, which is generally where we're designing.
Photo 4/6   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma
TT: What do you want people to feel about this new Tacoma?
KH: That this is the most rugged, dependable, tough truck they can buy; that they can take it anywhere; and it will work for them and do what they need it to do. So it must look capable; an attribute we want to communicate in the design.
TT: Everyone says that about their trucks. How do you differentiate Tacoma from Tundra and everything else?
KH: In general, we're trying to take Tundra and Tacoma in a more chiseled direction, looking like they are milled out of solid pieces of metal, so you see similarities in DNA between those two trucks so both are recognizable as Toyotas. Tundra is mostly about hauling and pulling, so it has a bit more linear styling, and the front has to look really powerful. Tacoma is about being athletic and active, and recreation, so its purpose is different. And we're pursuing a hex grille theme—very bold on Tacoma, a bit taller with a more powerful image on Tundra.
Photo 5/6   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma
TT: More examples, please.
KH: Tacoma's wheel flares look active and high-lift, with big tires for good ground clearance. It has a big skid plate theme going on, so it looks tough, like you can go off-road with it and have a blast. The grille is up high, and the headlights are positioned up toward the top of the grille for a commanding presence, a lot of attitude. The previous Tacoma had tall headlamps, but on this one we went with different lighting technologies so we could get thinner, techier-looking lights for a nice, determined attitude. One of the images we were going for on the Tacoma was a Baja desert racing truck, with a big, powerful front but a leaner, super-wide, stable bed. And we're stamping the names into the tailgates now, which suggest a purposeful and authentic image.
TT: What is the "handlebar" design on the instrument panel?
KH: It was an inspiration. Think about this truck as being driver-engaged, driver-in-control, then think about grabbing the handlebars of a bike and having direct control over it. So we refer to that theme across the metal-finished part of the instrument panel as a handlebar theme. The interior still has a nice, rugged, authentic appearance, but buyers are expecting higher quality now, so we express that in the material finishes.
TT: This truck offers five grades. How do you differentiate one from another?
KH: That is challenging. The SR5 is the staple, the do-anything, truck-as-a-tool, get-it-done truck. The Limited speaks to buyers looking for more premium finishes to dress up their trucks a bit, especially in the cabin and on the grille. Then we have the badass TRD Off Road, and the ultra-badass TRD Pro, which is even more extreme for hardcore performance guys who want to show what they're about on the weekends.
Photo 6/6   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma Team

POPULAR TRUCKS

Subscribe Today and Save up to 83%!

Subscribe Truck Trend Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truck Trend
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Diesel Power Magazine

Subscribe to:

Diesel Power
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
Subscribe Truckin Magazine

Subscribe to:

Truckin
Magazine

PRINT DIGITAL
SUBSCRIBE TO A MAGAZINE
CLOSE X
BUYER'S GUIDE
SEE THE ALL NEW Toyota Tacoma
NEWS, REVIEWS & SPECS