Toyota returns to its compact-truck roots with its latest concept vehicle A-BAT (Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck) making its world debut at the North American International Auto Show in January. The A-BAT uses a hybrid powertrain reported to provide modern versatility, roominess, and style for a new kind of buyer.

"Driving from the suburbs to the city is a way of life for many people," says Kevin Hunter, president, Calty Design Research, Inc. "We've taken Toyota's truck heritage to a different level by envisioning a vehicle capable of maneuvering the suburbs as well as dirt roads. This compact truck is as comfortable for long commutes as it is for road trips. It can accommodate outdoor toys and home-improvement supplies. Plus, customers benefit from the hybrid powertrain's low emissions and fuel economy."

A Carlike Truck?

The A-BAT concept was developed by the TMS Advanced Product Strategy group and Calty, Toyota's North American-based, research and design center located in Newport Beach, California. Together, they identified a buyer group whose unique combination of lifestyle activities and vehicle needs requires a vehicle that as of now isn't available in the marketplace; in a word, they want a carlike anti-pickup. The team created a new genre of compact vehicle with good fuel economy, advanced functionality, maneuverability, unique styling within its segment, and a durable package suitable for an active lifestyle. Advanced styling also is key in making the A-BAT appropriate for today's market.

The A-BAT rides on a unibody platform for carlike handling when navigating city streets and crowded parking lots and smooth ride quality for commuting highway trips. In addition, its lightweight package coupled with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive technology delivers excellent fuel economy. Of note, translucent solar panels in the top surface of the instrument panel capture sunlight and convert it into energy, showcasing the vehicle's green character. Smaller than the Toyota Tacoma, the A-BAT integrates trucklike features with a car platform for an efficient and modern package.

Vibrant Clarity

The A-BAT's unique aerodynamic exterior was crafted by Calty project chief designer Ian Cartabiano and creative designer Matt Sperling. Leading their design philosophy was the term "vibrant clarity."

"We studied the 'trapezoid' silhouette from the side profile of the Toyota Prius and applied it to create an entirely new truck image," says Sperling. He further enhanced the trapezoidal profile by placing the cab forward and using fast-angle A- and C-pillars, shortened overhangs, and a sleek front window as well as adding 19-inch wheels.

"The bold grille showcases Toyota's reverse trapezoid and T-face theme in a new way," explains Cartabiano. "The bed is defined by the C-pillar and is clearly separated from the cab to allow it to stand out from the rest of the profile."

"The image of a NATO Unimog inspired us to keep the occupants as far forward as possible to maximize rear bed capacity," says Sperling.

The A-BAT features a four-foot bed, but has more functional flexibility than other pickup trucks in the segment. A translucent roof panel slides open to allow for tall cargo in the cab. When the passthrough Midgate is folded down into the cab the bed lengthens an additional two feet. An open tailgate provides an additional two feet of bed length. The A-BAT offers customers the versatility of hauling gear one day, then taking a family on for an outing to the lake the next.

The bed has features perfect for work and play. These include tailgate lighting for illuminating the load in the bed, a first aid kit and flashlight integrated into the tailgate, sliding tie-downs, and an AC power outlet. Items such as sports and leisure equipment can be stored in the lockable drawers in the bed walls. The concept also has additional storage that's accessible through sliding doors conveniently placed in and outside of the truck bed. For even more storage capacity the A-BAT comes with a large sliding drawer beneath the bed, accessible without opening the tailgate.