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.
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.
Although the A-BAT is rugged and has a spirited exterior, the interior team worked to create a modern look for the interior.
"We balanced colors and fabrics that were bright and vibrant, but also captured an urban-rugged feel with their energetic and geometric qualities," says Alan Schneider, project chief designer.
"The inspiration behind the exposed structure on the interior was drawn from high-end mountain bike frames," says Daryl Harris, senior creative designer. "We applied lightweight construction materials, such as carbon fiber and aluminum, to the instrument panel, console, and seats for increased structural rigidity while reducing mass."
The rigid, yet sculptured alloy center console runs between the two front seats and houses a portable power pack. The battery pack offers AC and DC for a wide variety of applications, including powering tools, electrical gear while camping, a laptop computer, small appliances, or assisting a vehicle jumpstart.
The door trim, shoulder, armrest, and instrument panel pads and seat cushions are made of a tough, lightweight, and comfortable material that can be selected for personalization. In addition, the colors are coordinated to enhance the sleek interior environment. The center console and door pockets feature carbon-fiber components to complete the durable and modern look.
The four-passenger A-BAT offers numerous seating and storage configurations. In addition to the rear seats folding down with the Midgate to extend the cargo bed length, the rear seat cushions can retract beneath the cargo bed to increase rear cab cargo flexibility. A removable storage tray beneath the rear seat offers tie downs and organizing compartments to secure loose cargo.
Inside the A-BAT has a retractable portable navigation unit with a seven-inch diagonal screen and Wi-Fi internet. Other advanced features include a port for portable device assistant synchronization and a hard drive for digital music.
The driver and front passenger have a large multi-information display screens on the IP to view the status of their high-tech gadgets and HVAC and audio settings. The solar panels on the dash recapture energy from the sun to assist in the charging of the navigation unit, portable power pack, and backlit information displays.
"This concept is the next evolution of the compact truck," says Hunter. "We were able to create a compact truck that's utilitarian, has an original profile compared with other pickup trucks, has a 'small, but tough' character, and is economical to operate. The A-BAT is a fun-to-drive, practical package that reflects Toyota's environmental sustainability message."
Whether the A-BAT will go into production depends on further market study, but there's no denying the small-truck segment has been flat and will most likely keep shrinking. It's clear Toyota is hoping this'll be the vehicle grownup Scion buyers will gravitate toward when first looking at a Toyota vehicle. The high-tech hybrid angle would seem to make sense from that point of view, but beyond the cool factor, our bet is that young car guys won't be looking for the most carlike truck on the market. We won't hold our breath, but stranger things have happened. The bottom line is if this goes to production at a price point under $17,000, there may be a chance.
| EARLY SPECS: TOYOTA A-BAT CONCEPT |
| Drivetrain || Four cylinder gas engine with Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive |
| Wheelbase || 112.2 in |
| Overall Length || 181.3 in |
| Overall Width || 74.4 in |
| Overall Height || 64.0 in |
| Bed Length || 48.0 in |
| Bed Length with Midgate down || 72.0 in |
| Bed Length with Midgate and Tailgate down || 96.0 in |
| Wheel size || 19-inch aluminum |