Toyota has turned to college students to design and build its latest concept — a utility vehicle meant to appeal to Generation Z, the newest generation of buyers that are about to enter the education institutions the designers are leaving.
Over the past two years, graduate students at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), in South Carolina, designed, engineered and hand-built the uBox concept — a flexible vehicle that can provide comfortable and spacious on-the-go office space for young entrepreneurs during the work week and then easily transition into a utility to fulfill chore or recreation duties on the weekend.
Among the features of the uBox concept is an innovative and bold exterior design that aligns with Gen-Z’s personality trait to stand out, a versatile interior that can be arranged in various ways to accommodate office duties or hauling cargo by easily sliding seats around on floor tracks (the low floor makes it easy to load and the seats can be removed outright), 3D-printed vents, door trim and instrument panel bezels that can be personalized, and an all-electric powertrain that also provides power to 110V sockets (inside and outside) into which to plug in appliances or tools.
An innovative feature that captured Toyota’s attention is a unique manufacturing technique that allows carbonfibre rails bonded with aluminum to support a curved glass roof.
“The roof pultrusion (a process opposite to extrusion) was something unexpected and very interesting when they first started talking about the concept,” said Toyota Executive Program Manager Craig Payne. “The fact that they were able to achieve an industry-first manufacturing technique as students speaks volumes for this program.”
The program to which Payne is referring is the CU-ICAR / Toyota collaboration called Deep Orange, which immerses students into every aspect of automotive development, from market research and design studies to engineering design and manufacturing.
“Deep Orange gives students hands-on experience with the entire vehicle development process, from identifying the market opportunity through the vehicle build,” says Johnell Brooks, an associate professor in Clemson's graduate engineering program. “It's like automotive boot camp for the real world, and it wouldn’t happen without industry partners like Toyota.”
“The collaboration with Toyota was extremely fruitful,” said Paul Venhovens, endowed chair for automotive systems integration at CU-ICAR. “The Toyota management team constantly challenged the students with justifying their design and engineering decisions based on brand essence, real-world customers and what the students believed the future would embrace. This experience can simply not be gained from a text book.”
Part of the uBox design is the establishment of an online community where the vehicle’s owners can share design ideas for the various personalized components.
The concept was unveiled at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress and Exposition in Detroit.