The minivan segment had only 500,000 first-time buyers in 2004, versus 900,000 such buyers in 1994. The average age of minivan owners has inched up to 51 years. This stagnation surprises no one who follows the automotive scene. Toyota maintains--and we agree--that minivans are still incredibly efficient and practical vehicles. The F3R is Toyota's stab at making the minivan relevant for a new generation of consumers.
The problem, of course, is that minivans aren't cool. Today's young people, who were carted around in their parents' minivans, now avoid them like the Avian Flu. The work of Calty, Toyota's Southern California design studio, the F3R takes everything we know about minivans and turns it on its head. Exterior and packaging designer Ian Cartabiano had three main goals that he felt would distinguish the F3R from more pedestrian family haulers:
1. A very aggressive stance, with big, 22-inch wheels out at the corners.
2. A distinctive profile, with a very high nose and a wedge-shaped roof. "We didn't want a weak, needle-nosed effect," Cartabiano says. The inverted D-pillar is also the opposite of what you expect from a minivan.
3. A distinctive face and graphics, with a strong, T-shaped grille.
The resulting futuristic transport van has a thousand times more street cred than any minivan we've ever seen. The radical styling statements continue inside the F3R's super spacious cabin, which has a nightclub-style seating pit softly illuminated by recessed lighting. Since the F3R is some 90 millimeters, or nearly four inches, wider than the current Toyota Sienna minivan, there's lots of room here to stretch out after a day at the soccer field or during a night out on the town.
Rather than sliding doors--the death knell of the minivan--the F3R has a conventional middle door mated to a suicide-style rearmost door. Together, they create a huge opening in the side of the vehicle. Step into the airy, futuristic cabin and settle into one of the asymmetrically shaped red leather seats. Two long panorama moonroofs--something we first saw in the Nissan Quest concept several years ago--stretch the length of the cabin and let in lots of light. The instrument panel can be set either to display normal driving functions or converted to an ambient lighting panel for when the car is not in use. The floor is made of recycled rubber.
Toyota conceptualizes the F3R as having a hybrid powertrain. Although there are no plans for production, officials hint that some of the F3R's packaging concepts likely will make it into future Toyota vehicles.