Part of any automaker’s task is to look ahead and develop vehicles that will appeal to the buyer, researching market wants and needs and employing designers who are able to create something new, fresh, and exciting that will resonate with their target demographic. Calty Design Research (Calty) has been doing exactly that since Toyota established a design presence in the US market in 1973.
Over the course of more than 40 years, Calty’s mission has grown larger and more complex. While the facility in Newport Beach is charged with advanced design (designers work on Toyota’s entire product portfolio, including forward looking concepts for the Lexus and Scion brands) there have been two further US design studios established in San Francisco and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Kevin Hunter is the man behind the curtain.
Born in Detroit, Kevin Hunter attended the College for Creative Studies (CCS) and gained a Bachelor of Fine Art in Transportation Design degree from the school in 1982. He got his first job straight after graduation, moving to California to work as a creative designer at Calty and, in 1985, his design for the FXV (Future eXperimental Vehicle) concept was chosen to be unveiled at the Tokyo motor show.
Over the course of his 33-year career at Toyota, Hunter has held various positions, rising through the ranks to become chief designer responsible for the exterior design of the second generation RAV4. He was later appointed vice president of Calty and put in charge of design and studio operations. When he was named president in 2007, he became the first American appointed to the role.
As president of Calty, Hunter is responsible for overseeing research and advanced design at the Newport Beach facility – which gauges what people want from their transportation and designs to meet these needs — as well as the newly established Toyota Innovation Hub in downtown San Francisco, a facility tasked with “pulling synergies from high-tech companies into the auto sector,” says Hunter. He also supports the production design studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan – including color and trim – from his base in California.
That’s a lot of ground to cover, compounded by the fact that Hunter has three brands – Toyota, Lexus and Scion – to develop design solutions for.
The most recent accomplishments under Hunter’s direction are the Toyota FT-1 and the Lexus LF-LC concepts, as well as the 2014 Toyota Tundra and the 2013 Toyota Avalon. Calty has also been responsible for the design of production models such as the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser, the 2009 Venza, 2008 Highlander, 2007 Tundra, 2005 Avalon and the 2008 Scion xB. The studio also created concepts such as the 2004 Lexus LF-C (a precursor to the first generation IS), the 2007 FT-HS (the foundation for the Toyota GT86/Scion FR-S sports car), the 2008 A-BAT compact pickup, the 2005 Toyota FT-SX, and the 2006 Scion Fuse and 2005 t2B.
As the first US design facility owned by a Japanese automaker, Calty’s main objective was to better understand the needs and tastes of American consumers. It’s a mission that hasn’t changed, though now designers also contribute to designing vehicles that will be sold and used worldwide. As the man responsible for Toyota’s outlook from a US perspective, it’s entirely appropriate that he was selected as one of BusinessWeek’s Masters of Innovation in 2011 and invited as an influential speaker to the 2013 Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit.
Watch the video above to hear how he manages his role and learn about the a few of the vehicles he’s had a hand in designing.