Paul Beranger is a self-confessed "small car guy" and admirer of the Volkswagen Golf. Nothing especially strange in that, most would say, but as Corporate Manager for Style and Design at Toyota Style Australia (TSA), Beranger is better known for his work on the styling of the mid-sized Camry Hybrid and the V6-engined Aurion.
His interest in the small VW came to light in conversation with the Carsales Network during the local launch of the Camry Hybrid earlier this week. As Toyota's Australian styling chief admired the Golf test vehicle we were driving, we asked him for his opinion on what the future holds for TSA.
First up, Beranger explained that TSA was in a formative state. Currently, no more than 25 staff in total work out of a dedicated premises in Port Melbourne.
"[TSA] is only now maturing within TMCA [Toyota Motor Corporation Australia]," he began, but the company was "now beginning to find a real role." As we had previously learned from Beranger, the Aurion has been the standard bearer for TSA -- the styling studio being tasked more and more with new projects as a consequence of the work done on the Camry-based large car.
Unlike design centres established by Holden and Ford "40 or 50 years ago", Toyota's in-house studio is a new kid on the block; having gone from "parts design group" to "major body redesign work" within a very short space of time. The studio was established no more than eight years ago.
"TSA has had to establish credentials with its parent company," Beranger continued. The Aurion has been an important step in that, but now TSA is securing a role within other projects of importance for the Asia/Pacific region.
As a "global resource for Toyota," TSA "fits very comfortably within the regionalisation strategy announced by the company president, Akio Toyoda."
In this respect, it's incumbent on TSA to "understand regional demands and meet regional expectations," says Beranger. In other words, TSA is effectively a centre of expertise for styling new products specific to the Asia/Pacific region.
"Australia is probably the most mature country in the region," explains Beranger. Within our part of the globe, this places TSA in a strong position to influence styling for future regional products -- the Aurion being an existing example of that.
"TSA has a lot to offer Japan," Beranger continues. "There are products that are global and have a regional focus." TSA can be heavily involved in the development of those products.
Once again, the Aurion is the obvious example of this sort of product. It's built on a global platform (Camry), but has a regional application (Aurion/'prestige Camry' upper body). The Aurion is built and sold throughout Asia, as well as Australia and it's exported from Altona to 20 other countries, but it's not built or sold in North America or Europe. To that extent, it's a regional 'niche' product.
"Australia is extremely well placed within the region," says Beranger. Not only is it located in the same time zone as Toyota's home base in Japan, it's located in close proximity to "sophisticated component suppliers" and TMCA's Altona manufacturing plant and the Anglesea proving ground. At least as importantly too, TSA is a stone's throw from TTCAu (Toyota Technical Centre Australia).
TTCAu and TSA work hand-in-hand on projects, but they can also work apart. Neither department needs to undertake projects on behalf of TMCA, necessarily. TTCAu's engineering expertise can dovetail nicely with TSA's styling expertise on collaborative projects like the Camry Hybrid or the TRD HiLux.
According to Beranger, Toyota is embarked on harmonising its global styling language, just as Lexus has done, but Toyota still sees room within that global design language for niche products to emerge.
"We're confident we can play a role in that," says the TSA chief.
"Toyota's very, very strong in mainstream, high-volume manufacture, but it's becoming more aware of niches."
Beranger believes that niche-product design can help Toyota "change from its mainstream, conservative image".
"Upper body design has a role to play in that," he adds. Once again, the Aurion is a classic example, but Beranger's thinking in terms of concepts a bit more radical than that, referring to "personal mobility" -- presumably as in the i-Real concept unveiled by Toyota back in 2007.
Beranger believes there's an opportunity for TSA in "short-term productionisation of concepts that have been shown at motor shows".
But is there a project for TSA to take on board in the future, one that would be closer to Beranger's heart? It's here that he admits to being a "small car guy" and suggests that he'd like to develop a sort of hot hatch based on the Corolla platform, but something a little 'left-field' by Toyota's usual standards. He's quick to steer talk away from a new-age MR2, but has the germ of an idea for a front-wheel drive sporty with Corolla underpinnings.
"With the comfort people have with front-wheel drive, I think a Corolla derivative, [but] a sporty, urban derivative..." he responds to the question we put to him: 'What vehicle would inspire you the most and you'd like to build as a Toyota?'
Something like the Toyota iQ for Sports (pictured)?
"A small car, Corolla-size [with] a sports hatch package," he responds, tipping something slightly more practical than the iQ concept.
"I'd be very happy to support Japan if there was a need for that in the region."
But such a car is kind of a pipe dream for the moment at least. There doesn't appear to be a specific need for a vehicle of that specification. Furthermore, it would be more demanding of resource and time than it would appear on the face of it.
"All designers doodle sports cars," Beranger explains. "If they don't, they're nuts."
The problem is that an "all-out sports car" is not where the challenge lies. Building into it the work-arounds for packaging constraints and all those boring design conflicts -- that's where the development of a sports hatch must be more than just a "kid's school project".
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