The automobile of the future will need to focus on the needs of urban drivers including smaller frames, better handling and higher fuel economy. Toyota’s European Design & Development (ED2) team took a swing at urban vehicle design with the recently presented ME.WE concept EV. This two-door compact EV was developed as a conceptual sketch of Toyota’s response to the growth of urban markets. Toyota and other automakers might often sell to middle-class families in the suburbs but city dwellers could become more attractive consumers in the next generation. The ME.WE concept EV from Toyota ED2 combines advanced drive features and lightweight design into a relatively basic package.
The Toyota ME.WE incorporates in-wheel motors on all four wheels to manage energy consumption with greater precision. Toyota also notes that the ME.WE can function as a two-wheel or all-wheel vehicle due to in-wheel motors. The ED2 team also placed the battery pack underneath the seating area rather than under the hood. This design tweak, which is increasingly common in electric vehicle design, preserves seating space that can be eaten up by enormous battery packs. Drivers might not be wowed by the vehicle’s interior design but the ME.WE is intended as a vehicle of necessity rather than a work of fine art.
Compact cars currently on the market exceed 2,000 pounds due largely to steel frames and panels. These heavy structural elements are often cited as necessary to meet national safety standards while reassuring drivers concerned about accidents. The Toyota ME.WE only weighs 1,653 pounds when fully produced, which is at least a 20% curb weight reduction compared to a standard compact car. The main variable in this weight reduction is the use of polypropylene composite panels that weigh 31 pounds less per panel than their steel counterparts. An aluminum frame lined with composite panels is not only lightweight but also meets safety standards based on Toyota’s early estimates. Toyota is also toying with a cockpit floor made partially by bamboo to round out an eco-friendly vehicle.
A simplistic interior design might not impress industry veterans but the ME.WE still offers some interesting touches for drivers. The information display screen above the steering wheel displays range, speed and directions while keeping the driver’s eyes on the road. Toyota ED2 included a neoprene cover on the roof to protect luggage and other cargo from the elements. The ME.WE also features a sizable cargo area behind the passenger seats for groceries and fragile cargo.
Toyota ED2 has offered itself an escape hatch during early development of the ME.WE. This concept EV might start out as a city car but Toyota sees the vehicle as a platform for other models. The ME.WE could be stretched out into a sedan or a truck in future applications outside of metro areas. Toyota might toy around with future designs but the ideas behind ME.WE should remain consistent. The ME.WE name indicates the automaker’s concern not only with the driver’s needs but the needs of the environment. We can only hope that a vehicle this intriguing will receive further attention and push Toyota to put the ME.WE into production.