Hiruta’s Hot Wheels

Text by Matthew Nestel

“I do not dream about cars. I do not have nice dreams,” confesses Shiro Yo Hiruta, idea man and president of Calty (a collapsed combo of “California” and “Toyota”). Calty Design Research, Inc., established in 1973, is a progressive in-house outfit for Toyota Motor, hubbed in sunny Newport Beach, CA, with a satellite studio in Ann Arbor, MI.
Hiruta studied industrial design from Kanazawa College of Art at Kyoto City University of Arts, which he describes as “very relaxed” and “laid back.” Upon graduation, the industrious Hiruta began tirelessly working for Toyota in 1986 and immediately finessed Toyota’s Corona. The four-door Corona can still be spotted on Japanese and New Zealand pavement, often modified as a “rice burner” for lead-footed tunerheads.

In terms of workspace, Hiruta takes unkindly to disorder. “I am a very tidy person,” he says. “When the desk is messy, the head is messy as well.” He even insists on maintaining that new car smell. “Maybe the best thing is not to bring anything into the car that is unclean.”

Breaking down the nuts and bolts of automotive design, Hiruta keeps his thumb on the pulse of serious drivers. He argues that the pallet of car design varies on a level of scale when comparing the West against the East. “I think Japanese people will pay more attention to the details at a closer distance,” he says. “For American design, from a far distance [the cars] look great, but up close it is not as nicely or finely done. Whenever I design cars, I try to keep in mind that the customer will keep their interest in the cars at both closer and farther distances.” Hiruta finds a sweet medium by taking cues from former chairman Eiji Toyoda’s mandate to “get to know the American customer” and immersing himself in his domestic surroundings. Watching the Discovery Channel, fishing with buddies and customizing his Harley Davidson (his favorite hobby) all make for marinated slabs of Americana.

Hiruta’s design process is constantly in maximum overdrive. He will create the newest LS, GS and IS models, or ES models for Lexus and then immediately begin to draft next season’s crop. Thus, what’s new to the masses is quite archaic to Hiruta. “When I am finished with the design, it is the best thing. When [a new model] comes out, to me, it is already so old,” he admits.

Given civilization’s steady march towards becoming automatons, Hiruta also forecasts technological advances beyond flying cars, envisioniong a day when human beings drive themselves to and fro. “In the long-term future, cars will be able to fly. Even further along, we will not need cars anymore because people will be able to put equipment inside their bodies,” he predicts.

Wherever Hiruta drifts into his dreamscapes, his diurnal output provides much to ponder for Lexus aficionados. While the cameras flash and newspaper ink dries, Hiruta moves his mechanical pencil, shading the star of next year’s press junket.


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