Generation Z is weird. At least that's the impression we're left with after seeing them through automakers' eyes. Those eyes brought us last year's Nissan Teatro for Dayz concept and now they bring us the Toyota uBox. Designed for Generation Z drivers, the uBox finds a middle ground somewhere between the minivan, SUV and armored truck.
Somewhere, at least one of the designers of the Pontiac Aztec is probably looking at a photo of the uBox and thinking, "What the hell is that thing?" The answer is it's a concept car born from a two-year collaboration between Toyota Motor North America and Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research graduate students. Students worked closely with Toyota, from the initial design process, to market research, to engineering, on to hand building, resulting in a concept car designed around the whims of Generation Z.
Depending upon how you want to define it, Generation Z begins with young adults born in the mid to late 90s (folks love to use cutesy names for generations, but they can't seem to agree on specific start and end dates). So, many members of Generation Z are at or near prime "first car" age.
What does Generation Z want? Well, according to Toyota and South Carolina-based automotive research students it wants to stand out, and what better way to do that than in a vehicle that looks like nothing else on the road.
The uBox is defined as a utility vehicle, but its silhouette is closer to that of a van. That boxy body has a very experimental feel, playing around with sharp creases and hard angles that look like they could have been pulled from an armored car or military vehicle. It stands out as a less cool, more urban cousin of the Ultimate Utility Vehicle, with which it shares some passing simlarities.
The uBox design makes a little more sense when you consider that it was at one point a Scion (some of the sketches in the video below show the car with Scion badging). Scion was all about quirky styling and youth-oriented models, but Toyota recently announced the discontinuation of the brand. That leaves the uBox with a Toyota badge.
The concept's styling may be a little weird, but there are some interesting things going on in and under that crinkly-box skin. For instance, a pultrusion composite technique has been used to create the carbon fiber/aluminum structural rails supporting the glass roof.
"The roof pultrusion was something unexpected and very interesting when they first started talking about the concept," says Toyota executive program manager Craig Payne. "The fact that they were able to achieve an industry-first manufacturing technique as students speaks volumes for this program."
Below that large glass roof, a versatile interior keeps the ride flexible. The removable, rearrangeable seats are mounted to a low floor via sliding rails, allowing for quick reconfiguration for different activities. So the uBox can transport a Gen-Zer's crew to Ultra Music Festival but also pack up all their worldly belongings and carry them to the new dorm. The flexible design is aimed at the young entrepreneur who wants a work-focused vehicle during the week, with utility and recreational capability for weekends.
The vibrant vents, dashboard display bezels and door trim are designed to be customized and 3D printed, a feature clearly inspired by the customization flexibility of portable gadgets. Speaking of gadgets, the all-electric uBox keeps them topped up for the ride with interior and exterior 110-volt outlets. Toyota doesn't mention anything more about the electric powertrain or battery, but we guess it's not really important for a concept car like this.
Instead of the usual auto show premiere, Toyota and Clemson students have revealed the uBox at this week's Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress and Exposition in Detroit.
The two-minute video below takes you behind the scenes of the thought and design process and might help you make a little more sense of this off-the-wall concept car.