The auto world's attention may still be tied up in China, but Toyota is hoping to pull it westward. Debuted earlier today at the Le Rendez-vous Toyota, Toyota’s brand experience center on the Champs Elysées in Paris, the ultralight ME.WE is a concept car that strips the automobile down to its basic core in an attempt to reframe consumer expectations.
The ME.WE name reminds us of the recently premiered "Friend-ME" from Nissan, and is framed in a similarly social way. "The concept’s name expresses its simultaneous concern for personal well-being (ME) and that of others (WE)," Toyota explains.
Conceived with the help of French designer Jean-Marie Massaud, the ME.WE takes a simpler approach to automobiles, unencumbered by traditions and expectations. Toyota explains that it sought to take words like "passion" and "status" out of the auto design equation, creating something built with a less is more ethos, or as Toyota puts it "transition from the culture of “more” to the culture of "better."
It sounds to us like Toyota is trying to abandon, if only for an instant, the contradiction of building and hyping hybrids and electric cars, all the while stuffing the greater line-up full of unnecessary electronics, heavy materials, inefficient technologies and luxury amenities, which add tens and hundreds of pounds, decreasing ranges and fuel economies. The ME.WE is a simpler conceptualization of the automobile – a means of getting driver, passengers and belongings from A to B as opposed to a hyper-personalized "home away from home."
Toyota says that its road-bound golf cart weighs 1,653 pounds (750 kg) thanks to build elements like the tubular aluminum structure and recyclable polypropylene body panels. It defines that weight as about 20 percent lighter than the typical steel-based "supermini." Helping to ensure that the car doesn't stray from its target weight, Toyota envisions it being an "anti-excess," no-extras package.
The ME.WE shares the same in-wheel motor system as the i-ROAD concept. Toyota's vision of the tiny, low, plastic minicar as an "off-roader" seems laughable, but the in-wheel powertrain does give the car four-wheel-drive capabilities.
With the battery pack mounted under the floor, as in the iQ EV, the ME.WE has more internal passenger and cargo space than you'd expect from a minicar. To add versatility to that deceiving amount of space, the car shifts between hatchback, convertible and pick-up formations.
Toyota mentions the car taking on the form of a convertible, but it's not clear from its materials if the roof actually removes. It may simply be referring to the "cabriolet-like" feel created by the roll-down windshield.
The pick-up formation is fleshed out a little better. An extending rear panel turns the trunk into a pick-up-like bed for hauling larger loads. The rear bench folds down and slides under the front seats via a rail system, adding more capacity. The bench can also be removed completely and used as standalone seating for picnics, tailgating and other applicable occasions.
The driver's seat is kept simple with basic controls and a single screen for reading vehicle speed, battery charge, journey information and navigation instructions. Toyota cuts out the complex computer hardware and electronics by relying on the driver's smartphone as the brain that provides navigation and entertainment features. Cabin temperature is regulated with a combination of a low-energy air pump and heated seats, keeping things light and low consumption.
Some of the elements of the ME.WE are a bit silly and out there, but the idea of cutting through all the crap in an industry that is always quick to congratulate itself for doing little things for the environment while continuing to do plenty against it seems like a great starting point. In a world that appears to be growing increasingly apathetic about owning and driving cars, consumers may just be ready to embrace that type of message. Hopefully Toyota and others come up with more vehicle ideas from a similar school of thought.
The photos in the gallery do a poor job of highlighting all the functions and equipment of the ME.WE, but the video below shows its various configurations and takes you on a journey through the thought process behind it.