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Design Driven: Toyota’s Kevin Hunter discusses his passion for automotive design

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As the president of Toyota Motor Corp.’s North American design studio, Calty Design Research, Kevin Hunter and his design team create innovative designs that appeal to the global consumer for Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands.

Under Hunter’s leadership, the automaker has launched the 2014 Toyota FT-1 sports car concept, Lexus LF-LC sports coupe concept, 2013 Toyota Avalon and 2014 Toyota Tundra, to name a few.

The Detroiter connected with Hunter to explore the Detroit design community, Toyota’s global design collaboration and why automotive design is a rewarding career path.

How is automotive design changing?
The great thing about design is it’s always changing and evolving, and that’s why I love working in automotive design. There’s currently a shift in buyers’ interest in new technology and staying connected to their lives even when they’re driving. This brings a lot of focus to the interior and how to safely manage all the things people want to do in their car. Autonomous cars are, of course, one direction. It’s our job to meet those needs and discover the undiscovered areas that will make the mobility experience safe and enjoyable.

How is the design process really becoming a global exercise in some cases?
For our design teams at Toyota, collaboration is a way of life. Although our Calty team is in the United States, we contribute design to global vehicles, so we need to understand the balance of taste in order to successfully appeal to a global customer. In the past, it was easier to distinguish which car designs were from Japan, Korea or the U.S., etc., but I’m seeing more and more of a global influence developing in automotive design where someone from the U.S. can appreciate a design that is also appreciated in Europe and Japan. So, it’s important to have a global perspective when designing cars.

Why is Detroit and the surrounding region a great place for design?
Being from Detroit and having my design degree from (College for Creative Studies) I was always impressed by the fine art and design culture in the Detroit area. There’s also a long history of iconic architecture and, of course, the birth of the American car industry and American design movement originating here. There’s still a fresh, creative burst of artistic energy that’s going on in Detroit right now, and it’s a great time to be part of the design community here.

What attracted you to automotive design as a career?
Cars are in the blood for me. My father, grandfather and many other members of my family all worked in the car business. It was car talk at the dinner table, and it was just a part of life that I grew up in. Fortunately, I also loved art and drawing, and had a creative spark in me, and so it was a natural career choice. I actually wanted to become an architect at a young age, but realized how much math was involved, so I moved on to automotive design.

What would you say to a student considering a career in automotive design?
If you love cars and you have a talent for art, it’s a great career choice. First, you need to investigate transportation design programs like CCS or Art Center (College of Design) in Pasadena, Calif., that will really help you develop a skill and mindset of an automotive designer. Think outside the box, and make sure your love for design grows every day.

What vehicle or design element that you worked on are you most proud of?
There are several vehicles I’m very proud of from a pure design point of view. The most recent example is the Toyota FT-1 concept introduced at the 2014 NAIAS, and I have to say that I’m extremely proud of our design studio for designing such a stunning, heart-pounding sports car.

What is your favorite North American International Auto Show experience or moment?
I would say that it was when I got to introduce the world to the FT-1 concept car. It was incredibly exciting to finally unveil a car that our entire development team was so passionate about and one that would deliver a big message about the bold future direction Toyota is taking. We had done such a good job keeping the car under wraps before the show, so there were no leaked pictures, no teaser images, nothing. It was worth it, seeing all the stunned faces.