Toyota's Emboldened Exterior Designers


Breaking away from the spindle

In May 2020, a shockwave ran through the design division. Late in the development process for the next Lexus RX, on the home stretch of modeling, Akio made an unexpected request to “break away from the spindle grille.”

Spindle grille, the identity of Lexus

The spindle grille is a key design feature that identifies a Lexus. So what was Akio’s intention when he told designers to break away from the brand-defining spindle grille?

Only two months remained until an internal design approval step. Excluding the production time for the clay model, the team only had about three weeks to spend on a redesign.

Nozomi Hirai at Lexus Design recalls that time.


We kept brainstorming to figure out how to tear apart the spindle design that Lexus had preserved for so long.

Above all, we started thinking about “evolving” rather than “rejecting” the trademark spindle, and each of us sketched our design ideas. We tried to get our hands moving to figure out what worked best.

A completely new face for Lexus was born through the process—the spindle grille evolved into a spindle body.

As Hirai explains, “We filled the upper openings as far as possible without impacting cooling performance, creating a gradient that intricately connects the grille and body.” Such design efforts gave the spindle body a new look from the famed spindle grille.

How bold designs are born

Alongside the RX development, the team was also designing the RZ, Lexus’s first BEV-dedicated model. Kimura shared the story behind that particular spindle body.

“As part of the shift to electrification, we decided to move away from basing our identity around the ventilation grille, and instead went with a solid ‘block’ that expresses the brand’s individuality. For the RZ, we deliberately avoided making openings in the grille by filling in the gaps so that it looks inverted.”

This design was born out of a change in mindset rather than anyone trying to preserve what had already been established. When Akio told them to “break away from the spindle,” he meant to break away from entrenched ideas rather than playing it safe.

Toyota now has an atmosphere that allows designers to take on bold new challenges by bringing together multi-generational teams focused on making ever-better cars.,

Driving as part of the design process

Kimura’s work extends beyond the office to the test course.


Given the emphasis Lexus puts on driving performance, it’s important for us to hone our driving skills so that we can understand what engineers say. I obtained our internal semi-advanced driver’s license in order to learn techniques backed by theory.

While a small number of designers could also drive well in the past, I feel like recently we have more of a movement aimed at becoming good drivers.

At Toyota, designers also take prototype vehicles onto the test track to experience the riding feel. In the spirit of genchi genbutsu (go see for yourself), it also means checking various aspects of a design firsthand. What sort of car will these designers unveil next? Let's look forward to what Toyota's emboldened designers will unveil next.