Turning Seaweed and Kombucha into Cars--Inside CMFX Design


Bags of mysterious materials and Toyota-original fragrance recipes. What exactly do these four designers do?

This article shines the spotlight on CMFX design, a corner of car-making that is little-known even among Toyota employees. Toyota Times visits a design genba full of surprises.

The destination: the Vehicle Development Center’s Color Management Department, a place of daily discussions about environmental issues and the future of mobility, amidst research and development that stirs all the senses.

Will future cars contain seaweed and kombucha?

Any idea what’s in this bag held by designer Viviana Hohenstein?

The answer is a fermented drink commonly called kombucha. But what is kombucha doing in the hands of Color Management Department designers?

It is part of advanced research that aims to discover materials that could be useful in mobility. Toyota’s team has been working with an outside design studio to create new materials from naturally-derived substances that can one day be returned to the soil.

Hohenstein was born in Germany and grew up in Sweden. Drawing on her familiarity with Scandinavian culture and its progress in sustainability, she is engaged in advanced textile development.

Viviana Hohenstein

We look beyond existing ideas of how things should be to create biomaterials made from seaweed, for example, or fabrics that combine weft knitting techniques with sustainable yarns.

We are exploring what kinds of materials future customers will focus on, and how to weave them into new experiences.

Also engaged in this advanced research to create new forms of comfort is Group Manager Mai Kato. She displayed the following 3D-printed items.

Mai Kato

These objects are part of our research into the textures and features made possible through 3D printing. Color, shape, fragrance, and texture can change the way people feel. By combining new materials and technologies, we are exploring how to create objects that resonate with the senses.

Japanese people are said to be good at intricate tasks and possess unique skills. As designers, I feel that we can find ways to turn these traits into something of value in everyday life.

To that end, we are deliberately trying to bring together a chaotic mix of technology, aesthetics, trends, and practicality to see if we can create new value.

Design for pleasant living

As its name suggests, the Color Management Department was originally tasked with designing colors for cars. Over the past few years, however, the scope of its work has rapidly expanded.

Momoko Okamoto

In the past, “color” was used mainly in a decorative sense, relating to car exteriors and fabrics, but now our mission is to engage with our customers using all five senses.

What’s important is not only functional value but also “emotional value” that cannot be expressed in words or functions—conveying emotions through materials. We are focusing on building experiences and boosting the value of the overall experience.

Moving beyond object design to the value of experiences.

For the Color Management Department, the current focus is on the X portion of CMFX, which also alludes to their transformation into working with diverse fields.

Special orders related to the new areas are also increasing from within the company. One such area is fragrance.