The new Century has arrived, bringing a completely new style. Its chief engineer and chief designer provide the inside story behind the car's creation.
Since first appearing in 1967, the Century has been a symbol of Japanese chauffeur-driven mobility, the vehicle of choice for the Imperial household and many other distinguished figures. In September, a new model was added to this family.
Though its silhouette is unlike any that has come before, the new car possesses a style that makes it instantly recognizable as a Century. We spoke with two key individuals to get the inside story behind the model’s development.
Bringing new value to the Century
Development was led by Yoshikazu Tanaka, a gearhead who joined the company in 1987 because of his love for Toyota cars, dating back to the second-generation Carina hardtop.
As chief engineer, he has worked mainly on environmentally friendly models such as the third-generation Prius PHEV and the first- and second-generation Mirai.
Meanwhile, the design process was overseen by Design Division General Manager Tatsuya Sonoda, who has been involved with countless models including the much-loved 12th-generation Crown and the previous generation Harrier, and was chief designer of the current RAV4. As head of the Design Division, he has also provided interior and exterior design direction for some 30 models.
They were part of the small, specially appointed team that embarked on the new Century development project around three years ago. Tanaka recalls how it all started.
“I want you to bring new value to the Century.”
“More and more young people see the Century as a car for the boss, not for them.”
“You need to come up with new value to ensure that the Century continues to meet customer expectations of chauffeur-driven mobility.”
Those were the ambitions of (then) President Toyoda that guided our special team as we started development.
The original Century was developed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sakichi Toyoda, who laid the company’s foundations, and to breathe new life into a chauffeur-driven market dominated by imported cars in the 1960s.
The Century established itself at the pinnacle of the country’s chauffeur-driven vehicles, favored by the Imperial household and leaders across all spheres of life, through continuous improvement, including the pursuit of quietness and comfort, as well as exteriors and interiors that embodied traditional Japanese aesthetics.
Adding new value to such a car felt like an extremely difficult development challenge. At the same time, I felt very honored and humbled to be given this important mission.
It’s impossible to talk about the Century without mentioning Honorary Chairman Shoichiro Toyoda. During the original model’s development, Toyoda, then a managing director, spent more than a year living in a modest dormitory with Project General Manager Kenya Nakamura’s special team, devoting himself to the project.
This experience gave the Honorary Chairman a singular attachment to the Century. He continued to track the car’s progress, providing feedback to developers on everything from the sound of the doors to ride comfort, based on actual observations from the rear seat during his daily commute. The Century is undeniably a car honed by Shoichiro Toyoda.
Akio’s appeal to “bring new value to the Century” came from a desire to carry on the Honorary Chairman’s cherished brand, while ensuring that it continued to evolve for the next generation.
For his part, Sonoda had witnessed the previous generation’s design and development firsthand. He acknowledges that this model was the most difficult project to undertake among Toyota’s lineup.
The Century is more than just another model within the Toyota brand—it carries Toyota’s corporate identity.
The Century has a distinctive “Centuryness” that is about more than merely physical form, encompassing the car’s stature and aura.
We spent our days grappling with the question of “inheritance and evolution”—what aspects of Centuryness do we retain, and what do we try to evolve.