This is No SUV--Developer's Vision Behind the New Century


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.

Advice from the master passenger

While the new model might generally be perceived as an SUV version of the Century, Tanaka stresses that this is certainly not the case.


We arrived at this profile by focusing on the backseat passenger, pursuing a car that inherits the unique Century character while catering to the diversifying values of the times.

From that perspective too, we never set out to build an SUV.

I would describe this car as a “new concept for chauffeur-driven mobility.”

Catering to diversifying values, the new Century’s evolution entails a spacious interior and a design that marks a clear departure from the established concept of chauffeur-driven mobility. But what exactly did the new model inherit?


A traditional Japanese aesthetic and the ultimate in hospitality, made possible by a uniquely meticulous attention to detail, combined with the exceptional craftsmanship of skilled takumi or artisans.

The new model has inherited this cherished carmaking philosophy, passed down through the generations from the original Century.

This is what we mean by “Centuryness.”

With the development work now behind them, Tanaka and Sonoda smile calmly as they recount the project, their passion occasionally bubbling to the surface. As they tell it, however, the process of defining the vehicle concept and design direction for both the interior and exterior involved a great deal of trial and error, with no shortage of hardships along the way.

It was the words of then-President Akio Toyoda that helped them to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

As already noted, Akio’s preferred pick for chauffeur-driven mobility is the Century sedan and the Alphard.

When unveiling the latest Alphard and Vellfire models, Chief Branding Officer Simon Humphries described Chairman Toyoda not as “master driver” but as the “master passenger.”

Chief Branding Officer Simon Humphries at the launch of the new Alphard/Vellfire.

Similarly, Akio was also unquestionably the master passenger for Tanaka, Sonoda, and the other members of the new Century development team.


On the development team, we always looked forward to (then) President Toyoda’s feedback with excitement and trepidation.

We struggled at first, with our concept and design proposals repeatedly rejected. Then on one occasion, we received the advice, “80% chauffeur, 20% driver.”

Today, many VIPs use a driver in business situations but enjoy taking the car for a spin in their leisure time.

Or others, like Western executives, might jump behind the wheel to relieve work-related stress or reset their mood.

Up to that point, we hadn’t caught up with President Toyoda’s awareness of the task at hand, but with this advice the project began to move ahead as if the fog had lifted.


Likewise for the exterior design, only when it was pointed out that we hadn’t shed the sedan mentality were we able to come up with the prototype for the final form.

We received the “80% chauffeur, 20% driver” advice around that same time, and from that point on the concept was firmly set in our minds.

And so the new Century’s concept and design direction were solidified. In the next article, we will take a closer look at the finished vehicle to see how Tanaka and Sonoda’s vision for the new Century took shape.