Honing our skills

Kazuo Horibe
Wood Modeler

At Work

With plane and chisel:
Making parts good enough for actual cars

Did you know that wood is used when developing new vehicles? I work as a wood modeler and it's my job to use my chisel and plane to make models of various vehicle parts. From the front grille and other exterior parts to actual-size mockups of the cabin with the instrument panel and the rest of the interior fittings installed so that people can sit in it for testing purposes. We work on the model until it looks exactly like the real thing. Because the wood model itself is carefully analyzed and forms the direct basis for the data used to create the automotive product, it needs if anything to be built to a higher level of precision than the real car. That's why it takes about ten years to attain all the necessary skills of a competent wood modeler. A wood modeler gets better through constantly "making things." When you first join the company, you're assigned to work on easy parts. My first assignment was to make the grip handles attached to the roof above the back seat. I still remember the excitement I felt when the grip handles I modelled appeared on the streets in a real car. I had only made one of many, many parts, but I was thrilled to see them actually in people's hands. Being able to contribute directly to the impression that Toyota cars leave on people is a privilege of being a wood modeler.

No such word as "can't!"

My job is to give concrete shape to the designer's idea. But that can be difficult or even impossible with the techniques and tools we have at the moment. Still, saying that something is impossible from the word go isn't the way a professional craftsman operates. When the designer has thought hard to come up with an idea that he thinks is a winner, as the person charged with giving physical shape to that design, not being able to do so would mean not fulfilling one's responsibility. Whatever the idea, first you think about how to give it concrete shape. That sometimes gives you clues on new ways of making the model and new ways of expressing the design. You also need to take on sophisticated demands in order to acquire new techniques and approaches. I believe it is our responsibility to pass on the knowledge that our predecessors worked hard to acquire, and to try out new methods and materials from different angles based on that knowledge, all the while working to polish our sensitivities. We shouldn't think that the way things are now is necessarily the best and we should always be trying new things. Because that can lead to new "Toyota design" possibilities.

Taking design to the limit

You often hear the general public say that Toyota design is conservative. The reason for that may be the feeling of reliability that Toyota vehicles give people. What I'd like to say is that it's a misconception to think that having a feeling of reliability is the same as being conservative. That's because in the world of design, it takes a fair amount of work on a vehicle to bring out a feeling of reliability. To put it plainly, if you prioritize the design, for instance, I think it's not so difficult to make a car with a stylish image. During the development process, we see any number of cars with that kind of design. But at Toyota, after reaching that stage, we take things one or two steps further in order to improve the quality of design. Does the design meet the occupants' needs? Can we visualize people using the car for a long period? It's easy to go for style first and then carry on with the rest of the design. But to meet the occupants' needs without destroying the style, in other words to provide peace of mind, you have to have the courage to push the design to the limit.

Personal Time

Entranced by beautiful form

One of the best known vehicles that Toyota has created is the sports car known as the 2000GT. It's a real classic make of car with a production run of 337 units. The 2000GT is what started me off. It was in production when I was a child, and because it was already an ultra-deluxe vehicle, it wasn't a car that you got to see ordinarily. But by a miraculous chance, someone who lived nearby had bought one. At an age when I was full of curiosity anyway, it was amazing to have such a fantastic car in our neighborhood and I went to see it every day. Then one day, the owner said to me ‘Would you like to get inside?' and let me climb into the driver's seat. It's still fresh in my memory. Such a beautiful car. I can still get the smell of leather that hit me when I got inside. It was the wonder of seeing something of overpowering beauty, and I have been entranced ever since. Since that day, whenever I see any car, somewhere in my mind I subconsciously compare it with the 2000GT. It's no exaggeration to say that was where it all started - all my ideas and dreams about cars, manufacturing, my whole life in fact.

The fastest thing in the world

In addition to a Toyota car, I also have another make as a hobby car. It's a British Lotus Europa. After my encounter with the 2000GT, I became a total car enthusiast and hardly a day went by when I didn't flick through one car magazine or another. Around that time, the two stars of Formula 1 were Ferrari and Lotus. Black with a gold stripe and incredibly fast. I became a fan immediately. So the Lotus Europa is another fascination of mine. And the thing that led me to discover Lotus was Formula 1. I think it's the ultimate sport. It's about creating the fastest thing in the world within a strict set of rules. Not just the drivers, but the mechanics and the development team too; nobody can afford to slack off if they want to win. It's teamwork in the fullest sense. Everyone gives their best possible performance to achieve the best possible result. Making cars is just like that too. Everyone gives their best efforts to make the countless number of parts that are all put together to make a single car. Unless you bring together the individual strengths of the different individuals, you can't make good products.

Because it's a hobby, I don't need to worry about making mistakes

I'd like to make a mockup of the Lotus Formula 1 car that I love. But the car isn't available commercially. If I were going to do it, I'd have to make it from scratch myself. I've made a hobby out of making mockups from scratch. It means making a model straight from the materials without using an existing mockup. Because there are no diagrams, you have to create your own from photographs. And for the parts you can't see, you just have to imagine what must be there. And because you are scaling down from the real thing, you can't help but end up with areas of the model end up being almost too thin to reproduce. But because I want to get it to look as near as possible to the real thing, first I look for materials that are strong. If it still doesn't work out, I perfect it by putting reinforcing materials in places where they won't be visible. Because it's not work, I can carry on in a process of trial and error for as long as I like. And it's a lot of fun adding to my working skill set.


  • Simon Humphries
    General Manager

  • Yuji Fujiwara
    Exterior Designer

  • Akira Matsuda
    Clay Modeler

  • Masaki Motozaki

  • Kazuo Horibe
    Wood Modeler

  • Keiko Shishido
    Color Designer