One can see absolutely nothing charming, interesting, appealing or pleasant about Edinburgh airport*. Only this object captured my attention but my camera could not capture a good image.
We have here a Toyota FJ-Cruiser, one of those periodic examples of a strong, brave design that leads nowhere at all. The Fiat Multipla, Isuzu Vehi-Cross, Nissan Pike Factory cars, and Renault Avantime would be other members of this esteemed club. The FJ-Cruiser follows the trajectory of a concept car shown to wide acclaim for its arresting appearance which the public then largely ignores and makes the rest of the car industry shrug its shoulders.
The problem may lie in the design’s retro-industrial character. Much of what is present in the design, though nicely organised, has already been seen in some form before. And the new aspects of the vehicle can’t be readily deployed. In contrast, influential cars like the VW Golf or Ford Focus Mk1 invite a productive response: what else can you do with the format (the VW Golf) and what can you do when creative rules are ignored or bent about a bit (the Focus).
The FJ-Cruiser originated as a re-interpretation of the FJ-40, a long running and rufty-tufty off-road utility vehicle whose production ended in 1984. The Cruiser’s early development took place as a “basement”** project led by senior management, product planner David Danzer, and a Toyota VP, Yoshi Inabi.
The vehicle appeared as a concept car in 2003 at the Detroit Auto Show. Everyone loved it. Production commenced in 2005 after intensive and extensive prototype testing; Toyota intended the car to have proper off-roading ability rather than just to look off-roaderish. The road clearance heights, break-over angles and approach/departure angles all serve the purpose of mucking about on rough terrain.
The interior also featured tough, cleanable materials. While it looks like a 2-d00r, the car has suicide doors in the style of the Mazda RX-7, another “cool” idea that few seem to want to bother with (consider how little thanks Opel got for putting them on the Mk2 Meriva).
The underpinnings come from the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and several other Toyota SUVs of the time. It’s not all that big: 4.6 metres long but the letter-box windshield (almost vertical) and slab-sides maximise the impression of bulk.
The car has a familiar sales trajectory: huge demand in year one and two followed by steep market decline to a steady 11,000 or so units a year thereafter. While Toyota intended it for the US market, sales began in Japan in 2010 and in other parts of the world until head-office ordered a halt to production in 2018.
I get the impression sales could have continued indefinitely at 15,000 units a year, making the FJ-Cruiser something like the Defender or Jimny. For Toyota that kind of production volume is small beer so despite a steady performance, the FJ-40 had to bow out.
Like many such curiosities, the market may have been small but the FJ-Cruiser created intense devotion. Made robust and durable, and perched on a BOF chassis, FJ-Cruisers will probably soldier on almost indefinitely, much like the Nissan Figaro I espied yesterday in Dundee, the only old car I saw in four days.
* And the same goes for Copenhagen airport. All of it is a product of sensible planning and responsible engineering that results in screamingly inhumane environments. Is there a single architect who would stand up to defend these masses of grey steel panels, dirty concrete and useless patches of gravel and grass?
** probably a very nice basement. This was no Peugeot 205 or BMW Z3-type of skunkworks project.