Toyota revs up design expertise with car completely made of wood

Setsuna, an open-top two-seater roadster defies modern road transportation with a body and components crafted in wood. Developed by Japanese automobile maker Toyota, the model launched at Milan Design Week in April last year.

Built almost entirely from Japanese cedar, Setsuna’s body is made up of 86 handmade panels. It actually works although it is not legal for the roads yet. Other types of Japanese wood species featured in the vehicle: Cedar for the exterior panels; birch for the frame; zelkova and castor aralia for the seats.


The car seats are made of Japanese zelkova and castor aralia

The wood is sourced from an SGEC-certified forest owned and managed by Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd. SGEC—or the Sustainable Green Ecosystem Council—is the PEFC-endorsed national forest certification system for Japan.

Kenji Tsuji, the engineer behind Setsuna, said that the Toyota team consulted many experts, including carpenters who specialise in building shrines, temples, and shipwrights. 

“Sumitomo Forestry also shared their knowledge of wood construction with us,” Tsuji said. “We believe that we can further improve this concept.”

Setsuna is made of 86 Japanese cedar panels, which can be removed or replaced, making it a classic that can last for generations.

Sections of Setsuna have been crafted using traditional Japanese joinery techniques such as okuriari and kusabi. Okuriari allows the panels to be fitted without using nails, so they can be easily removed. It makes for stronger joints and allows minor changes to be made to the mortise and dovetail joints if they become worn over time. When repairs are needed, individual panels can be removed and replaced, without the whole bodywork having to be taken off. 


All images by Toyota