Over the years there have been some really cool cars that have come out of Japan, starting with the iconic Toyota 2000GT sports car. But what most people don’t know is that most of the automaker’s cars aren’t as Japanese as you would think. Even Toyota admits that the majority of its North American vehicles have little to do with Japan at all — most of them are completely engineered in Southeast Michigan. The latest concept from the automaker emerges from the foothills of South Carolina.
Last month, Toyota announced that it had successfully overseen the designing, engineering, and construction of a concept vehicle, and that graduate students at Clemson University were the ones responsible for its manifestation. Students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) created the funky looking green machine seen here as a direct result of a two-year collaboration between Toyota designers and engineers and the southern school. The end result is something that Toyota calls “an innovative, flexible concept called uBox that is intended to appeal to the next generation of car buyers: Gen-Z.”
Codenamed “Deep Orange,” the CU-ICAR/Toyota project offered students a unique chance to try their hand at every aspect of automotive development. Everything from market research and material sourcing, to engineering, design, manufacturing, and testing was part of the curriculum.
“Deep Orange gives students’ hands-on experience with the entire vehicle development process, from identifying the market opportunity through the vehicle build,” says Johnell Brooks, an associate professor in Clemson’s graduate engineering program. “It’s like automotive boot camp for the real world, and it wouldn’t happen without industry partners like Toyota.”
According to Toyota, the typical customer who would be interested in purchasing a uBox is “a young entrepreneur who wants a vehicle that can provide utility and recreation on the weekend but that can also offer office space or other career-centric or lifestyle uses during the week.”
While the styling cues may not be for everyone, it does have a few innovative touches to it that are worth mentioning. What first caught our attention was the transforming interior: Regardless of whether you are sending emails or hauling bikes, the car’s low floor and re-configurable fully removable seats will always provide plenty of space.
Another interesting touch was that all of the car’s vents, dashboard display bezels, and door trimmings could be personalized thanks to being made out of 3D printed materials. This proved to be so popular that an online community for uBox owners sprang up, where design ideas and custom modifications could be implemented and shown off properly.
Engine-wise, a compact, dual-purpose, all-electric powertrain provides energy to power consumer electronics, power tools, and any other device through the myriad of USB, auxiliary, and 110-volt sockets that are spread both inside and out. There also was a major automotive breakthrough along the way, as one feature in particular was so cutting edge that it caught the attention of Toyota Executive Program Manager Craig Payne.
According to reports, the big design breakthrough came about when “a unique pultrusion technique developed by the students that allows composite carbon fiber rails bonded with aluminum to support a curved glass roof.”
“The roof pultrusion was something unexpected and very interesting when they first started talking about the concept,” said Payne. “The fact that they were able to achieve an industry-first manufacturing technique as students speaks volumes for this program.”
Back on the Clemson side, Paul Venhovens, endowed chair for automotive systems integration at CU-ICAR said that because the Toyota management team challenged the students to such an extreme, that this experience was elevated to a level that bested anything a text book could ever teach.
Toyota and Clemson’s “Deep Orange Team” unveiled the uBox at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress and Exposition at the Cobo Center in Detroit on April 12. Even though this machine will never see production, it’s a great starting point for something bigger, and we can’t wait to see what the designers and engineers of tomorrow have in store next.