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EVs should embrace radical new body shapes: Lexus designer Ian Cartabiano

Lexus LF-30 concept doors up

The chief designer of the Lexus LF-30 electric vehicle concept shown at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show has told Chasing Cars that the time is now for EVs to embrace more radical shapes, throwing off the shackles of conventional design.

Ian Cartabiano is the man behind the LF-30’s unique lines. Penning cars on the French Riviera – the site of Toyota Europe’s design centre – Cartabiano’s recent work reads like a greatest hits list for Toyota and Lexus from the past decade. Responsible for the widely-praised LF-LC concept, which morphed almost unchanged into the LC coupe, Cartabiano also designed Toyota’s latest Camry, and the Toyota C-HR.

Toyota designer Ian Cartabiano
Toyota Europe designer Ian Cartabiano

The futuristic LF-30 is a vision of where Lexus will take its electric vehicle development over the next ten years. At just over five metres in length, the LF-30 is of a similar size to the brand’s LS flagship saloon – but the LF-30 assumes a unique shape that blends coupe, sedan and crossover cues. Equipped with a 110kWh battery, the LF-30 produces 400kW/700Nm.

“The future of electrified design should really try to create something new…rather than be mired in the past”

“It is a new type of luxury-performance car that has the sleek attitude of a performance vehicle, with more [interior space] than an LS … but with the driving dynamics and stance of an LC, but the height of a UX,” said Cartabiano of his LF-30. “I think that’s a really interesting combination, and it could only happen with an electrified platform.”

Much of Cartabiano’s repertoire is in the design of internal combustion vehicles – but he says the packaging advantages of electrification have created a unique opportunity for car designers in the years ahead.

“Electrification really provides a lot of freedom for designers … to create something new. The only reason to hold onto traditional [design] cues is to make a visual transition for a traditional customer,” he says.

Lexus LF-30 concept rear
The LF-30 embraces elements of sedan, coupe and crossover styling.

So, should electric vehicles ditch long bonnets, and other conventional elements of car design that car buyers find familiar?

“It depends on the brand, realistically, but in my opinion, [Lexus is] a future-looking, forward-facing brand … I think we are at the point now where we should make a more futuristic, braver statement, and really take advantage of what EV technology can provide,” Cartabiano says.

“My personal opinion is that the future of electrified design should really try to create something new – create a new expression of technology – rather than be mired in the past.”

That said, Mr Cartabanio, who drives a vintage Toyota Celica GT-Four and describes himself as “very much a car guy”, is also drawn to electrified reinventions of past designs.

“For a vehicle in our brand, I think we should be future-facing. But I would also love to have an electric Jaguar E-Type – like they drove at the wedding,” – referring to the converted electric Jag driven by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Harry and Meghan.

Electric Jaguar E Type Royal Wedding
Cartabiano is also a fan of electrification of vintage cars – namedropping the Rimac-powered Jaguar E-Type driven by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex

“I think EV doesn’t have to be boring and silent – it can be fun,” says Cartabiano. “Electrification could be really exciting for performance…I love driving. I love the feeling of torque and horsepower. I think the electric motor provides something really exciting, especially if we can enhance the sound of it – make it a little bit more mechanical, more turbine-like. I think it can provide a thrilling experience.”

Given the LF-30 is designed to be a look at electrified Lexus motoring in the year 2030, Cartabiano and his team avoided the temptation to design too many Jetsons-esque features that would not pass muster in the real world.

“We envisioned this car generally around 2030. It’s not like fifty years in the future – and if you think about the realities of global government regulations and safety, [ideas like having the] seats turning around is really a non-starter,” he says.

“I think sometimes it’s easy in the era of autonomous driving and electrification to make a living room on wheels…it’s kind of a go-to standard, lately. I don’t think that is the only solution, especially for a luxury brand, where ownership is important.”

Lexus LF-30 concept interior
The interior is deliberately more realistic than some other EV concepts.

Cartabiano says the LF-30’s spacious interior remains driver-focussed, working organically with this concept’s performance aspirations. “It’s really an intriguing sense of space…as the driver, you really do feel like you’re in control. It’s a cockpit inspired by this Japanese concept of ‘Tazuna’ (a ‘single rein’ between horse and rider), you feel a driving connection that is LC-ish.”

So, should we expect to see elements of the LF-30 make their way into production Lexus vehicles – including the brand’s first electric car? Cartabiano is tight lipped.

“Fantasy is a large part of every concept car, but more so for this one…we wanted to push the boundaries a bit more for [the LF-30], exercise some creative freedom, and try to set the tone for what could happen in the future. This is purely just a concept, but you may see some features of this car, design-wise, make it into production in the next 10 years or so.”

“It really depends on the reaction, honestly,” concedes Cartabiano.

Whether Cartabiano’s influence will make its way onto the first Lexus production EV in the next couple of years, we’ll see – but there’s a good bet we will see echoes of the work Cartabiano’s ED2 – Toyota’s European design centre – has done on the LF-30.

“It is one of the great perks of working for this company,” says Cartabiano. “We have two awesome brands, and we make so many different cars. It keeps you engaged, and keeps your creative juices flowing. It is really great.”