Toyota A-BAT Concept

THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:

Toyota has announced that the Toyota A-BAT concept has been cancelled. I repeat: The vehicle you see in the following article has been put on permanent ice. No hybrid unibody pickup will be built for the U.S. market. That is all.

For Matt Sperling and Ian Cartabiano to consider.

Toyota returns to its compact-truck roots with its latest concept vehicle A-BAT (Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck) making its world debut at the North American International Auto Show… The A-BAT uses a hybrid powertrain reported to provide modern versatility, roominess, and style for a new kind of buyer… customers benefit from the hybrid powertrain’s low emissions and fuel economy. Smaller than the Toyota Tacoma, the A-BAT integrates trucklike features with a car platform for an efficient and modern package… Truck Trend, 2008.

A Car Too Far

A few years ago–2004–I got my first car: A $4500 Mercury Mystique LS, with a V-6 engine, leather seats, untouched interior and clean, flowing lines. It was a great car.

And I didn’t like it.

It wasn’t the looks or interior that bugged me, it was the fuel economy. At 21 mpg, I was hoping for better. I had asked for a small car thinking it would be more efficient than a Ford Mustang or small truck, but wound up with a nice little car that got about the same fuel mileage.

At first I was angry. Then I was heartened. Knowing now that a V-6 Ford Mustang or small truck was not beyond the bounds of reach–that they were reasonably fuel-efficient, at least compared to my car–I decided to research small vehicles, to understand how they could be made to attain maximum fuel efficiency.

I worked hard looking at every small truck, car and SUV I could find. By 2007 I had begun to focus my attention upon compact pickup trucks–an area that most automotive manufacturers have abandoned entirely. I began drawing up my plans for a small truck that would be fuel-efficient, compact, and useful–with five useable seats, a four-foot pickup bed, and a small front engine bay, with a midgate for extra bed space. I dubbed my concept the “Lobo”, making it to look like a small 1985 F-150. At first I was amazed that no automaker had designed anything like it. I mean, the Subaru Baja and Honda Ridgeline hinted at something like it, but without the uniquely American style of a fullsize truck. This vehicle looked like a mini-fullsize to my eyes. I researched this concept, along with the Baja and Ridgeline, intensely. I saw a Ridgeline at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and was surprised. In spite of its ungainly looks, this was a good little truck underneath the sheetmetal.

Enter The A-BAT

At the 2008 Detroit International Auto Show, auto manufacturer Toyota introduced a pickup truck called the A-BAT, short for “Advanced Breakthrough Aerodynamic Truck.” This truck was among the most unusual vehicles at the show; a pickup truck with a four-foot bed, not unlike the Subaru Baja or Honda Ridgeline, with a midgate, hybrid gasoline engine (for excellent fuel economy), four-wheel drive, four useable seats (since it’s a concept, they didn’t include a middle seat) and a truckish look. It looked so big that many people thought it was a fullsize. In reality, it was only three inches longer than a Toyota Corolla and almost the same length as a current small-sized Toyota Tacoma.

I was ecstatic that somebody had designed the truck I had envisioned. If only they had styled it as well as their engineers had designed it.

Although I thought the truck was great, there were many problems that clearly needed to be solved. Toyota had not solved the midgate design’s most glaring flaw: that big open hole in the back. And the styling itself was hated by almost everybody who first saw it, to the point that many didn’t even care about the good points of the truck. “Ditch it!” was the collective yell from the crowd. Even as Autoblog tried to change minds, showing as many pictures as they could of the design to try to get at some of the best parts of the truck (Look! The backseat folds flat! The hybrid powertrain could manage upwards of 35 mpg! It can hold a 4×8 sheet of plywood!) the yelling stayed intense. The hatred of the A-BAT convinced me that changes were in order, should something like it ever see production.

The Looks: Problem Number I

People buy vehicles almost entirely based on how they look, inside and out. The Subaru Baja looked like a car with an open trunk; it was boring in the front, bizarre in the back, an ugly mullet that was ridiculous-looking and not much more practical than a conventional car. The Honda Ridgeline, another ugly vehicle, suffers from the same problem.

The first thing the truck needs is to look cool. Although many love the A-BAT’s style, I think it could use an overhaul. The most glaring faults:

  • Too many blind spots.
  • Squinty headlights.
  • The bodywork is far too busy.
  • The interior is frighteningly uncomfortable-looking.
  • The interior is yellow (probably not going to work for the vast majority of people)

I’m not going to even discuss the interior, because it’s an easy fix (just make it more functional). But the exterior is another animal entirely. I think it can be made almost attractive, even for those who despised it at first.

I tried my best here:

It’s really just the exact same truck, except with the windows made larger, the headlights taken down to the sides of the grille, rounded wheelhouses, the taillights borrowed heavily from the Tundra and a new grille. I think it’s a vast improvement over the old design, but if you still think it’s ugly feel free to give me your thoughts.

An alternate T-grilled design with different front fascia:

Problem II: The Name

A-BAT, regardless of what it stands for, just sounds goofy on a truck. Not very tough, rugged, or anything, really.

There are many good names for a pickup truck like this, but since I love wolves (just look at my self-portrait) I thought I’d try my hand at an acronym. Just off the top of my head, to complement the new styling I named my drawings the T-WOLF-PT (Technologically Wacky OLd-Fashioned Pickup Truck). I’m sure Toyota can think up something better than that.

Problem III: The Midgate

This one isn’t too hard to solve. In reality, it just requires a little time and patience. I came up with a system that Toyota might like to give a try:

  1. The bottom of the backseat is hinged in the front so that it folds up right behind the front driver’s and passenger’s seat. It has a back window inside of it.
  2. It folds up.
  3. The rear seatback folds down, like on a conventional midgate.

Something like this:

The purple outlines are where the seats used to be, and now are not. The magenta dots are the rotation points. In the bottom drawing, the rear seat bottom has been folded to the front, allowing for two feet of extra usable space (theoretically). The rear seatback has folded down, providing for more bed. The owner can protect the rear armrests and other interior accoutrements with a tarpaulin.  And of course roll down the back windows so they don’t get scratched.

Part IV: Four-Passenger Seating configuration

Add a third seat in the back, Toyota. Subaru didn’t and it was an absolutely retarded decision. Five seats are a necessity, and an optional bench in the front wouldn’t hurt either Oh hell, nobody uses the center seat in the back anyway. I’d like five seats, but as long as the back two are useful and large enough for people (as in bigger than today’s Tacoma’s seats) I’ll take either configuration. Just make sure to add cupholders or a center armrest or something.

Part V: The Truck’s Raison-D’Etre

Without an optional hybrid powertrain, the A-BAT would be worthless, with perhaps a slight improvement in fuel economy over a typical modern pickup. The hybrid powertrain will likely get cheaper in coming years, and more powerful. Since electric motors are torquey and therefore good truck motors anyway, I’d say Toyota should keep them, and I doubt it’d get rid of them anyway, so there you are.

I hope Toyota builds the A-BAT. I know a lot of you still think it’s ugly and stupid, but as a member of a family where nearly every male member drives a truck as a commuter (and not little ones either–F-250 HDs and Silverado 1500s) I say it’s high time for a fuel-efficient pickup truck that can carry five people yet still carry stuff in the back and travel on dirt roads (the road in front of my house is a dirt road, by the way; part of the reason I like this concept over a Prius). I think the A-BAT can do that and more. Here’s hoping Toyota has the balls to bring this thing to market.

5 Responses to “Toyota A-BAT Concept”

  1. Jack Son Says:

    Hello,
    Glad you are promoting change and round earth thinking rather than holding unto Detroit metal of 1972. Yes, the American V8 in a truck is made for the man and his life style of taking care of business and recreation without needing anyones help. But those days are gone. You are right a new truck for a modern life is needed. Thank you for your thoughts and I will check back.

  2. Josh Says:

    You nuts dude…nuts

  3. Trip Says:

    No, he’s not nuts. He’s dead-on. Almost.

    Further, the whole “shoulder” of the truck could be dropped, ie. the top of the bed and hood could be lowered in height, allowing for the windows to be made even taller. The c-pillar should be made even narrower, but built stronger to compensate (akin to 80s-90s Volvo wagons or Land Rover Defenders) and the front windshield a lot less swept back. I realize aerodynamics make for a huge difference in MPG, but in its current form, the A-BAT is WAY too swept back.

    It’s a shame Toyota doesn’t look at their current J-77, 78 and 79 Land Cruisers they make for EVERY OTHER CONTINENT BUT HERE (sorry, I won’t even start on that rant…), and incorporate some of those design cues into the A-BAT….because in my opinion, those vehicle exteriors (and interiors for that matter) are Toyota’s design nirvana. It’s never gotten any better than that. The closest we’ve ever seen is the Pickup of the late 80s and early 90s and the 4Runner of the mid to late 90s. Why screw with solid, no-nonsense design? Boggles the mind…

    Lastly, the name. I agree, “A-BAT” is silly and I’m all for a new moniker, but let’s start with what should *not* be the replacement, and why. For starters, it shouldn’t be another random acronym of letters standing for a useless set of descriptor words. Putting words like “Advanced”, “Tactical” or “Tough” in your name, even by abbreviation, just exudes wanna-be douche-baggery. I mean common, the vehicle will already be subject to enough scrutiny from alpha-male jackoffs driving dual-wheel F-450s, so why help them out with a name that even they could grasp as pretentious, right? Second, judging from the current North American naming scheme, it cannot be alpha-numeric (ie. B-100, HZJ-79, etc.). So, given all that, what should it be? Well, if we agree to respect Toyota’s current naming scheme for its US trucks and also agree that this thing should be positioned under the Tacoma, then the name should start with “T”, perhaps end with an “A” and just like its two bigger brothers, draw an earthly connection from its name. How about the Terra (which means “earth”)? Or Talus (which means “hill”)? I like Talus personally, as Terra might sound too short or girly (ie. Tera). I think Talus fits well, especially when scaled to its would-be brothers. Tundra – Tacoma – Talus.

    So there you have it. The exterior needs to move towards simplicity and common sense and it should be renamed according to the current scheme. Then you’d have the Talus. Done.

  4. Lupe Delobo Says:

    Trip, I like all your ideas. (Also, Josh is just my cousin, he’s joshing me if you get my drift.) May I recommend as a name the Toyota Tierra? I think it sounds better than Talus.

    All your other points are good. I doubt I could afford it unless it came in at $18K base, but if they do it right I’ll see what I can do.

  5. Trip Says:

    Hi again Lupe,

    Thanks for response.

    Terra, Tierra, Talus…honestly doesn’t matter so much to me as long as the thing just gets produced…in some form or another.

    And as far as the other points go, yeah, I think a back-to-basics approach on a lot of design cues is a no-brainer.

    To that effect, I’ve posted this opinion on several blogs around the net. The critics by and large seem to think that you need the thing to be swept back in order to achieve the high MPG they’re shooting for (besides the fact that their hut design taste is horrible). But I’m not sure if I buy that argument completely. Until I see or discover otherwise, I would infer that the powertrain and “guts” of the vehicle would be a bigger factor in MPG than the windshield slope angle Obviously, if you give the thing the angles of a FedEx delivery truck, then we’d see a big hit in MPG, but you know what I’m saying…I know, somewhere in between there has to be a happy medium, as your renderings begin to suggest.

    I just hope someone at Toyota is being paid to go out and collect feedback like ours, and that it gets channeled back to the right resources with the power to induce some design corrections.

    I guess we’ll see, right? Considering Toyota’s (and everyone else’s, let’s not just blame them) trend of watering down of their design in favor of too much body paneling and bloat, I for one, won’t hold my breath. Here’s hoping, though!


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