NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- It looks like just a nice office complex in a mostly residential section of Newport Beach. But inside, it's a world-class design studio for Toyota called Calty, now celebrating 50 years. Toyota became the first import auto maker to open a studio in the United States in 1973.
"The fact that Toyota made that bold leap in the early '70s, to start an advance design studio really focused on the U.S. market was kind of game-changing," said Stewart Reed, former design director at Calty, as well as the former head of transportation design at Art Center College in Pasadena.
Calty started with humble beginnings in a leased industrial building in El Segundo, where the team of American and Japanese designers first turned out the legendary second-generation Celica for 1978. Strong influence from Southern California was part of the plan.
"Detroit might be the automotive industry center, but California's the car culture center," said designer Kevin Hunter, president of Calty today.
Onward and upward from the early days, opening the current sprawling Orange County studio space in the late 1970s, later expanding it in the early 1990s. All this time, it brought California car culture to Toyota and Lexus designs that were sold around the world. And along the way, other automakers from Europe, Asia, and even the U.S. have opened studios here as well.
If you're on the freeway today and see a Toyota or Lexus vehicle in the next lane, chances are, this studio had at least some influence on its design.
"There might not be a car that's sold in the U.S. that we haven't touched at one point or another," Hunter said.
It was quite interesting to see so many Calty-related vehicles proudly displayed at the recent 50th anniversary celebration. From a 1990s Previa minivan, to recent SUVs, most of these vehicles are seen all over the area, every day.
And there's no slowing down as the industry heads into a whole new era. To join the timeline, the latest Calty creation has been revealed, the Baby Lunar-Cruiser concept, a take on the NASA lunar rovers that drove on the moon, with large tires and an upright cabin. Electric powered, this concept vehicle is looking to the future in a variety of ways. Whatever technology brings, designers will still be needed.
"Designers play an important part in that because technology alone doesn't interface with people. We have to figure out what the proper interface of tech is with people," noted Calty's Kevin Fisher.