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Toyota ME.WE concept is a Mini FJ eco-mashup

Hoping to blend solutions for economic, environmental, and human problems in one car, Toyota's new ME.WE concept rethinks how automotive is traditionally approached. The design is both odd and refreshing.

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The unveiling of the Toyota ME.WE concept, a collaboration between the Japanese automaker and Massaud in Paris, took place at the Le Rendez-vous Toyota event at Champs Elysees. Despite being a traditional car in the sense of how we would drive it, most everything about this concept rethinks automotive norms. Although its physical design is less than impressive, its underlying ideal is thought provoking.

In looks, the ME.WE concept looks like the offspring of a drunken night's debauchery between a Toyota FJ Cruiser and a BMW Mini Cooper. It's boxy shape with rounded edges comes right off the FJ while its small, squarish look and flat rooftop are decidedly Cooper-ish. In terms of looks, it's rather homely to say the least.

But that same first glance shows you that beyond that shaped styling, there is something very different going on with the ME.WE (no, that's not pronounced "mew"). With a mission statement as long as its blueprint details, the ME.WE has many unusual materials and construction methods (for the industry).

Underneath, it begins with a tubular aluminum structure that is extremely strong and lightweight as well as imminently recyclable. Around that are mounted polypropylene body panels that are both lightweight and hard-wearing. These are built using a standardized production system that allows for easy personalization (color injections, shaping, and so forth). They can also easily be mounted and removed to create more than one vehicle type. Flooring and interior details are made from bamboo.

The ME.WE can be configured, thanks to those adjustable panels, into a small city car, convertible, pickup truck, or beach-buggy style offroader. Powering it is an electric drivetrain using in-wheel motors taken directly from the Toyota i-ROAD concept and with lithium-ion batteries placed under the flooring as in the iQ EV. This leaves the entire interior for passenger and cargo space. With all panels in place (city car configuration), the ME.WE weighs only 750 kilograms (1,654 pounds).

Interesting details in the ME.WE design include a fold-able, removable rear bench seat which can be folded underneath the front seats to maximize cargo space or removed to be used as picnic seating. The "bed" of the pickup truck configuration can be extended by taking removed panels and adding them to the floor.

All in all, the Toyota ME.WE concept is designed primarily to be as eco-conscious and minimalistic as possible. Instruments are all encased in one LCD screen on the console with all other in-vehicle needs (navigation, audio, etc) being handled through a smart phone. Heating and air conditioning are done through an air pump and electric seat heaters for low-power consumption. All windows, including the windscreen, can be opened.

An interesting concept that gives us all something to think about when we consider how resource-intensive automotive manufacturing often is.

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