By Regina Connell.
What grabbed me first was the slightly ridiculous notion of a Lexus IS—a working one, mind you—made out of cardboard. 1700 pieces of it to be exact. The cardboard sat atop a steel and aluminum frame, and took three months to make. The task fell to two companies: LaserCut Works and Scales and Models, London-based companies that create prototypes, architectural models, and other commissions.
Even if it’s a marketing gimmick, I’m a sucker for paper-based craftsmanship and artistry, so I was somewhat charmed by this kind of bravura craft project.
However, I was even more charmed by the “inspiration” for the car: it celebrates the skills of Lexus’s roughly 400 takumi craftsmen and women. (Takumi means skilled, or artisan.) While most of Lexus’s manufacturing is highly automated, there is a human component involved for precise tasks, and those tasks fall to the takumis. The tasks are highly specific: one takumi will work only on leather seating, while another will work only on precise painting, and another even electronic circuit welding. These takumi then go out and train others in those skills, create new techniques, and even “train” robots.
Digging more deeply into this combination of craft and highly automated manufacturing brings another fascinating tale to life. The practice of using takumi came out of a 9 million car recall in the late 2000s, which caused the company to stage a major re-think of its previously vaunted manufacturing processes. Having based its brand on quality, dependability, and reliability, the recall caused an almost existential crisis for the company. Takumi were a part of the new focus on quality, inspired by the painstaking process of building a Shinto shrine and by Japan’s age cultural value of monozukuri, (literally, making things) but better translated as “craftsmanship.”
As it is with artisans anywhere, one of the requirements for takumi is that they must be incredibly dextrous. And at Toyota, one of the ways they hone and prove their dexterity is by folding paper into an origami model cat, using only their non-dominant hand in 90 seconds.
Go ahead and try it. And if you can create a cat in 90 seconds with your non-dominant hand, perhaps someone will honor you with your very own cardboard car. (And Toyota is looking for new takumi as many of the original ones are nearing retirement age: another reason to brush up on those skills. Here’s a fun place to start.)
Or, you can just sit back and watch the video.
All images courtesy of Lexus.