TOYOTA CITY, Japan -- Toyota is often billed as the most Japanese of Japanese automakers, but it has turned to a foreigner to spice up the company's famously bland styling.
Simon Humphries, the soft-spoken Englishman tapped for the job, isn't the person you might expect to head the global design studios of the world's biggest carmaker.
Before joining Toyota in 1994, he had virtually no experience in vehicle design. And instead of injecting Toyota with a major dose of foreign perspective, Humphries is -- by his own admission -- sometimes more Japanese in his aesthetics than his own Japanese stylists.
"I think they need to be much more confident about their own cultural heritage," Humphries said in an interview at Toyota's main design studio here. "The foreign people who work within design are more aggressive about promoting Japanese-ness than the Japanese themselves."
Yet Humphries' leadership position since the semi-retirement of design chief Wahei Hirai in June 2009 is a sign that the company is taking a more cosmopolitan outlook. As general manager of Toyota and Lexus design brand strategy, Humphries, a fluent Japanese speaker with a flair for smart-casual dress, is the highest ranking foreigner at Toyota in Japan -- at the tender age of 43.
And President Akio Toyoda wants Humphries to forge a new look that embodies the chief executive's personal ambition to make cars that are more visually interesting and fun to drive.
Look for Humphries' imprint in the latest Prius and the upcoming Lexus CT 200h.