Interview with Jean-Marie Massaud

Jean-Marie Massaud (left)
Industrial designer Jean-Marie Massaud (pictured left) has designed everything from a perfume bottle for Cacharel to the Volcano Stadium in Guadalajara, Mexico. So how did he come to design Toyota’s latest ME.WE concept car? We caught up with the designer at Le Rendez-Vous Toyota on Paris’ Champs Ellysees to find out.

How did your collaboration with Toyota begin?
Toyota came to me because they’d seen a symbolic synthesis of what they envisioned for the brand in my work and they thought I would create something along those lines for them.

I arrived and said that I wasn’t interested in creating something futuristic. I wanted to create a product for today, something that was interesting and intelligent. Popular cars can be intelligent because they correspond to the needs of people in an era.

So how exactly did you collaborate?
They gave me free rein because they wanted to be surprised. And we developed a partnership where we exchanged ideas, notably with Laurent [Bouzige] as he was chief designer on the project.

I developed a car that answered the question ‘If I could have only one car what would it be?’ It was the response of a designer that doesn’t work in automotive design, without the constraints of marketing or segmentation.

Can you describe the ME.WE’s core strenghts?
If a car is reduced to a status object and an accumulation of constraints then it needs to be pleasant to use. This means that I needn’t choose between a station wagon, a cabriolet or a small city car. One car has to provide all of these qualities, perhaps not in terms of look, but in terms of feeling.

It was more to appreciate the cruising aspect of the automobile rather than the idea of keeping the windows up and air conditioner on whilst blasting music and isolating yourself from the rest of the world.

Would you describe yourself as a car fan?
I think everyone likes cars. It’s the most popular product. It’s least expensive industrial product per kilo and the most innovative product for a century. Society’s development is intrinsically linked to cars.

But I don’t have the same sensibilities as others in the industry. I’m more inclined towards cars like the [Citroen] 2CV, the Mehari and the Volkswagen Kombi microvan; there are aspects of these cars that are intelligent but not decadent.

What influenced the ME.WE’s creation?
To be modern today we have to consider three things: personal fulfillment, accessibility and environmental issues.

For personal fulfillment I decided upon the comfortable seats. Sure, they’re elegant and ecological, but they’re also competent. Usage is key. The second issue is accessibility. We can no longer socially segregate. Segmentation, fine, in terms of materials and finish, but quality needs to be made available to everyone. And third, the environmental issues: We can no longer afford to be in this quantitative growth phase that’s created the artificial ‘consumption will make you happy’ idiom. This does not solve problems it creates them.

I think today is a prime time – because the crisis is beginning to affect everyone – to have another growth that is necessary for the human race, a qualitative growth – something that is right for our life prospects, right for our economic model and right for our environmental issues.

How did you reflect Toyota’s brand philosophy in this concept?
Toyota’s philosophy is to build products of quality that are popular and accessible. It’s a company that had the courage to launch the hybrid when no one else in the industry was willing to take the gamble. It’s pragmatic and dealing with progressive issues. Toyota’s values are to be popular, make quality accessible and to be innovative.

What do you do when you’re not working?
The border between work and leisure doesn’t really exist for me. I’m always fantasizing about something. I do a lot of sailing and windsurfing, which is why I moved to the south. I do some parasailing, skiing. And these experiences nourish my projects.

You’d think that the ME.WE was created for leisure, because it’s a fresher and more pleasant experience than a conventional car. It fits with boating and my other pastimes. And I wanted to convey this experience of relaxation and cruising.

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