Security is tight at Toyota’s design studio in Port Melbourne. It needs to be: the sleek and seductive designs conceived at Toyota Style Australia are not for prying eyes. With the long lead times of car design and the intensely competitive nature of the global automotive industries, protecting against leaks of images and information, is something that Toyota takes very seriously.
Once past security with my ID tag attached, Nick Hogios ushers me into, if not the inner-sanctum, then a meeting room close by. We pass a scale model of a sleek, sensuously-lined car. Perhaps later I can get a photo of Nick beside it, I suggest. Nick lets me down gently: “That one’s not for public consumption just yet.” Nick joined Toyota Australia in 2002.
This quiet achiever rose through the ranks to become Manager of Design three years ago. He now leads a studio that has become a significant part of the Toyota machine, designing state-of-the-art vehicles for the domestic and burgeoning Asia Pacific market.
Nick was born in Sydney in 1974. His father Stelios arrived in Australia as a teenager, from a village near Argos in the Peloponnese. Anna, his mother, was born in Egypt, her parents were originally from Kastellorizo and Symi, migrating with her family as an infant. They set up home in Sydney’s Paddington, then Brighton Le Sands (where Nick was born) before settling in the Sutherland Shire, “which back then, wasn’t very European,” says Nick, “they paved the way.” “Dad had cafes at first and then worked in the building industry.” Nick speaks of his family’s experience as, “a typical story”, counting himself, “very fortunate that my parents were extremely hard-working. They encouraged my brother Basil and I to do what we wanted to do.”
Basil went on to study architecture, but would later give up the profession for music, becoming an award-winning composer and sound designer. Attending the local public schools, Nick’s own creative passion for design, surfaced early.
“I’ve been drawing since I was six. Some people are inspired by buildings, but for me it was the motion of a car and the promise that every year there would be a new one that came out that looked even more futuristic. I guess I’ve always been a future-thinking person.”
Having made the connection between his passion for drawing, and the technical processes of industrial design, Nick bumped up his sciences from Year 9, firmly focused on pursuing a higher education course that would lead to his chosen profession. In 1992, he enrolled at the University of New South Wales to study Industrial Design.
Four years later, he had duxed his year and graduated with Class 1 Honours. After uni, Nick freelanced, before winning the Young Designer of the Year award in a competition organised by Ford Australia and Wheels magazine. His winning entry was a design for a Falcon in 2020, “which seemed so far into the future back then,” says Nick, who was then invited to join Ford as a junior designer in Melbourne.
Promotion to a senior designer position followed two years later. In 2002, Toyota realised a long held ambition to create a design studio in Australia, that would not only interpret the company’s design vision for the domestic market, but in time, the wider region. Nick was in the right place at the right time.
“I always had a desire to work for a Japanese company. Japan has come up with amazing ideas and products,” says Nick, “though it was as a massive culture shock.” “Toyota has a very specific culture, a set of rules almost, called ‘the Toyota way’, and you live by that, you’re trained in that, and have to practice it. It’s a very powerful tool.”
With two design studios in the United States, one in Europe, and a number in Japan, Toyota’s only Australian design facility has increasingly focused on Asia. “We’ve just completed a major facelift on the Fortuner model for the Asian market that took about two years. They’re very pleased. Early sales are up significantly. The new design gave it a much more premium, fresh and strong feel.”
“It’s anything and everything – the Fortuner is an SUV, the Aurion, sold as a Camry in Asia, is a saloon, so we go right across the range,” says Nick. “A full model change from first pencil sketch to production is about four years, sometimes it can be shorter”.
And what of the design process itself, I ask. How do you begin designing a world-beating car? “As a rule of thumb, proportion is number one, how it’s proportioned out is extremely important, if it’s not proportioned correctly the car’s not going to be right, no matter what follows.”
“We get information from planning teams, we get engineering ‘hard points’ and we get the chief engineer’s vision. Then it’s our job to put all those things together and propose designs.” “People often say ‘you must know so much about aerodynamics’ and the truth is we don’t. We have people who provide us with that information. We’re dedicated to making the cars look as desirable as possible for the intended demographic.”
As Nick describes the workflow that comes together to create some of the world’s most popular automobiles, there’s an almost evangelical impetus to Nick’s mission as a designer. “I love exotic sports cars, but to me being able to design a more mass-market car that is driven by thousands upon thousands of people, and seeing them use it and enjoy it, is the most satisfying part of the job.”
“Good design has to be global now, it’s in the nuances of the design, where you can tailor it to certain markets, and that’s an interesting challenge,” says Nick, who ends our conversation with a telling and very appropriate remark. “One of the most powerful notions Toyota holds dear is called Kaizen, which means ‘continuous improvement’. It doesn’t matter how good you did it last time, you have to continue to improve.” But meeting the next challenge and seeking improvement is nothing new for this driven designer. Evidently, the Toyota way is Nick Hogios’ way.