Very, very lean machine: Toyota ME.WE Concept is an electric ‘anti-excess’ vehicle

What is the essence of a car? That’s what Toyota and French designer Jean-Marie Massaud tried to find out with the ME.WE, an “anti-excess” car that will debut in Paris later this week.

Apparently, most of what we think makes a car desirable is excessive. Like styling: the ME.WE’s body panels are fully recyclable and reconfigurable, but the car looks like a Little Tykes coupe covered in packing materials. Still, the anti-shiny matte black look is also in right now…

Those reconfigurable body panels do allow owners to change the color of their cars, though. Weirdly, they can also change the texture. A quilted pattern or a porous one that resembles a sponge are just some of the options.

The ME.WE is almost as small as a children’s toy, too. At 135 inches long, it’s like a four-door Scion iQ. At just 1,653 pounds, it’s also very light.

Underneath the minimalist styling is a tubular aluminum chassis. The bodywork on top of it can be moved around to make the ME.WE into a pickup trucklet – or a convertible.

The strangeness isn’t limited to the ME.WE’s exterior. The dashboard is partially made out of bamboo and instead of instruments, there is a do-it-all screen that displays vital information and interfaces with smartphones to stream directions.

The ME.WE is powered by four in-wheel electric motors, making it one of the smallest all-wheel drive cars in existence. Feeding the motors is a lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the floor.

The ME.WE may look like a joke, but it brings up an interesting point: Many of the things we view as desirable in a car, such as styling, an interior lavished with tech and high-performance engines, aren’t really essential in getting us from Point A to Point B.

That’s because cars have become so much more than mere transportation appliances; they’re marvels of engineering that can, and should, be enjoyed for their own sake. Seeing one that’s been stripped down to that essential function is just plain unsatisfying.

What do you think? Not enough car – or just what the world needs? Tell us in the comments.