The DMT Concept was Toyota’s idea of van life and remote work back in 2001

Suddenly relevant 20 years later...
by Sam Burnett | Dec 5, 2021
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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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What is this practical-looking thing?

This is the Toyota DMT concept, which was unveiled at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, where the slogan was ‘Open the Door! The Automobile’s Bright Future.’ We think it might be one of those things where the meaning evaporates in translation. That year’s Tokyo event also saw debuts for the Daihatsu Copen and the Mazda RX-8.

What does DMT mean?

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Something-something-tomato, isn’t it? Wait, we’ll look it up. Oh, right. It’s the Dual Mode Traveler, which sounds like one of those suitcases you see adverts for on the Internet. The ‘dual mode’ in the name was a reference to the hybrid nature of the van, because while it was all conventional up front, in the back, it was designed to be a versatile space for owners to take advantage of.

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What was the DMT concept actually for?

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The car that Toyota showed off at the 2001 Tokyo event had an office set up in the back of it—from what we can see, a well-read administrator with a taste for repurposing Ikea furniture. It was intended to be an adaptable space, however, with the potential only limited by the owner’s imagination and budget. There was a partition between the front cabin and the rear space, but a door opened up and there was a step into the back. A home office away from home, if you will.

What was under the hood?

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There weren’t many details about the setup under the hood, but we do know that the DMT was powered by a 2.4-liter gasoline engine that also saw action in the RAV4 and Previa models around the same time. If the DMT had gone into production, though, it would surely have been ripe for one of the Japanese carmaker’s hybrid powertrains...

What was the DMT like inside?

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The DMT was very airy up front, with none of the usual oppressive space restrictions you associate with being stuck in the cabin of a working van. Light wood surfaces, crazy-looking chairs with headrests apparently inspired by toilet rolls...the dashboard controls looked like they were modeled on the iPod (if you’re too young to remember, this was a stylish portable music player designed by Apple), and the full-width instrument panel in front of the windshield glowed an enticing blue.

Any crazy concept-car touches?

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Aside from the notion that anyone would be excited about cramming their home office into the back of a van, the Toyota DMT was remarkably free of concept-car madness. Sticking a crazy set of 23-inch wheels on instead of those sad little things wouldn’t have killed them. From the outside, the DMT did have the look of a car that had a van land on top of it and then they just welded them together. The only concept-car whimsy was perhaps the refreshingly pointless folding hardtop sunroof.

Speaking of crazy concepts, though, wouldn’t the DMT be just the thing now to solve the housing crisis? Imagine rows and rows of them parked in those supermarket bays at the back that no one ever uses. Conveniently located public housing for thousands of people. No need to thank us, the government.

I couldn’t think of anything worse than living in a van.

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Sure, our plan to house people in endless thousands of DMTs would probably evoke a strong reaction. “Hellishly depressing” and “no way to live” are strong sentences to throw around, but we think you’d get used to your new way of life quickly enough. Worried about the lack of space? Park your new starter home near a park. You can stroll around and feed the ducks to your heart’s content. Though watch out after dark, we hear it gets a bit dicey.

Why didn’t the Toyota DMT go into production?

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The problem is that the world needs more visionaries like us around—Top Gear has long proven itself adept at challenging the perceived norms of modern mobility, and this is no exception. Of course, Toyota still makes vans, and they’re basically all the same, aren’t they? Steering wheel, large space in the back. Not a problem, though—even more vans that could be turned into houses.

NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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