Why does Tokyo have far-wackier concepts than any other show, even Paris? In part, it's because the city is its own crowded planet, one in which designers are challenged to maximize interior space within a small exterior. Many of these cars and tiny vans are designed as rolling apartments for young adults who can't afford to move away from their parents. Add this distinct culture's obsession with gadgets and trends and strict government mandates that encourage small-displacement engines and you have a creative atmosphere much different than in North America or Europe. Here's one more reason: this is Japan letting loose, its stylists allowed to go far beyond designing what is useful and practical. It's art for art's sake, and it's not much different than the Detroit dream cars of the socially repressed 1950s.
Herein, the wackiest from the 35th Tokyo Motor Show, ending with our picks for the most outrageous designs of all.
A modern interpretation of the early-'80s Honda City turbo, a home-market mini that included a foldable scooter in its hatch, the Bulldog SUV features a 1.5L IMA hybrid drive system and in back, two fold-up electric motorcycles that recharge off the car. The cycles' seats also become the car's rear seats. Laugh now, but next time you have an 18-block walk from a downtown parking garage, it might begin to make sense.
Stands for "What is a Car?" Featuring a simply styled exterior with a "minimalist" interior designed to feel like home, this Crate & Barrel catalog-on-wheels answers its own question in two words: "Not this."
Winner, best name in show. Take a commercial stepvan and replace a side panel with glass, and this truck is your mobile recording studio. At 75 inches tall, it also accepts a large reflector telescope. Or, you can stow up to three kayaks and ancillary equipment. See, there's no end to what you can do with Funkybox.
It looks like a Renault on the outside, but inside, front seats stow away to cover the dash and rear seats fold under the floor, transforming Z-E-N into a Japanese living room. Reversible straw/bamboo matting covers the floor and the lower panel of the tailgate slides and lifts up like a Japanese paper door, revealing an outdoor view. Can you say "feng shui?"
If you think the PT Cruiser looks like a "gangster car," check out the three porthole windows in the Hideaway's landau-style C-pillar. Powered by an 1.3L I-4, the Mazda features an engine starter button, pushbutton automatic transmission, and freestyle seating within an interior that focuses on individual details and personalized components. And it's only the third-wackiest in our book!
The slug-shaped antithesis to George Jetson's car-in-a-suitcase, this concept adapts living room design to a luxury coach. Open the "suicide" doors and storage units fold out of the interior door linings. Shelves and immense storage bins turn the four-seater into a roomy den with generous armrests. It has power-swiveling front buckets, flat floor, and integrated computer with keyboard. The drive-by-wire steering wheel can be placed left or right, and it folds into the dash with the instrument panel when parked. The daring design portends of a future production model, likely for 2004.
Another telematics-enhanced car, its roof pattern resembles a net (Internet -- get it?). The interior features tiny cameras and Web connections galore. Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn says it's "in a sense, a mouse that you do not control by your fingertips, but with a steering wheel in the environment around you." Er, okay.
The crazy offspring of last-decade's Nissan Ghobi pickup, Nails is an urban-style truck, straight outta "Blade Runner." The rear window is a split roll-up plastic curtain, but the interior is high-tech, with all the latest telematics.
"Make it unique!" was this GM partner's show theme, and the Covie sure tries. Powered by a GM-based hydrogen fuel cell electric motor that "interacts" with household appliances, the orange egg "expresses healthy enjoyment and brightness in everyday life." Why not?
That's French for "rabbit," as if the rabbit-ear grille badge isn't a dead giveaway. Bathed in green, white, and silver and featuring a cool clear acrylic steering wheel, the wascally Suzuki looks like a gallon of sherbet in a square box.
Stands for "Dual Mode Traveler." This 191-inch-long, nearly 80-inch-tall van's two modes are "drive mode," which emphasizes the modern, electronic gizmo-encrusted two-seat driving space, and "stay mode," which features a beautifully finished camper area in back fitted with gear that looks like Hammacher Schlemmer meets L.L. Bean. Nice idea, too bad about the nose.
Hidden in a darkened cave within Toyota's display, this sports car concept features the 4.3L V-8 and a chrome-laden interior that looks like an update of the GM LeSabre show car's. FXS stands for "future experimental sports," and represents "the soul of Toyota." Nice idea, too bad about the nose.
"Take fun to the max!" was Honda's theme, and that doesn't even begin to describe this 4-cyl. IMA hybrid-powered, self-contained SEMA show. Unibox's clear body panels are for painting on, or they can be replaced with panels of other materials and textures. Seats in this six-wheeled box can be rearranged around the flat floor. Steering is by joystick, and like many of the concepts here, the leather-and-wood accented interior is filled with cameras, a nav system, TV, and other electronic goodies. Two fold-up electric cycles, the Mobimoba and the Caixa, fit behind the module panels, and there's room for a nav-equipped shopping cart in the cargo space, all charged by the on-board generator.
Not enough passion in your Camry? Sony teamed up with Toyota to design the Pod, a car that can read your emotions and account for them. Its two headlights have eyelids and tears, and the u-shaped LEDs on the panel between them change color to represent "happy," "sleepy," "sad," and "angry." Inside, four tall chairs swivel to "welcome," "communication," and "drive" modes and a handheld Sony device determines your mood and adjusts the car's attitude accordingly, by selecting the interior lighting and music. It gets better: just below the backlight of this motorized mood ring, which looks like a big four-door BMW Isetta, is a tail that wags at you when you're ready to drive, or wags at other motorists when you pass. Makes the Begin Funkybox look downright subtle, doesn't it?