In 1904, Torao Yamaha produced Japan’s first domestically manufactured vehicle, a bus. It was steam powered and probably could turn into a mech suit. Soon after, in 1907, Komanosuke Uchiyama made Japan’s first gasoline engine car, called the Tokuri. By 1911, Japan had its very own car company, which eventually became Nissan Motors (I’m guessing you’ve heard of it).
Since then, Japan’s come a long way in the car making biz. Toyota has the most successful hybrid car on the market (seriously, like every other car I see nowadays is a Prius), Honda is well known for its good, reliable and smartly engineered cars, Nissan is paving the way in electric cars (I’m looking at you, Leaf), and Subaru is all nice and 4-wheel-drivey or something like that. All-in-all, Japan’s doing pretty well with the whole car thing and I only see Korea catching up to them in the somewhat near future.
Despite this, they’re not just sitting on their couches made of yen. All the Japanese car manufacturers have been coming up with concept cars. Cars of the FUTURE. While we may not see these cars anytime soon (or at all), I sure wouldn’t mind if I could jump into one of these sooner rather than later. Let’s take a look at the futtturrreee.
Modern Japanese Concept Cars
The cool thing about modern / recent concept cars is that there’s still the possibility of them showing up in the real world. They haven’t been forgotten or stashed away. There’s still that hope that one day you will be hitting the road in a sideways driving pivo or attracting aliens in your Mazda Kiyora. These are my favorite modern Japanese concept cars. Older cars your thing? Skip to the second half.
You can always count on Nissan to make a lot of weird looking concept cars. Out of all the car manufacturers, they’re the ones who consistently come up with the strangest ideas, and I gotta say, I like some of them. Like the Nuvu, for example.
The Nuvu is an electric car that runs on Lithium Ion batteries. On this battery, it can travel about 80 miles, which doesn’t seem too bad considering how small it is.
I really like the shape of this car for some reason. Seems like it gives the interior a lot more space despite being a really tiny car. It seats three people (comfortably 2), and has a nice pillar on the inside for some reason. I guess it’s supposed to be kind of like a tree? Or maybe an electricity whirlpool? You decide.
This concept was debuted in 2008, and I can definitely see some of its inspiration on the Nissan Leaf. Perhaps the leaf-shaped solar cells all over the roof was a bit of Leaf foreshadowing? I can only assume so. Still, I’d rather have one of these (with the Leaf’s travel distance, though, please). I like that pillar in the middle. Seems nice to hold on to while someone’s blazing down the freeway at this car’s 75mph max speed. VRrooom!
Can you guess what inspired this car’s design? Turns out it’s water. You can see how flowy it is (though I’m sure they’d recommend you don’t drive it into the ocean anytime soon).
Depending on how you read this, 清ら (きよら) means “elegant beauty” and the kanji itself, 清 means “clean/pure.” Either way, I think both make sense. Japan’s automakers are into an eco-friendly car future and Mazda’s the same. Personally, though, I’d be more into this car if it was a little bigger. Right now it feels a bit too small.
I remember seeing this car 5-6 years ago in Tokyo (on display somewhere, can’t remember where). Sure, it may look ridiculous, but did you know its wheels can turn sideways, completely destroying the need to parallel park? WHAT? You’d see a lot more teenagers passing their driving test if this car was mainstream, I think.
The inside is pretty interesting too. Completely changes how people normally think of the inside of a car. But did you know the wheels aren’t the only thing that can turn? The entire top carriage can rotate 180 degrees, meaning that you’ll never have to back out of a parking space again.
And, lastly, do you see that little robot in the dash? He talks to you and “keeps you company,” according to Nissan. How sweet… until he turns EVIL, of course. I’ll stick with my non-sentient car, thank you very much.
Honda FC Sport
I’m a big fan of Honda. I’ve owned two Hondas in my 9-year driving career, but after looking up their concept cars, I’m starting to feel a little old fashioned.
The Honda FC Sport is a concept hydrogen fuel cell car that doesn’t actually work. Really, it just looks pretty and sits around at auto shows, but does have some interesting things about it.
Since it’s hydrogen powered (or supposed to be), designers got to rethink the engine and how the entire car works, meaning they can put things in different places, add more space for other things, and really just do whatever they want. Although I doubt that hydrogen fuel cell technology is anywhere near ready for the masses, I’m hoping to see more of this kind of tech in the future.
“Hello Mr. Bond. Nice car you have there…” Except you probably won’t see Bond driving a Toyota anytime soon. The CS&S for this car actually stands for “Compact Sports and Specialty” and uses the setup that powers the popular Prius.
If you look really closely, though, I would say that the bottom 2/3rds of this car resembles a lot of modern Toyota cars. This concept was shown in 2003, so there’s been a lot of time to steal bits and pieces from it. To be honest, though, I kind of like it. I don’t think I’d buy one, but I wouldn’t mind pretending I was interested so I could take a test-drive.
Honda “Small Hybrid Sports”
The whole idea behind this concept car reminds me of what Tesla’s trying to do, although this one’s a hybrid and not an electric car. Honda wanted to make a small sporty hybrid that isn’t boring to drive. Despite all the good intentions, though, it looks like Honda won’t be manufacturing this car. Sorry eco-friendly dudes looking to pick up some eco-friendly chicks, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Ever have that problem where you pick someone up from somewhere, then go to turn your head to look back, only to find that you no longer have a neck? This concept car solves that problem immaculately. The outside, while unique, isn’t all that strange. It’s the inside that makes this concept car great.
Actually, though, this minivan probably has children more in mind than anything else. There’s cameras that send a video feed of the backseat to overly suspicious parents (who obviously don’t care about not being distracted while driving their children around), entertainment systems for every seat, and swiveling middle chairs (RV, anyone?). This is about as fancy as it gets, soccer moms, so keep your eyes peeled for this car or Nissan vans that borrow tech from this car sometime in the future.
Weighing in at 420kg, the Toyota 1/X is approximately half the weight of a Toyota Yaris (already a small car). Why? Because this car is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic. It’s a plugin hybrid that gets double the fuel efficiency because it’s half the weight. I guess that’s one way to do it, though I’m wondering how safe it is.
You probably won’t have to figure that out, though, because this car won’t be coming to the real world anytime soon (or ever). I wonder if we will see some carbon fiber cars though. Sounds interesting, though probably not something I’d want to have in America, where all cars are at least 23 times heavier than this one.
The P-Nut (Personal Neo Urban Transport) reminds me of the Kiyora a bit. This Honda-designed concept was made to have a small eco-footprint and have great visibility (presumably to see all the trees you’re saving). The seats, as you can see, are also pretty interesting. The driver is in the middle at the front and the passengers are to the sides and back of the driver, meaning it seats three (but pretty comfortably). This car sort of reminds me of the Honda Fit, one of Hondas most popular models (if not the most popular right now). I like how the glass covers everything, though I imagine it’s a pain when they get dirty. Where are the windshield wipers??
In America, our buses are terrible. I hate them, lot. In fact, around most of the world, bus innovation has been lacking. So, it’s good to see Isuzu (which tends to do more big vehicle stuff, like trucks, buses, and so on) messing around with something like this. Although I’m not sure what they were thinking on this one (someone tell me, is this aerodynamic?) I like that it looks like some kind of robot bug from the future, so I’d get on / be eaten by one if I had the chance.
Nissan Land Glider
The Land Glider is a fully electric vehicle that… wait for it… leans into turns (kind of like a motorcycle). It’s meant to be driven around the city (so, maybe for your second car) and is full of futuristic insides. For example, the steering wheel isn’t actually attached to your wheels in any way (except via computers and wires). The Land Glider holds one person and is incredibly narrow.
If these started hitting the market I wonder how often you’d see people passing other cars by riding the lines on the road. I hate it when motorcyclists to that, freaks me out.
Whatever happens, I love this car’s interior. It’s like you get to drive a small, eco-friendly fighter jet around town. I don’t think I could stop making pew pew noises any time I drove this thing. Pew pew pew!
Japanese Concept Cars Of The Not-So-Distant Past
Although these modern concept cars and neat and all, there have been some really cool cars by these very same Japanese car manufacturers done a long time ago as well. In order to see where all this modern design came from, we have to look at some of the older stuff. Which era is more practical, I wonder? Here are some of my favorites.
Toyota EX-II (1969)
The EX-I was more of a normal car. This was it’s tiny, slower, electric powered little brother. I like how the little circular windows, though I don’t think I could handle how low to the ground it is.
Nissan Boga (1989)
The Boga was designed based off regular cars from the eighties, but tried to maximize interior space (and it shows). The doors would close automatically and the ventilation system was solar powered. To be honest, this is more advanced than most cars being released today, and I kind of like the design, despite how weird it is.
Mazda London Taxi (1993)
This was made with the Royal College of Art in London. It’s a taxi with only a single passenger seat because it was assuming that eventually London would create restrictions around being able to drive normal (bigger) cars. Although it’s hard to tell from this image, I’m guessing this car was tiny.
Honda Fuya-Jo (1999)
Isn’t 1999 a little too modern for a car like this? Fuya-Jo means “Sleepless City” – can you guess what type of person this car was targeting? That’s right, the party animal. It’s all about the excitement of the nightlife with this car… maybe? The dashboard resembles a DJ’s mixing desk and the steering wheel looks like a turntable. If a car like this doesn’t make you cool, I’m not sure what will.
Although tall, this car is low to the ground and is supposed to give youth the feeling of riding a skateboard, or something like that (so, I guess I’d be falling off this car all the time?). Despite the weird looks of this car and the turntable steering wheel, I kind of see where Honda was coming from on this one. Although this concept car was a big flop, you can see a lot of the good elements of the Fuya-Jo showing up in Totota’s Scion line. Boxy, low to the ground, square-shaped… I guess artists steal, right?
Toyota RV-2 (1972)
The RV-1? That’s so old school. The RV-2 is where the fun is at. Part sports car, part RV, and part transformer, this concept was attempting to capitalize on the popularity of campers. Just open up the back part and connect the pieces with (hopefully waterproof) fabric, and you’ve got yourself an RV… well, kind of.
For me, I’d just be too embarrassed to transform my car. I’ll just pack a tent in my trunk, thank you very much.
The Future Of Cars
It’s kind of interesting to look at all these concept cars and compare them to what actually happened. There’s a lot of bits and pieces taken from even the wackiest of cars, so you can’t discredit them totally.
It’s pretty obvious that Japanese cars are really heading towards even more eco-friendly vehicles. Totally electric is going to be the future, and I think we’ll see a lot of cars that only house one or two (or three, in several cases) people as well.
I’m also hoping for some drastic changes in car design. Cars are kind of boring, you know? Luckily, I think we’re starting to see a shift towards beauty in design rather than trying to make cars faster or more sleek or something else. Even the Prius was a big change back in the day, though now it’s pretty standard. New cars, like the Leaf, FJ-Cruiser, and plenty of cars you only see Japan are also quite different from normal car design standards, though I’d like to see more. I think if we can get out of the mindset of what a car looks like, we can come up with some pretty neat ideas. Not all of them will work, but I guess that’s why you have concept cars, ammiright?
So, what car was your favorite? Would you be caught dead driving any of these cars? For me, I think I like the P-Nut the best, though the Nissan Glide would be a sweet second-car.
Did you know that there are way more Japanese concept cars than this? Like, a lot more. Check out Pink Tentacle and Japanese Concept Cars for way more. The ones above are just my favorites (and hopefully yours too?).