Amid a landscape characterised by an unremitting and frankly repugnant aggression within mainstream European car design, thank heavens for the Japanese.
September’s IAA motor show at Frankfurt was as dispiriting a illustration of an industry adrift as one could realistically hope not to witness. (Thankfully, I didn’t). Whether it was the remote and soulless autonomous concepts, (step forward Audi), the endless parade of evermore vulgar and over-wrought SUVs, or the even more depressingly torpid production offerings, Frankfurt was (with one or two exceptions) something of a bore.
Better things are to be expected from that beacon of light in the far East. The biannual Japanese motor show is taking place in Tokyo later this month and from the teasers and pre-announcements that have so far entered our collective consciousness, it’s shaping up to be something of a treat for the senses. Now it’s fair to say that our Japanese friends are unfailing in providing an array of the fanciful, the outlandish and the altogether bonkers, but latterly the whimsy appears to be tempered by a newfound realism. But either way, one word can summarise the Japanese industry’s show car output: Joyful.
For a nation as bound by quite rigid mores of decorum, manners and social etiquette, no one on earth does ‘Fun’ quite like the Japanese. And amongst the Japanese marques, no one does it quite like Daihatsu. Even their more dementedly outré proposals have been in their own way delightful. Sadly missing from European shores now, the Toyota-controlled small car specialist has prepared five concepts for this year’s Tokyo show and frankly, not a dud amongst them.
I shall leave it to others to debate the merits or otherwise of the vehicles herein appended, but I will admit to being charmed. Now it would be fair and balanced to point out that Diahatsu hasn’t been all that successful in taking their innumerable promising concepts into production, at least not without a good deal of often regrettable dilution. I won’t dispute that. But maybe it’s not as much their fault as ours. It’s comparatively easy for the likes of us here to sit amidst our lofty DTW eyrie throwing cherry blossoms, but are they going to stay in business by warm words alone? Like hell.
The car buying public are a fickle lot and seeing as they have successfully been sold a line on arming themselves against a world increasingly perceived as perilous and threatening, their purchasing decisions merely reflect the weaponised, fortified and moated zeitgeist, complete with castellations and tiny slit windows. Safely cocooned, neither they, nor the industry that serves them are looking outwards anymore.
But imagine if you will a motoring landscape populated with bright, cheerful unthreatening vehicles such as these. Wouldn’t motoring be a more pleasant activity if you could see out and actually make eye contact with your fellow motorists? Who could possibly be aggressive towards something as cheerful and optimistic looking as these vehicles? And frankly, if autonomy is to be our eventual goal, manufacturers will need to offer something a good deal more warm-hearted than snarling visages or cold dystopian sci-fi vistas.
The motor industry has these and many other questions to answer in the present febrile climate but to my eyes, the only car making nation currently showing even the slightest inkling of having a clue are the Japanese.
All hail the rising sun…