Trimming The Edges Of Reason

Let’s go back to 1999 right now. We will refresh our memories about the Isuzu KAI.

1999 Isuzu KAI: source

Isuzu ran a concept design studio in the UK, led by designer Simon Cox. Among the products of the studio was the Vehi-Cross (1997-2001). For the Kai Isuzu used very different form language, though one in keeping with the geometrical themes manifest most obviously in the Mk1 Ford Focus. If the surfacing and detailing are very 1999, the package is very now. Think of the BMW GT5 or Mercedes GLC. There is an arcing roofline and a raised chassis. It’s a hatchback on stilts in very simple terms.

1999 Isuzu KAI: source

Technicalesque describes the detailing such as the delicate panels on the front bumper, the neatly inset lamps and the way the leading edge of the front door seems to form the trailing edge of the front wheel arch cut-out.

1999 Isuzu KAI: source

And at the rear, the trailing edge of the door has the same relationship to the wheel arch. The result is to eliminate the non-moving sheet metal areas that usually sit between the door apertures and the wheel-arch. It’s extremely Modernist in its character. An interesting point is the way the arch of the roof flows down to meet the large rear lamp. There was perhaps a slight loss of nerve here as there remains a small neck of sheet metal between the bodyside and the roof arch. That could have been eliminated with the lamp concealing the weld.

2000 Renault Koleos concept car: source

The 2000 Koleos, another of Renault’s wasted concept cars, allows the roof arch to rest upon a fine point where the side glass and rear screen almost meet. The point forms the intersection of two arcs, seemingly mirrored along the base of the DLO. Did Renault learn a little from the detail of the Kai?

Only two elements on the Kai look decorative: the small flares of the wheel arches. They may very well have some relief to them but they are quite shallow. If they are geometric they don’t look it but there is a faint commonality of form with the blunt curve of the bonnet line. Note though that the window to bonnet line angle is quite sharp, with the A-pillar stopping well back from the front wheel whereas Renault went for a more cab-forward look: Renault, after all, are kings of the monospace.

I don’t know why has the only images of the Kai interior but I don’t feel like linking to their site. Instead we have to make do with this:

1999 Isuzu Kai interior: source

The interior is not the best part of the car: it’s got too many small pieces and lacks the robustness of the exterior. What seemed acceptable on the outside looks fragile and disorganised on the inside.

This and a few other concept cars were a late flowering of Isuzu, an attempt to redefine their passenger cars. It didn’t pay off as gradually after 2000 Isuzu discontinued their cars to concentrate on busses and vans. If only they’d had hung about they could have taken advantage of the CUV trend which they were well positioned to exploit.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “Trimming The Edges Of Reason”

  1. I’d been complete unaware of the KAI – so thanks for pointing this one out, Richard!

  2. Linking back to yesterday’s article a little bit, the exterior of the KAI has strong hints of the much earlier BL ECV3.

    I recall liking quite a lot of Simon Cox’s work (didn’t he go to Cadillac at one point?). I wonder where he is now?

    1. He went to Infiniti and then freelance at some point, it would appear.

      My impression is that Cox is a bit like Enrico Fumia in that his creativity is concentrated on a particular form language that eventually went out of favour with the public and/or industry. His work for Isuzu and Cadillac was truly striking and original, but like Fumia’s graphical designs of the ’80s and early ’90s, aged rather quickly. Both designers’ bodies of work are due a reappraisal though, once they are seen as a nostalgic statements, rather than dated forms. In Fumia’s case, this process has already started.

  3. It is a shame GM did not really allow Isuzu to capitalize on the popularity of Japanese performance cars during the 1990s, it seems they were quite capable of developing performance cars to potentially rival the likes of Mitsubishi, Subaru and Honda. What with the Isuzu 4200R and the all-alloy 240+ hp 3.5 Quad-Cam 32v V8 that GM commissioned Isuzu to develop for a more potent version of the Chevrolet Beretta known as the Chevrolet Feretta.

    1. Admirable as the 4200R is, that car did not belong in the Isuzu range. More feasible was allowing Cox´s designs into production. The Vehi-Cross was a fascinating vehicle and the qualities that made it so good were easily transferrable to more butter and bread products. Isuzu could thus have challenged Subaru for making useful, robust cars and they´d have been better looking too, real engineer´s cars I would call them though of course, nicer to gaze at than an engineer would allow.

    2. The 4200R’s purpose would be as a halo car, whether it would have remained in production for the rest of the 90s would be dependent on how Isuzu would have gone about establishing a wide range of cars.

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