Imagine a thrilling Toyota Corolla. It existed, under another name.
In order to get any doubts out of the way this article is about the 2001-2004 WiLL Vs which Toyota designed, produced and marketed under the Will brand name. In order to clarify somewhat, various Japanese companies cooperated to sell their products through a channel aimed at younger buyers and they named this umbrella brand “WiLL“. As well as the cars, the Will brand covered beer, stationary, tourism, sweets and consumer electonics. Wouldn’t you love to have heard the rationale for that project? It lasted from 1999 to 2004.
We must again recall that Toyota in Japan has not one but possibly three sales channels; the Vista Store channel dealt with the WiLL cars. The WiLL VS came out of the gates after the very short lived WiLL Vi, the one that looked a bit like a Citroen 2CV. That had a mayfly existence of a little over a year. The WiLL VS, based on the Corolla (see the opening paragraph, above) managed three years and made two with three petrol L4 engines of 1.5 and 1.8 litres capacity (there were two 1.8 litre engines).
I came across this car in a book about exemplary Japanese product design – I seem to stumble over these books more than corresponding books from Germany, the UK or America, for some reason.
Not unlike the Mk2 Renault Megane, the best and most distinctive view of the Will is the rear: that turret-like upper body and probably very restrictive rear screen lend the car a lot more drama than the corresponding Toyota Corolla.
I get the feeling that the WiLL VS’ wheel arches would not have been like that were it not for the bravery shown by Ford with the 1998 Focus. The WiLL VS is another demonstration of the occasional flashes of bravery demonstrated by Toyota who have the financial reserves to have a go at something like this and not worry too much if it does not return a lot of money to the bank.
Would it be asking too much for VAG or Renault to try something a little more not-on-the-wall more often? Actually, Renault offered the Spider towards the turn of the century and now sell the Alpine A110 so maybe I am barking up the wrong tree with Renault. Okay, so PSA and Ford might try something like this. And if I am going to quibble, Renault has not risked much with a slow-selling low-volume sportscar.
What would be genuinely interesting would be a niche nobody has thought of or variant in a very well-known niche: imagine a Ford Focus-derived sportsvan with truly zany show car styling or maybe something from Chevrolet that has no known purpose but which is immense fun to look at.
What is so fascinating about the Japanese is their uncanny mix of high-seriousness (think of the best product design, those dangerous chef’s knives) and humorous wierdness, most recently Kit Kats in limited editions and the Pikes cars of the 90s. I do wish European car design would wake up.