Would They, Could They?

Imagine a thrilling Toyota Corolla. It existed, under another name.

2001 Will Vs: source

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.

2001 Will Vs: source

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).


2002 Will Vs interior: source

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.

2001 Will Vs: source

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.

Name that car (source)

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.

Author: richard herriott

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

22 thoughts on “Would They, Could They?”

  1. PSA produced the Peugeot RCZ and 1007. Both were looking unusually and at least the 1007 was a crap car. Both also didn’t return too much money to the bank.
    VW had the Golf Cross Country and an EA147 ‘Fridolin’ might be old but should be exotic enough

  2. The gear selection lever looks odd, but if you hold an object naturally in a light grip in that downward position it pretty much corresponds exactly with that angle (similar to the handlebar on a Honda VFR as it happens). Thus it must be that all those 90 degree contraptions we have seen for years are the ones that are wrong?

    I am reminded of the indicator controls on the Citroen CX; was this the last car made designed for the way humans naturally are, rather than exploiting our flexibility to adapt to strange shapes?

    1. Yes, several Japanese models, and specifically JDM ones, have the gears selected from a position unexpected. You find gearlevers protruding from the dash or from behind the wheel, often with the handle oriented in a somewhat unexpected but logical manner.
      Was the CX (and various other Citroens of that era) actually that logically laid out though? I haven’t driven a really odd Citroen but I think a common belief was the minor controls were odd for the sake of being odd. The BX and Visa spring to mind.

    2. DP: This apprehension was I believe driven for the most part by the good gentlemen of the press, who, much like the esteemed Mr. Vicar of this parish tended to disparage that which they could not understand. Once learned, the Citroen satellite layout was entirely logical and intuitive to operate – even the non-self-cancelling indicators became second nature very quickly indeed. I drove both CXs and BXs so equipped and apart from some initial acclimatisation, had no problems whatsoever.

    3. After seven years of driving CXs, I found it quite counterintuitive to operate indicators by lifting a stalk. I’d say that the major controls of the first CXs were pretty well thought through. I especially liked how you could honk and flash at the same time with your fingertips at the left and right extremities of the switch satellites. It felt like in a futuristic computer game.
      The problem is that they began to tamper with the layout afterwards, and with every new model the switches wandered to new places. I also found the feel of the switch action much more pleasant and crispy on the early CX than on the later one.

    4. I’m all for ergonomic controls, but the wiper stalk on my partner’s Mini F56 hatch still confuses me after driving it (intermittently) for five years. I thought that the near universal standard was one upward flick of the stalk for intermittent/rain sensing wiping, a second for slow wiping and a third for fast wiping, a downward flick for a single wipe, pull towards you for a wash/wipe, push away from you for a rear wash/wipe. The Mini, perversely, requires you instead to press the button on the end of the stalk for intermittent/rain sensing wiping. It’s counter-intuitive and annoying, and I have to think about it every time I drive the car in the rain.

      Glad I’ve got that off my chest…time for bed.

  3. That rear three-quarter view is great, but the front, although coherent with the rest of the design, is disappointingly generic. It’s a shame Toyota weren’t a bit more daring, given its target market.

    There’s a lot of Audi TT Mk1 in the wheelarches, wheels and tail lights:

    That’s rather ironic, as the Mk1 TT is the last really adventurous design produced by the VW Group. Perhaps electrification will provide an opportunity for something similarly bold? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, though.

  4. Very interesting to see this car – Daniel’s response was insightful (I would not have thought Audi TT and yet there it is, and I am now trying to disprove his theory about that car being the last interesting VW Group design – are we excluding that stunning low volume, low consumption car? (can’t find the name in my head)).

    I actually like the Corolla on which the featured car is based (at least pre-facelift where silly silk extensions and the like ruined it). It fitted in a range which included the original Yaris (big fan of that) and the original Avensis. They managed a family look without looking like clones of each other, which is unusual. I recall that Corolla also drove well and was well sized and practical. A case of unfairly overlooked?

    1. Hi S.V. The VW you’re thinking of is the XL1:

      Interesting, certainly, but I would discount it as too esoteric and not a mainstream offer. Any other suggestions? I can’t think of anything, other than the Beetle!

    2. I think XL1 is the name which you seek. I had the good fortune to sit in one once, though sadly that’s as close as I got.

  5. Is the Corolla you referred to the E110:

    Or the E120:

    I would assume the former as, stylistically, it ties in with the original Avensis and Yaris, but the latter is also a nicely resolved design. The Corolla has always been dismissed by most motoring journalists as automotive white goods, just mere transportation and nothing more, but Toyota has been more adventurous in design terms than VW ever has with the Golf.

    1. Lol, no it was the E120 version (I know, weird!) that I liked. The E110 came before the Yaris (from memory).

      That is the VW to which I was referring, a very lovely thing.

      I had thought Beetle too, but discounted it because, unlike the TT, it was just a pastiche of an original design. I could refer you to the Yeti and Roomster as ‘original’ VW Group designs, and the latter was definitely an original!

    2. Not at all weird: the E120 Corolla is a very tidy piece of work and reminds me of the Mk1 Fabia, a similarly well resolved design.

      Good call on the Yeti and Roomster, two genuinely innovative designs from a time when Skoda was allowed more creative freedom by its masters in Wolfsburg. The Karoq replacement for the Yeti is a perfectly ok car, but just another VW Group clone, while the Roomster was not replaced at all. There was a plan to replace it with an MPV version of the VW Caddy van, but that was canned at the end of 2015:

      It would have competed with those French van-based MPVs, but perhaps would have been too expensive, negating its point as a value proposition.

  6. Yes, that is a good-looking Corolla hatch, all right. Pity they didn’t export it.

    Of course in 2001, you couldn’t unload a hatch in North America if you tried. The Focus with the tail-lights up the hatch was not popular here if truth be told. Here’s what actually sold:

    Pretty ordinary as a saloon.

    And Corollas here, sold literally by the hundreds of thousands annually, were all saloons. Which begs the question – is the definitive Corolla in the mind’s eye of Toyota HQ at heart really a hatch or a saloon? The 2001 saloon looked like a real car:

    Then the gawky 2002 hit the market and the noddy car had arrived, updated now and then for a dozen years but selling strongly all the while:

    In 2010, the latest update was further fiddled with to provide us with the Lexus HS250. Since most people have reasonable pattern recognition skills except when buying 1960s BL products, the HS was sniffed out for the poseur it was. Considerable doubt was evinced as to whether it meant a mere Corolla had really been given a proper Lexus paint job, extra body welds and interior, so it didn’t sell well at the elevated prices asked:

    The Corolla saloon became the recipient of a giant maw sometime or other a year or two ago, nobody is interested enough to remember. It still sells in huge numbers to those terminally uninterested in cars. The 2019 beckons you:

    However! The 2019 lineup here now has a hatch! Goodness gracious me, and it has a Cyclops eye grille as well, but is otherwise pleasant. It’s already renowned for having a cargo room fully and completely capable of holding a couple of dozen letters, yesterday’s paper, and two Amazon mini-parcels behind the back seat. The new Mazda3 hatch has it in spades for cargo space over the Corolla. So they pitch the Corollas as”sporty”. Translated it means, travel light, but at least you won’t look like the doofus in a CH-R.

    Not my cup of tea, Corollas. But that 2001 WiLL hatch looks good. In fact it looks like the squarish antecedent of the latest Mazda3, which is going down like a lead balloon in sales around here. Mazda is struggling badly. Too bold? Do people really hate being different from the herd? The hordes of uniform crossover/CUV/SUV stilted vehicles crowding the streets seem to show they do. The dreadful Ford Ecosport handily outsells the Mazda3 in Canada.

    1. Hello Matthew: We had those in Ireland and they rusted furiously. The effect on Toyota´s reputation was terrible. But now it´s forgotten and Ireland has a thriving Toyota concession. That is the first Toyota I can remember. A friend of the family had one in pale blue. Note the Audi A2/Opel Astra wheel arch treatment – years ahead of its time!

  7. Then there is the Toyota Sera. It is different.

    Toyota are able to be daring. Pity they aint like that so much any more.

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