Hello Kitty

Daihatsu: Committed to cute since 1951.

Diahatsu Mira Tocot. headlightmag

When all boils down, Western culture leaves little room for anything other than the normative. If it isn’t masculine, it’s feminine (with slow acceptance of gender neutrality) but when parameters are so rigidly defined we must head to Japan for inspired creativity. The keijidōsha-car dimensions you have to play with are (all maximum) 3.4m long, 1.48m wide and just two metres tall. Go figure out a way to make it all, not only work but also manifest itself in a noticeably different manner to the competition. Not forgetting of course something Westerners too often forget: a sense of fun.

Japan as a car building nation contains a sense of Galapagos Islands to them; species developing into their own environments and whilst not to everyone’s taste, the results are often nothing short of spectacular. Take this diminutive example from the company who wish to Light You Up: Daihatsu. Known as the Mira Tocot, a name we’ll return to shortly. Instead consider for a moment the moniker this car’s predecessor enjoyed, one as warm and comforting as the feelings experienced while partaking – the Cocoa. Poles apart from the latest Nürburgring thrasher, in every sense.

leopaul

The name TOCOT stems from the distinctive characteristics of the new model: “TO Character (expressing one’s unique character),” TO Comfortableness (ease of driving, and safety and peace of mind),” and TO Convenience (ease of use)” according to Daihatsu’s press launch information pack from June 2018. Bones are not made about the car being aimed squarely at both fairer sex and first time drivers, with 75% of the 3,000 per month anticipated sales. A project team of un-named women employees’ ideas steered the styling direction. That still leaves 750 of the opposite sex to head for coffee across town in one of the cutest exteriors on tarmac.

If the polarising headlamp/turn signal combination doesn’t charm its way into your heart, perhaps you’re looking to the symmetry busting roof aerial (red bow) location or, perhaps worse still the off centred number plate (to cover the mouth). Quite the quirk; Tocot’s DRG is wilfully happy, an automotive iteration almost from the pen of Yuko Shimizu, the creator of Hello Kitty.

The sides are effortlessly simple with mere hints of a wheel-arch blister alongside a rectangular recess spanning both doors. Another almost scored line heads front to back, splitting the door handle recess and topping the fuel filler flap. The rear, unadorned with a wiper cannot deviate too far from ninety degrees. The oblong boot opening gap is at least central and mirrors the number plate below, albeit smaller. The overall package is immensely appealing.

Inside sees Tocot loaded to its microscopic gunwales with safety kit. The A-pillars are dizzyingly steep allowing for a better view when driving. There are standard airbags front and side, seat belt pre-tensioners and sensors that cover those rounded corners. The world’s smallest stereo cameras assist with crash avoidance. Smart Assist III will bring Tocot to halt should it detect a vehicle or pedestrian in its path. A rear camera helps reversing manoeuvres with similar stopping power.

Daihatsu.co.jp

Tocot’s dashboard is functional over funky; a large speedometer and small digital display is all that’s ahead of the driver. The ubiquitous sat-nav/ radio is a reasonably sized display unit and thankfully some proper, manual controls see to heating. The white ceramic band is porcelain-like, smooth yet soft, welcoming. And to the brown/beige twill seats, which too can be heated for those chilly Japanese dawns. But notice the ambiance of the cabin; some grey plastic abounds (it is a cheap car) but not here the sombre black of many a European interior.[1]

Helping maintain individuality, Tocot can be had in three trims along with three style packages. Sweet Style brings with it oyster pearl white door handles, wheel covers and door mirrors. Elegant Style changes these to a chrome silver whereas Cool Style is for those wishing to ape their European cousins by adding black accents to those areas just mentioned. This also includes a black pin stripe, above the scored line with the name Tocot placed in front of the rear door handle. Undiluted in finish.

Of matters hue, eight bright colours (and black) can be specified along with two-tone effects and, should one see fit, a wrap of textured weave similar to the seats can be applied to the roof, upper door sides and front bumper.

Transmission choice is limited however – CVT only and whilst invariably a city car, Tocot will take on the motorway schlep happily. In a car averaging just 750Kgs[2], the extremely frugal three cylinder, 653cc petrol unit manages 51bhp and should a U-turn be necessary, that turning radius is but 4.4 metres.

Considering the female influence and target audience, on researching this Pipistrelle palindrome of a car, the videos and write ups were all done by young men. Empowering their feminine side? Or plain curious as to what’s going on with the Chromed D brand? Daihatsu are known back home as a starter car or for those at least young at heart.

Having no access but internet and perceived wisdom, Japan appears a country rich in contradictions, formal in ways unfamiliar to the Occidental, yet frivolous to the extreme with many of their motor cars and all the better for it. The Tocot could have derived from no other place. But they can be imported. Surrounding the purlieus of my employment, an area quite liberal and with high levels of affluence, Daihatsu have yet to be seen but older Nissan Cubes and the occasional Figaro do the rounds – a Jimny school run. The Kei-car ordains a pygmy existence here.

carblog.br

The shires of Britain lost Daihatsu some years ago but could the Tocot not make an appearance considering that every European carmaker cites a whirlpool of diminishing returns on small, city bound means of transit? Surely safety isn’t the issue here – but size maybe is. A car a soupçon shorter than an original Golf may make prospective buyers blanche more than an embarrassed teenager asking for a date. A shame, for possessing just a little boldness can garner surprisingly pleasurable results.

[1] The three spoke wheel is pleasingly unfettered by a dozen or more parameters and also isn’t black!

[2] 720 Kgs FWD, 790 Kgs AWD

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

28 thoughts on “Hello Kitty”

  1. Good morning Andrew. What a delightfully sweet looking car! Given the constraints under which it was designed, it’s remarkably characterful, with lots of pleasing details like the shapes and graphics of the light units. I might prefer a little more curvature in the bodysides and wheelarches, but perhaps that might just make it less distinctive (and too wide to comply with regulations)?

    The biggest surprise with the Tocot is hidden away in your second footnote: it’s also available with 4WD! Japanese miniaturization perfection!

  2. A good morning to you and the readers here, Andrew. What a great way to start this Monday with this lovely little thing. It put a smile on my face. Daihatsu left the Dutch market a couple of years ago, same as in the UK. On my walk yesterday I spotted a Daihatsu Materia. It made me realize how few Daihatsus seem to be left here.

    The Tocot (I like that it is a palindrome) will not make it’s way to Europe I reckon. I think the market for such a vehicle might be too small to reintroduce the brand and make LHD versions. Our loss, sadly.

  3. I am loving those colours – the light sage green and then that pinky orange – which suit the car down to the ground. I love these Kei-car things, they are clever pieces of packaging wrapped in interesting designs, especially given the small canvas on which their creators have to work.

  4. Another great article about a car I know nothing about. I quite like it 👍🏻 Re the aerial placement, Austin did the same with their Montego and Maestro models, they retracted down the A pillar. As did the Triumph Aclaim.

  5. Thank you, Andrew, for this lovely start to the week.

    Daihatsu has (almost) always had a knack for beautiful design – and colours.
    A company that in its early days built something as beautiful as the Compagno (Berlina & Spider) does not surprise me to also build a product as heartbreaking as the Tocot. Stylish.
    Such products are missing on the European market, but unfortunately Daihatsu has said goodbye to this. A bitter loss.

    Daihatsu was the only Asian brand I really took seriously.
    On the way to the supermarket on the outskirts of an industrial estate, an unregistered Daihatsu Trevis with a wine-red colour and a light-coloured interior has been standing abandoned for the last few weeks. I found myself thinking of trading in our Lancia Y for it for a few moments. But it was obviously not for sale. I don’t know what happened to the car.
    My Italian soul wouldn’t have to think for a second about a Tocot in this colour and with this interior; it would have been in our car park long ago.

  6. Richard H. has previously pointed out a direct competitor to the Tocot, the Suzuki Lapin, noting its very pleasant interior. https://www.suzuki.co.jp/car/lapin_mode/
    Like the Tocot, it features a slightly offset front number plate, which I hadn’t noticed before. Also by way of comparison with the Tocot, I am now noticing the Lapin’s stylized rabbit ear wing mirrors.

  7. It is very satisfying that the extreme constraints of the Kei rules lead to this kind of very strong form-giving. One might imagine that there was room in Europe for selling several thousand of these cars. Like some of the other coelecanth products (c.f. 500 by Fiat) this one would sell constantly and require only an occasional new set of colours and fabrics to keep it fresh. You pretty much can leave this kind of product untouched for long periods of time as it is above the thrust, bash and stab of the mass market battle.

    1. 660 cc might be too meager for Europe but the 1000 cc Toyota Aygo does steady business (also as the Peugeot 108 and Citroën C1).

      It’s perhaps notable that the Aygo’s anime face is said to be inspired by the manga robot Astro Boy as opposed to Hello Kitty or a fluffy bunny. VW still has the Up!/Mii/Citigo which are dimensionally similar to a typical Kei car, but again differ in character, presenting a blockier visage and a more planted stance.

      But there are masculine kei cars beyond the two seater Daihatsu Kopen and Honda S660 (successor to the Beat), and they’re replete with rough and tumble names like Toyota Pixis Mega, Mazda Scrum, Honda N-Box Slash, and Suzuki Hustler.

    2. They are joyful! Another one of my absolute favourite car categories. I believe that the “big” manufacturers (big in company size, or in the cars they build) like Nissan, Toyota and Mazda generally get their kei cars from the “smaller” manufacturers like Suzuki and Daihatsu (firmly associated with Toyota these days), creating evolutionary space (to continue the Galapagos analogy) for both. Oftentimes, these “smaller manufacturers then run larger models from the “big” manufacturers. I believe that Honda are somewhat unique in designing and building both larger cars and kei cars themselves.

      None of this is verified, though, so maybe I’m just blowing smoke…

      The Suzuki Jimny comes in Japanese kei car spec (narrower wheel arches and smaller engine):

      and international spec with wider wheel arches and larger engine:

      As did its predecessor:


    3. Great photos, thanks for sharing. It’s interesting that the export Jimny gains nothing practical from the wider wheelarches and side cladding as the underlying bodywork is unchanged. I suppose there is an improvement in stability from the wider front end rear tracks?

    4. Hi Daniel, I’m no expert on how these cars drive (maybe someone else here is?), but I could imagine something along the lines you suggest, certainly in concert with the larger engine on the export models. Otherwise, it looks cosmetic to me: the wide versions marry the innate cuteness of the model with a little more ruggedness, which the narrow versions seem to lack. It’s funny that they look a little like the Suzuki Hustler pictured above, which I’m sure has few off-road capabilities while the narrow Jimny probably is just as capable as the wide version.

    5. Hi Tom. Actually, I think the axles are the same, it’s just the offset in the wheels that gives the export versions a wider track.

    6. The second generation Jimny just gets better and better with age. Daniel is right the export version isn´t much better. Regarding the Jimny, the design language looks really clear to me now and it´s interesting it has taken so long for it to become clear. Is that a sign of a a good design, that it can dodge bracketing in a period for a long time?
      Reviewing these kei cars I have a childish and now mostly dormant sense of “hooray” I don´t get from much else on the market. I got some hooray from Honda´s EV and Kia´s EV6 plus the use of felt inside Mazda´s new EV (superb material choices in the MX-30).

    7. I spotted this Jimny next to the a wonderfully restored Cherokee XJ. There doesn’t seem to be too much difference in size.

    8. Wow, I would not have expected that. Looking closer, the impression of size on the part of the Jimny might have to do with its height, the size of the wheels and the rather chunky wheelarches. The Jeep’s a fair bit longer and I would imagine it’s a bit wider, too. Engines are much more divergent, of course… Both cars are very nice, though.

      Speaking of wheelarches, I think the wide ones work well on the Jimny, but the design also works well without (the current model’s track looks a tad narrow, maybe? Or maybe the nose looks a bit overbearing without the arches framing it). And I absolutely adore the air scoop.

    9. I think one factor that makes the Jimny looks a little bigger than it actually is, is due to the more upright windscreen and vertical rear window, both these make the roof longer. The Cherokee is roughtly 750 millimeters longer, which is quite a lot. Difference in with is 65 millimeters. The Jimny is taller than the Jeep, which might also help.

      This Cherokee showed up for the first time in my neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and every time I’m pleasantly surprised at how (relatively) small it is. The Jimny has been here for about two years or so. As much as I like the Jimny, my money is on the Cherokee.

  8. I agree that the design of not just this but many, if not all Daihatsu are spectacular and I spent a long time looking for an early 1 litre, automatic Sirion to play with. Sadly though, here in the UK they are all rotten. Trawling through endless MOT histories sees them all meeting the same fate at the same age.

  9. Back when kei cars actually were imported into Europe a teacher cousin of mine had one. Can’t recall which one, although I think it was a Daihatsu or Suzuki. It was white, which led her unappreciative students to dub it the washing machine…

    1. That’s a bit harsh isn’t it. The Suzuki Carry was once quite popular in the Netherlands, where it was nicknamed ‘luizenbus’, which would translate to ‘lice van’ in English.

  10. A great article Andrew so thank you. I really enjoy the design of these smaller cars along with the colours and interiors they choose. It seems so refreshing to actually have something different to look at albeit from afar.

  11. A local tombstone mason had a Daihatsu Midget for a while. It had a triangle-section body on the back, so appeared to be for promotional use rather than to carry anything. A curious choice!

    I had not realised that the Mitsubishi i-MIEV, aka Citroen C-Zero/Peugeot Ion EV, was kei- dimension. Was this the last kei-compatible car (not quadricycle) sold by a mainstream manufacturer in Europe?

    Daihatsu was the top producer of kei-class vehicles last year and the second most popular passenger kei manufacturer, after Suzuki. The Daihatsu Tanto was the third most popular passenger model, with the Suzuki Spacia in second place. Honda’s N-box was the top seller, as it has been since 2015. https://www.best-selling-cars.com/japan/2020-full-year-japan-best-selling-minicar-kei-brands-and-models/

    1. That´s quite marvellous. Most new cars leave me cold. The Ignis cheers me up when I see them and I have perhaps a strange fixation with the Baleno. It isn´t all that attractive but the fact it weighs only a tonne makes me respect it. I wish Suzuki had not tried to style it as they did and were a bit more bold – the Baleno wants to be a big car (the grille and lights) and isn´t and the detailing of the styling is a bit coarse. I still like it. The Tanto looks like a lot of fun. We need cars like this is in Denmark and Ireland.

  12. I would buy a tocot easily and happily. I like cars that make you smile, like the Renault twingo mkI. I like also japanese stationery.

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