…there’s a way.
A beer brewer, a candymaker, a travel agent(1) and a car manufacturer get together for a meeting…
It may sound like the opening line of a joke, but the vehicle you see here was the product of a serious business initiative. Incidentally, other representatives from various sectors in the consumer products industry were also part of the think-tank that gave birth to the WiLL brand at the turn of the millennium; the electronics giant Panasonic, a cosmetics company named Kao, and Kokuyo, a manufacturer of office furniture and stationery products. The aim of the venture was to create a range of WiLL-branded products that would appeal to the individuality and tastes of a new generation of consumers.
First seen on the Toyota display stand at the 33rd Tokyo Motor Show in 1999, the WiLL Vi was the automotive expression of the WiLL brand’s motto ‘fun and authenticity’. That claim to authenticity was slightly tenuous, as stylistic echoes of certain cars that preceded the WiLL Vi in life were easily detected: Citroën’s 2CV and Ami 6, the Ford Anglia 105E and, from Japan itself, the original Mazda Carol, all served as partial inspiration for its appearance. That said, Toyota’s designers themselves infused enough design niceties into the car to make it interesting, distinctive and, to your author’s eyes at least, fun to look at.
Even though the WiLL Vi was based on the Toyota Yaris/Vitz NBC platform and mechanicals and was sold through the Toyota Vista dealer network, Toyota badging of any kind was notably absent from the WiLL Vi, both inside and out. It also looked like no Toyota before or ever since. Wide corrugations along its flanks and on the bootlid and bonnet, the symmetrical lower silhouette that according to Toyota was “reminiscent of the horse-drawn carriages of yesteryear”, a palette of friendly colours and, of course, that reverse rake-rear window, all added up to an eye-catching vehicle.
The unusual profile of the Will Vi did pose some problems to owners visiting automated car wash facilities, which sometimes proved unable to clean the car fully. The solution was to have the Will Vi cleaned in a car wash that offered a choice of options depending on the type of vehicle to be washed: selecting the programme for minivans usually did the trick. Another design feature of note in the Will Vi is the shape of the doorframes, especially those of the rear doors, which effectively enclose the C-pillar and also continue a good inch or so into the top surface of the roof.
Inside, the aim of Will Vi’s designers was “to help occupants relax and feel like they are at home, rather than being encapsulated by a conventional vehicle interior.” With its technical hard-points being those of the mainstream Yaris, here too the instrumentation was placed at the centre of the dashboard. To create a living room atmosphere, both the front and rear passengers sat on bench seats, although rear legroom was not exactly generous. Soft, rounded shapes and pleasant textures dominated the interior, which was decorated using a palate of warm, ‘earthy’ tones.
Environmental considerations, something the Will Vi’s target demographic supposedly regarded more seriously in their product choices than the generations that went before them, were also addressed. A highly recyclable material, ‘Toyota Super Olefin Polymer’ was used for the bumpers and most of the interior plastics, while the sound-deadening material used was made out of shredder granules from end-of-life vehicles. The radiator, heater core and wiring harness were entirely lead-free.
Unfortunately, priced at ¥1,450,000(2) the WiLL Vi never met Toyota’s sales target of 1,500 vehicles per month. In the two years the WiLL Vi was offered for sale, only 16,649 found an owner, which qualifies it as a bit of a flop by Toyota’s standards (over the same timespan almost 700,000 Yarii and Vitzes were sold). Still, one can admire and respect the Japanese giant for letting its hair down once in a while(3).
The other, much less well known Will products(4) developed by the Toyota’s partners in the WiLL venture likewise never fulfilled their high expectations, causing the venture to be cancelled in 2005. Nowadays -as sometimes happens with products shunned and ridiculed when new- WiLL vehicles enjoy popularity as eye-catchers for a wide variety of businesses: the car featured here was conspicuously parked in front of a hip and trendy coffee bar/restaurant. The fact that it as as easy to operate and likely to be just as reliable as a bread-and-butter Yaris is a nice bonus for its current owner.
(1) From the ‘Kinki Nippon Tourist Company’ which may conjure up all kinds of disturbing images, but really is the company’s actual name!
(2) Equal to around US $13,500, €14,500 or £8,300 at the then prevailing exchange rates.
(3) Apart from the WiLL Vi, Toyota also produced the still quite good looking (at least in this author’s opinion) WiLL VS and the positively weird WiLL Cypha.
(4) Some of which were Asahi ‘WiLL sweet brown beer’, the WiLL folding bicycle, desktop PC, refrigerator and WiLL ‘On time chocolate’.