Where There’s a WiLL…

…there’s a way.

Image: the author

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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

19 thoughts on “Where There’s a WiLL…”

  1. Good morning, Bruno. I’ve known about the WiLL Vi ever since its launch, but I’ve never seen it in the metal. I particularly intrigued by the C pillar / rear door situation. It’s an eye-catching car, but to my eyes not an eye-keeper (I stole that phrase). Still kudos to Toyota for bringing it into production.

  2. Will VS based on Corolla running gear.

    Will Cypha based on Yaris running gear

    All of these Wills now less common in NZ than they were. They’ve reached ‘the minor accident= write-off’ stage of life.

    1. I see shades of Daihatsu Sirion/Boon in the Sypha (designed around the same time, so probably no coincidence):

      and even the current Yaris with its bulging wheel arches and relatively small passenger compartment, though the Yaris follows a different styling theme:

      Frankly, the Cypha mainly reminds me of the first gen Nissan Leaf outfitted with Mitsubishi Lancer headlights. None of this is to take away from these cars, mind: like the Bao and others, it’s a delightful change of pace. Electric cars seem to stimulate at least some creativity again (Ioniq particularly comes to mind), but they’re all so serious. These are serious times, of course, but I do miss whimsy. And getting angry about things being bad helps exactly as much as laughing about it, except that laughing is a lot healthier for you personally.

      If I remember correctly, Toyota holds a yearly show of far-out mobility concepts that could give WiLL a run for its money (and I think Honda does much the same), so even for its conservative general demeanour Toyota does foster this kind of creativity. As any sane large company should.

    2. That Daihatsu Sirion is lovely. It can be hard to design very small 5-door cars, as they can end up being ‘all door’ in appearance. This avoids that problem. It looks a bit like a Volkswagen up!, too, which is no bad thing.

    3. Yes, that’s definitely one of those very good designs that fly under the radar because they’re not spectacular, a bit like the Fiesta-based Ford Fusion.

    4. Agreed: the Fusion is a simply brilliant bit of industrial design. Because it happens to be affordable and useful means it gets ignored. I am lucky in that sightings of this and its sister car bring me optical enjoyment. It´s like a taste you never tire of. The Fusion is so well ordered in its elements in a way few cars ever manage. It achieves this without the cheap tropes of lowness and longness or costly materials and methods of production. The Meriva A of the same time manages a similar trick, another “ordinary” car blessed with well-resolved and satisfying elements.

  3. Good morning Bruno and thanks for brightening up my morning with the WiLL. Ah, those crazy, zany guys at…Toyota! Only in Japan could you find a huge, highly successful and fundamentally cautious and risk-averse corporation that is willing to experiment in this way. It may not have been a commercial success but it was still a worthwhile exercise in allowing the designers (and marketing guys) free rein to see how the car might be received. Chapeau, Toyota!

    1. I’ll second that, Daniel – and what a pity that only the Japanese seem to be brave enough. My favourite has to be the Vi; the Cypha seems to be playing safe by comparison (though it has a very pleasant face) and the VS is far too bland and in no way stands out from the crowd. And my plural of the day – Yarii. Brilliant! Thank you Bruno.

    2. There was a time when there was a whoke bunch of light hearted and harmlessly fun Japanese cars. Think Nissan S-Cargo or Pao or these WiLLs. What has happened that there aren’t any cars like this or Twingo Mk1 or Cinquecento Mk1 any more?

    3. To be fair on criticisms of the styling, the WiLL VI was released in 2001 and was out of production in 2004. Especially in black they were at the time quite avant-garde and very striking ‘in person’. I can clearly remember the first time I saw one, and spent some time walking around it, just looking at it. I didn’t do that for a Mk1 Megane or Mk4 Golf, or BMW E46. I remember thinking they were inspired by the Darth Vader helmet or an F117.

  4. What a change from recent and current design trends and all the better for it imho.
    Thanks for a great article Bruno😊👍

  5. JTC

    The VS is far from bland. The photo above does not illustrate it very well. It is a very distinctively styled car. Perhaps a picture from the side may be better.

    1. Virtually every single JDM car I’ve seen, and in NZ, that’s a lot, has them. A dealer I know told me he thought it was because of the high incidence of smokers in Japan, people like to just have the windows cracked open for ventilation but don’t want the rain coming in. But it could be just as easily that in crime-free Japan, you can leave your windows just a little open for ventilation when the car is parked. Maybe it’s just a standard dealer fit option, someone who has spent more time in Japan than I have must surely know. European cars sold in Japan usually have them fitted too, my MB W124s all had them, but I removed them as they add to wind noise at speed.

  6. Japanese car buyers are (or at least were, I don’t know what the current situation is) in the fortunate situation of being able to purchase such gems.
    Envy & disfavor from my side.
    The WiLL Vi is a real piece of gold, I would have easily given it an 11 on my “want to have” scale of 10. (Even though it has 4 doors, that would not bother me at all in this case.)

  7. I didn’t realise there were so many different types of WiLL, so it’s interesting to see them all.

    On the one hand I really admire Toyota for trying something different; on the other, things like this often date quickly and it’s risky designing something that people will grow out of. On balance though, why not – it makes the world a brighter place.

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