Now THAT'S a Scion, or The Influence of The Toaster on Japanese Cars

Even in the remotest backwater of Japan where we've been for the last two weeks, the popularity of tiny, square city-friendly cars is startling. Easily 25-30% of the cars on the road here in Shikoku are what's known as '1-box' or '2-box' models. 1-boxes have plenty of room for four people, and not much else, while 2-boxes often have decent storage/luggage space in the back. A couple are even minivan-like in their spaciousness.

I started calling these things toasters, but their shape--especially the 2-boxes--is more accurately described as bread-like. Loaves of Japanese bread are unsettlingly perfect cubes, with the heels removed.

The 1-box cincept isn't new, or even limited to Japan. 20 years ago, the Honda City started a micromini boom in Japan, and the excellent Mercedes A-class has been selling well in Europe for five years or so (and which I'd buy in a second). [The beautiful-to-me all aluminum Audi A2 hasn't done as well, but I used in my first short film anyway.] And of course, there's the Smart Car, which Trent Lott mocked on the Senate floor. [There are so many Smart-like cars now, it'd make Lott's blood run cold, if he had any, that is.

Still, except for the Honda Element and Toyota's new Scion/b,none of these cars will ever make it to the US, which is too bad. A surprise to me was how well designed the Daihatsu and Suzuki boxes are. Daihatsu's a 5th tier failure in the US, with their boring, personality-free, cookie cutter compacts, yet they're apparently pursuing a differentiation-through-design strategy at home. Why not become a quirky-cool alternative brand and leave the me-too Toyota-chasing to the Koreans?

I'll throw up some more pictures when I can. In the mean time, here's a quick spotter's guide, with links to the Japanese manufacturers' sites:

Daihatsu Move

Honda Life

Honda That's

Suzuki Lapin (Note to Suzuki: VW did well in the US with a Rabbit. -g.) [oops. A Suzuki, but not the Lapin. Let me find that pic.]

Honda Mobilio Toyota Scion/b (called the Toyota b/B in Japan) Nissan Cube (a prescient name; the earlier models weren't cube-like or asymmetrical) Daihatsu Naked (a favorite. 1/10th the size of a Hummer, yet just as suggestively named. Although for that hook-up-now AOL chatroom feeling, nothing beats the Mitsubishi Toppo-BJ.)

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: August 12, 2004.

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