Category: ‘Vans’

Retro Sambar/ VW Bus Lookalike At Auction in Japan

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Mitsuoka tries to do retro, but never seems to pull it off. The Nissan Figaro, now that is true retro. But what about this — a Suzuki Sambar kei van converted to look like an old VW bus? Personally, I think these are incredibly cute and look even better in the metal.

Watch the video to see more detail of this particular one we found at auction here in Japan.

VW-style Subaru Samar Dias - auction sheet

VW-style Subaru Samar Dias - front

VW-style Subaru Samar Dias - interior

VW-style Subaru Samar Dias - rear


New Toyota Urban Utility Concept – Surprising Innovation

Posted by Stephen On Friday, September 19th, 2014

Even though it’s not the most exciting segment in the automotive market, we’ve seen several new small utility vans introduced over the past couple years. Chief among them is the Nissan NV200, which is “New York’s Official Taxi” since it won a contest claiming the title around the time of the van’s launch.

However, today’s story isn’t about the Nissan NV200; it’s about the all-new Toyota Urban Utility Concept that the automaker will officially reveal at the World Maker Faire in NYC this weekend.

Toyota Urban Utility Concept

This is the Toyota Urban Utility Concept, cleverly code-named the U2 Concept. From the front, it almost looks ordinary, but a closer inspection proves otherwise. It clearly has a more futuristic and distinguished design than what you’d expect from a utility van. The checkered rear window in particular paired with the blacked-out A-pillar make the aesthetic flow cleanly. Meanwhile, that RAV4-like front-end reassures us that we are, in fact, looking at a Toyota.

The van gets even more interesting once you see it from behind:

Toyota U2 Concept

Notice anything?

The tailgate is no ordinary door – it’s a foldable ramp. The rear half of the roof can be folded forward for even more convenient access. And even though you can’t see it in the pictures, the checkered side windows actually fold up for curb-side access to the rear cargo space.

Now you’re probably starting to believe us when we say this is no ordinary cargo van. In fact, calling it a van at all may not be the most accurate label; the design says that it’s part truck, part crossover and part van. Whatever you call it, though, it’s definitely compact. A big part of the U2 Concept’s mission is to deliver great fuel economy in a practical, customizable package.

Speaking of customization, the interior is where this concept really breaks away from the rest:

Toyota Urban Utility Concept interior rails

Those black and gray rivets along the floor and side of the van are actually a rail system that can be fitted with anything from passenger seats to bicycle racks to grocery bag hooks. Or you can leave them empty for a massive slab of rear space, effectively making the van into a cargo hauler.

And that weird looking front seat? You can get a better look at that below:

Toyota Urban Utility Concept front dash

As you can see, Toyota’s designers put together a highly futuristic front dash with tablet integration and a redesigned, “intuitive” new shifter.

Unfortunately, Toyota hasn’t yet said anything about whether or not they’d ever actually produce a vehicle like the Urban Utility Concept. From what we can tell, Toyota needed a car to show at the World Maker Faire and their Calty Design Research firm just happened to have the U2 on the drawing board at the time. Regardless of whether its inception was coincidental or deliberate, there’s no denying that the U2 Concept is a very innovative vehicle that doesn’t fit into the boundaries of today’s utility van. If you’d like to see more, watch the virtual tour of the Toyota U2 Concept below:


Toyota Brings Back Original Land Cruiser Series 70

Posted by Stephen On Monday, September 8th, 2014

2015 Series 70 Land Cruiser

Did you know that the Toyota Land Cruiser is the single oldest car in the automaker’s lineup?

That’s right – as of 2014, Toyota has been commercially manufacturing their off-road SUV for 30 years, with the first Series 70 Land Cruiser hitting their domestic market in 1984 and spreading globally soon after. In fact, the prototype that eventually became the Land Cruiser actually started out as a military vehicle. Toyota was ordered to develop the original vehicle before the Korean War so that the Japanese military could have their own version of the American Jeep.

2015 Series 70 Land Cruiser Pickup

Of course, this isn’t a history class, so we’ll keep the boring background stuff to a minimum, but it’s important to illustrate that this often overlooked SUV actually has deep roots in Japanese culture. Even though today’s Land Cruiser is arguably more luxury than utility (and only available in a few select markets), Toyota hasn’t forgotten the vehicle’s simplistic military background. And Toyota’s Japanese drivers haven’t either, even though the Land Cruiser hasn’t been sold there for 10 years.

For one year only, Toyota is bringing back of the original Series 70 Land Cruiser in Japan. This week marks the beginning of that year, which is intended to be a sort of “Thank You” to their Japanese fan base.

Okay, we’re done with the history lesson! Let’s talk specs:

Toyota will bring back the ’84 Land Cruiser in two different body styles – a double-cab pickup and the more conventional van. Both versions will be built on the Land Cruiser’s traditional closed ladder frame with extremely rigid cross braces – a simple-but-strong chassis that can handle even the most grueling off-road terrain. The van will offer more comfort with the extra interior space, while the pickup makes up for it with a sturdy deck that can take on up to 600kgs without any trouble.

2015 Toyota Land Cruiser 70 powertrain

Beneath the hood, the re-released Series 70 Land Cruiser will run on a powerful 4.0L V6 engine with part-time four-wheel drive and a rugged manual transmission. The engine uses VVT-i technology and an Acoustic Control Induction System to help optimize the car’s admittedly feeble fuel efficiency, which sits at 6.6 km/L (about 15mpg). However, it doesn’t need to be said that this is one very powerful engine, capable of 228hp and 265 lb-ft of torque.

2015 Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Interior

As you look through the pictures, you’ll notice that Toyota has made a few quality of life changes to ever so slightly modernize the Series 70. Additions like a new grille and headlight configuration make the original Land Cruiser subtly better-looking. Meanwhile, SRS airbags and ABS makes the off-road vehicle safer than ever, while an updated-but-still-functional instrument panel makes it easy to keep your eyes on the road while monitoring the dash.

2015 Toyota Land Cruiser 70 optional winch

All in all, we’d be lying if we said that we weren’t a little bit jealous of the Japanese market. This Land Cruiser 70 re-release looks very well done, and the 200 or so drivers per month who’ll get one should certainly count themselves lucky. Fortunately, all hope is not lost for our American readers – if you really want a traditional Series 70 Land Cruiser, you can still find used models if you’re willing to look. In fact, if you come back tomorrow, we’ll show you a great place to find one!

Otherwise, you can watch this video to see the new-old Series 70 Land Cruiser in action:


Mazda Withdraws from Commercial Vehicle Production to Focus on Fuel Efficient Cars

Posted by Stephen On Saturday, March 24th, 2012

With Toyota it was F1. For Subaru it was rallying. It’s not quite such a glamorous choice for Mazda, but an equally significant one nonetheless.

Mazda is stopping in-house design and production of commercial vehicles at then end of the current line-up’s life-cycle. And what are they going to be doing instead? Well, not unlike Toyota and Honda, the reason for this strategic change at Mazda is to focus their business on highly fuel-efficient passenger cars.

OK, so there is a bit more to it than that. They wouldn’t be backing out of the commercial vehicle market if it was a cash cow for them. The “push” from behind that was also driving this decision was the falling demand for commercial vehicles in Japan, as well as a large step up in crash safety standards that arrived in the latter half of 2010. Decreasing profits in a shrinking market are obviously not very attractive.

My only question with this reasoning would be this: When it comes to commercial vehicles like light vans and trucks, diesel is the fuel of choice. Now, the last 10 years or so have seen the diesel market increasingly squeezed in Japan with ever stricter regulation making registering diesel vehicles almost impossible in Japan’s major urban areas.

But the story of diesel is just starting to change, and Mazda is at the forefront of that change with their new “clean diesel” engines — one of which just debuted in the new CX-5. Now, perhaps Mazda is simply thinking of licensing their diesel engine technology to another manufacturer, but if they were going to stick with commercial vehicle production, this new “clean diesel” would undoubtedly be a big draw.

1978 Mazda Bongo Japanese catalog

Sadly, this means the end of the funkily named Bongo, famous for spawning the even more amusingly-titled Bongo Frendee. The Bongo has been with us since 1966, selling over 3 million units. although a shrinking market and tough competition has seen sales drop to just 20,000 per year.

The irony is that Mazda started in 1931 with a 3-wheeled truck called the Mazda Go, so parting ways with the commercial vehicle business is a painful departure from its historical roots.

Equally sadly, it means no more commercials like this one for the 1980 Mazda Bongo:

Apparently Mazda’s sales force had argued forcefully for a continuation of the commercial vehicle line up, but Mazda could not justify the 10 billion Yen plus (over 120 million US dollar) price tag of designing and manufacturing the Bongo’s replacement. Mazda is looking at alternative options of selling other manufacturer’s vehicles under license instead.

With large losses predicted in the current financial year, Mazda just does not have any wiggle room, and has decided to focus its full energies on its fuel-efficient passenger car technology, specifically Skyactiv.

Source: Nikkei (Japanese-language)


Suzuki Every Van EV Trials Start

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, July 14th, 2011

It is easy sometimes to forget about manufacturers like Suzuki. They don’t seem to be in the big league (like Toyota), nor do they have a charismatic CEO (like Mr. Ghosn of Nissan). Having said that, these “minnows” can sometimes surprise. After all, Mitsubishi came out of nowhere with their i-MiEV, and here comes Suzuki with an electric version of their kei (mini) van, the Every. Suzuki may not be a big player outside of Japan. but in its home market, it is frequently numero uno due to sales of minicars called kei cars.

While vans like the Every may seem rather quaint to western, and especially North American, eyes, these smaller vans are actually a stalwart of Japanese business and agricultural users. In ICE form, their small engines make them very fuel efficient, and their size means they can navigate country roads and tight city streets with equal ease.

Since Mitsubishi launched their Minicab-MiEV earlier this year, it did not take too much imagination from Suzuki to realize that they needed to make sure they were in the electric vehicle game also. Suzuki has created 13 of these EV Every vans which will be leant out to Suzuki dealerships around Japan, starting with those closest to Suzuki’s home in Hamamatsu, central Japan. This will allow Suzuki to gather real-world driving data for their next-generation vehicles.

Suzuki EV Every electric kei van next to Suzuki Swift Range Extender

EV Every recharging (right)  with Swift Range Extender (left)

The EV Every test vehicles are fitted with high-capacity compact Lithium Ion batteries which can be fully charged in 5 hours using a 200V outlet, giving the EV Every a maximum range of 100 kilometers. Although this may not sound like a lot, as I mentioned in an earlier post about the Minicab-iMiEV, this is more than enough for the typical delivery vehicle in Japan as it jets from street to street. The weight has increased 200KG over the base ICE model, but the cargo capacity remains the same at 250KG. There is no indication as to how the range might be affected if run with a full cargo. Presumably, this would be one thing they will want to investigate with this real world drive testing.

Although the EV Every is not slated for production, the data gleaned from these vehicles is likely to prove useful when Suzuki opens their Next Generation Environmental Vehicle technology development center in August 2016. To be honest, I hope they plan on moving forward before then, otherwise early starters like Mitsubishi and Nissan are likely to be too far ahead to catch by then.

Source: Chunichi Shinbun (Japanese-language)