Toyota’s concept car history is certainly full of bizarre, head-scratching and inexplicably … um … Japanese creations. The mood-ring Toyota Pod. The front-half-of-a-tractor-trailer-looking Hi-CT. The “which way is it going?” RiN. The “rolling smartphone” Fun-Vii. Now, debuting on Thursday 14 June at the 2012 Tokyo Toy Show (yes, you read that right) is the latest in that wacky tradition: the Camatte. Or, to be more precise, the camatti, namely the low-slung Camatte Sora (shown at the top of our story), with its Nissan Figaro-inspired aqua and white color scheme and the more upright and vaguely VW Schwimmwagenesque Camatte Daichi pictured below.
According to the Toyota Global newsroom, Camatte is derived from the Japanese word for “care”, meant to signify “caring for others” and “caring for cars”, while Google tells us that Sora is the Japanese word for sky, and Daichi is a typical Japanese male name meaning “grand firstborn”.
So, are these simply fancy diecast cars or a Japanese take on Automoblox? Hardly. Dimensions of 2700mm (106.3″) length, 1300mm (51.2″) width and 1200mm (47.25″) height on an 1800mm (70.9″) wheelbase are akin to those of an actual, drivable Smart car (except for the Camatte’s much lower height) and, within that space, the Toyota concept fits 1+2 seating with the driver up front in the center and the passengers staggered behind, just like the McLaren F1 and Gordon Murray’s T25 and T27 microcars. Also cribbed from Murray’s design is the notion of an upward-opening canopy instead of conventional side-opening doors, as shown in the photo below left.
So, what, exactly, is the point of this concept, and why did it debut at a toy fair? It is no secret that carmakers all over the world are concerned, if not alarmed, at the indifference of many “echo boomers” towards automobile enthusiasm and ownership, a trend that is particularly prevalent in Japan. As Toyota describes Camatte’s “mission statement” in its Global press release:
The Camatte aims to convey the joy and dreams of motor vehicles to current and future drivers, by providing an opportunity for parents and children to experience together the fun of driving, car customization and car enthusiasm.
A simple body structure has been adopted to spur interest in cars within families by providing an opportunity for parents and children to directly handle vehicle components while developing an understanding of the structure and workings of motor vehicles.
The most eye-popping aspect of all this, however, is Toyota’s cheerful declaration that “Even children can drive”! This is, of course, followed by disclaimers that this is to happen only “at non-public places such as go-kart tracks”, and, per the official United Kingdom Toyota Blog, “where legal, of course”. As the latter describes it,
It has an innovative one-plus-two interior seating layout with pedals and seats that can be positioned to allow children to operate the controls and develop driving skills (where legal, of course) while an adult seated in one of the rear seats assists steering and braking.
The triangular seating arrangement reduces the distance between the single, center-positioned driver’s seat and the two rear seats to emphasize family intimacy and aid parent-child communication, creating a fun space to enjoy driving.
Alrighty, then. So that kinda/sorta explains the Toy Show debut. And, while neither of Toyota’s official press releases address the question of what sort of engine or motor would propel this … er … toy, the carmaker did provide an official video highlighting how quickly and easily (in 1 minute and 40 seconds!) the Camatte can morph from Sora to Daichi: