2015 toyota kikai – DOC649886
Simplicity has become an all-too-often ignored quality in cars recently. Part of this is because of safety and emissions regulations, but a consumer desire more and fancier electronic gadgetry is to blame for a lot of it as well. Even with the hoods of most modern cars open, the engines are still covered in big plastic shrouds, as if to tell you “you don’t need to concern yourself with any of this.” Well, Toyota’ s latest concept, called the Kikai, has gone completely in the opposite direction. This is a car where as much of the mechanical workings are not only not hidden, but are actually on display.
There are some other cars that are sort of similar to this, such as the Ariel Atom. But while the Atom is a sports car, and the simplicity is for the purposes of saving weight and going faster, the Kikai is showing off its innards just because machines are cool, and Toyota thinks we should appreciate that about them. The mechanical workings of the concept are not only exposed, but are also chromed and generally made with a great attention to detail. It might not be all that practical for picking up the kids from school, but it is oddly beautiful.
The defining feature of the Kikai is that there sort of isn’t an exterior. The frame is exposed and things like the lights are mounted directly on it. The wheels have motorcycle-like fenders instead of wheel wells, and you can see all of the suspension and steering components working from outside of the car. The cabin is still enclosed, another way this differs from the Atom, but what bodywork there is has been painted to better blend in with all of the exposed machinery.
Around back, even the engine is visible behind the chrome exhaust headers. This is also where you’ll find the only badging on the car, a Toyota logo just above the rear window. The doors slide rather than swing open as well, which is an unusual touch. Traditional doors probably would have been fine, but sliding doors are fine and Toyota must have just really wanted to commit to the idea of doing something different.
The inside of the car continues the simple and mechanical theme of the outside. The driver’s seat in mounted in the center, with a two-person bench seat behind it. The dash is just a bar, with analog gauges mounted along the top and manual toggle switches mounted below. It looks good, although the gauge on the far right is a bit confusing. I have no idea what a giant arrow and a picture of a pig could possibly signify. To the left of the dash is an analog clock and a simple fuel gauge that it’s difficult to believe nobody has thought of before. It is both simple and attractive, while still very useful.
The windows are bigger and also more numerous than is normal, all so that the driver can see the various bits to the car all moving and flexing as it is driven. There are even two windows down by the driver’s feet, through which the wheels, brakes and suspension can be seen, not to mention the road going by. It’s an unusual design in that cars are almost never designed so that occupants can look at the outside of the car while they’re in it. But with something like this, it does make sense.
Toyota hasn’t given out any specifics on the drivetrain, but since much of it is visible in the photos, it is clear that it has a mid-rear-mounted inline 4-cylinder engine and is rear-wheel-drive. It probably wouldn’t produce huge power numbers, and there isn’t any sort of visible forced induction, but something like this wouldn’t need much power. It’s surely light enough to be quick without much power, but even if it wasn’t, this is the sort of car that can be fun to drive even at low speeds.
But then, this is also what makes the lack of a manual transmission so confusing. If you’re supposed to be enjoying the interplay of the myriad mechanical bits of the car, wouldn’t this be even more enjoyable with three pedals? Sure, you wouldn’t be watching the gears actually being swapped, but it still seems like an odd choice.
The chances of this car ever being built are pretty slim, and the chances of it ever being sold in North America are effectively nil. But this is really more artistic statement than it is a serious pitch for an actual model of car. Even the press release is written in a different and far less vomit-inducing style than other pieces of marketing literature. In fact, it even sums up the car pretty well at the end, saying:
“While most vehicles conceal their inner workings beneath smooth sheet metal, this concept encourages us to appreciate the complex beauty of the mechanical aspects of cars. More broadly, it reminds us of the appeal of the physical and tactile in a digital age.”
- Exposed machinery like an expensive skeleton watch
- A genuinely unique interior
- Engine placement makes a good idea even better
- Huge greenhouse makes it look like an overturned fishbowl
- Wildly impractical
- For as simple as it is, it would probably actually be quite expensive
As the products of human creativity, dedication, and knowledge, machines should be objects of admiration. The concept was designed to explore and emphasize the fundamental appeal of machines: their fine craftsmanship, their beauty, simplicity, and their fascinating motion. As a true concept car, the Toyota KIKAI’s appeal is simultaneously free from and reliant on the core concepts of automobiles.
This concept takes the machinery, normally hidden beneath the vehicle body, and makes an open display of its beauty. Directly expressed in this way, the vehicle’s inner workings become part of the exterior. In addition to the carefully designed form, continued into details including the fuel tank, reserve tank, and exhaust pipes, the analog-style meters and switches offer an engaging dialog with the machinery.
New driving sensation
The small window at the driver’s feet is another distinctive aspect of this car’s structure, communicating the movements of the tires and suspension and the rush of speed along the road surface. Through the windshield, the movements of the upper control arm are also visible. This provides a novel driving sensation in which the machinery that supports the operations of cruising, turning, and stopping in ordinary everyday driving can be directly perceived with the senses.
The adoption of a central driver seat, which places the driver at the heart of the car, gives a more instinctive sensory connection with the vehicle. The optimal spacing between the three passenger seats achieved by their triangular layout creates a congenial in-cabin communication space. The expansive side window that reaches up to the roof delivers full enjoyment in urban and natural landscapes alike.
While most vehicles conceal their inner workings beneath smooth sheet metal, this concept encourages us to appreciate the complex beauty of the mechanical aspects of cars. More broadly, it reminds us of the appeal of the physical and tactile in a digital age.