It’s no secret that of all the modern automakers, Daihatsu has my heart in perhaps the strangest way. The company hasn’t been in America for decades and it’s mostly disappeared from the American Collective Automotive Unconscious, but the cars it’s been building primarily for the domestic Japanese market have been fun and practical and stylish and generally exuberant. Daihatsu also makes some great concept cars pretty consistently, and this year is no exception. Let’s take a look at the concept cars Daihatsu is showing at the first-ever Japan Mobility Show, which seems to be what the Tokyo Motor Show is now known as? Huh, how about that?
Oh, and in case you need a little refresher to understand what Daihatsu is about, here’s its current lineup:
See, the brand is not afraid to lean into a bold design! It has four concepts for the show this year, all made according to the hilariously clunky and goofily earnest theme of “Staying Close to Our Customers and Enriching Their Lives,” a theme that has about as much sex appeal as a series of window displays about home safety and making sure your smoke detector batteries are charged.
Daihatsu’s press release also includes this sort of baffling paragraph that hints at some sort of conflict I’m not aware of at all:
Daihatsu recognizes that the great inconvenience and concern caused by the procedural irregularities in approval application are unacceptable. Daihatsu will work with an Independent Third-Party Committee will fully clarify the nature of the problems, identify their root cause and receive recommendations on measures to prevent a recurrence. Daihatsu will fully cooperate with the investigation, work promptly to prevent a recurrence, and work to restore the trust of customers and other stakeholders.
The hell are these “procedural irregularities in approval application?” Does this have to do with the concept cars? Oh, it looks like it may have to do with side impact crash testing for some export models? Oh, shit, they rigged crash test results? That’s not good. Still, I suppose I respect the fact that they brought this up in their press release about concept cars for a motor show, which I wouldn’t think anyone expected them to do?
Anyway, let’s get to the concepts!
The me:MO is a very friendly-robot-looking battery electric car, but what’s notable about it seems to be how it’s built, which Daihatsu says is completely modular. The goal was to make a long-life vehicle that can be re-configured to match you needs as they change throughout your life. From the press release:
We changed the way cars were manufactured and made it possible to change not only the design but also the form of the vehicle by constructing a modular structure of interior and exterior parts with necessary and sufficient functionality. This enabled us to realize a sustainable car that can be used for a long time in response to changes in the customer’s stage of life and usage.
I’m guessing Daihatsu would make you pay for the new parts and re-configuration. This approach may seem like a way to just not sell new cars, but from another perspective, if you can get owners to pay to re-configure cars, they’re sort of locked into that particular platform, so perhaps that mitigates the no-buying-cars angle of a very long life car?
I like how deeply rational this one-box design is, with its sliding door and what seems to be highly effective space utilization.
Speaking of rational, we have more EV:
These seem to be highly practical electric delivery vehicles, a box truck type and a cargo van. They look like they were designed by someone whose idea of “fun” is using a label maker to label a large series of identical stainless steel vials, based on their contents. That sounds like an insult, but for vehicles of this category, I don’t think it is. That van design looks like it maximizes the interior space, and the box truck seems to be an EV development of Daihatsu’s Nibako mobile shop system, for things like food trucks and mobile ornithology centers and that sort of thing.
The word “osanpo” in Japanese means a leisurely walk, or stroll. A constitutional. And that’s the point of this car: an electric roadster designed not so much for sporting, driving fast reasons, but for relaxation. This isn’t so much a Miata-fighter as it is a let’s-watch-the-Miatas-go-by-as-we-happily-enjoy-the-trees-and-listen-to-this-old-Camper-Van-Beethoven-playlist-I-found. I like that idea!
I also like the extensive use of the black rubbery-looking material at the front and rear, which looks like it’d be forgiving in minor bangs and scrapes, which is perfect, because your relaxing car shouldn’t be one you need to worry about.
This concept is the most familiar of the bunch, as it looks like a modern take on the first-generation Daihatsu Copen roadster, first introduced in 2002. I mean, look:
That’s absolutely a re-born OG Copen. Daihatsu’s press materials say this is a front-engine, rear-drive machine, and uses a combustion engine that is “capable of using CN fuel” which I believe means “carbon neutral” and usually refers to hydrogen fuel. That makes sense, seeing how Daihatsu is a Toyota subsidiary, and Toyota is still very invested in hydrogen as a future sort of fuel. Usually, though, Toyota focuses on hydrogen in the context of a fuel cell driving electric motors; hydrogen as a combustion fuel isn’t usually their focus, so that’s interesting.
These are interesting concepts from Daihatsu! Overall, they appear a bit more, somehow, sober, than usual? More about rational solutions to problems than the usual Daihatsu whimsy, but there’s still some fun to be found here. I’m hoping we’ll hear more about these things soon!