Motormouth – Telegraph

28 Feb 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Motormouth – Telegraph

Fancy an Isuzu Begin Funky Box or a Mazda Bongo Friendee? Such are the wonders of Japan, says Mike Rutherford

12:00AM BST 27 Oct 2001

It was four years ago, at a remote test track in the Japanese countryside, that I finally plucked up the courage to say what I’d been thinking since I first visited the Land of the Rising Yen back in the Eighties.

Screaming and kicking, I was strapped into the back seat of a Honda Accord that proceeded to lap the circuit at alarmingly high speeds – despite the fact that it had no driver.

One of the company’s white-coated engineers – a Mr Shimoyama, if I remember correctly – was sitting beside me. This one-off, million-dollar autopilot car was his pride and joy, but my worst nightmare; it filled me with the sort of undiluted fear I hope I never taste again. Mr Shimoyama’s devious grin, haunting laughter and heavy-duty crash helmet merely added to my worries.

You’re barking mad, you lot, I yelped as I watched and felt the driverless Accord accelerate, brake, change gear and steer on a particularly fast and tricky section of the track.

Oh yes. Thank you very much. I am happy man, he replied, ecstatic in the knowledge that he was facilitating the most memorable, surreal and downright frightening car journey of my life.

In the nicest possible way, Honda’s Mr Shimoyama was bonkers.

In the truly wacky world of Japanese car production, he’s not the only one. Take, for example, his industry colleagues who name the showroom models and concept cars that the Tokyo Show has become famous for.

In the past, there have been some corkers: the Toyota Synus, Mitsubishi Dingo, Suzuki Alto Afternoon Tea, Toyota Country Boy and Deli Boy Supreme, Nissan Cedric and, my favourite, the Mitsubishi Lettuce.

What astonishes me is that somebody, somewhere actually got paid for racking his brains, doing his research and arriving at the considered, professional conclusion that it would be a good idea for his giant corporation to name its latest model after something grown on an allotment. It’s even more remarkable that he then decided to approach his superiors to propose that the name be adopted. But the most amazing thing of all is that his boss said something along the lines of: The Lettuce.

It does have a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s the perfect name for our new car. Let’s use it!

You’d think the Japanese would have twigged by now that their often excellent models all too frequently suffer unnecessary hostility and ridicule simply because of their daft badges.

But still the penny hasn’t dropped. Earlier this week at the Tokyo Show, I saw Westerners rolling in the aisles when they heard about the latest concept vehicles, which include the Isuzu Begin Funky Box, Nissan Nails, Honda Life Dunk, Mazda Secret Hideout, Daihatsu Naked F, Toyota Cist and Suzuki Van Van, which, incidentally, is not a van.

And, I promise you, already on sale in Japan are everyday cars such as the Daihatsu Terios Kid, Honda Fit, Mazda Bongo Friendee, Isuzu Big Horn, Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear, Nissan Datsun, Suzuki Every Landy and Toyota Sparky.

Nobody can properly explain the phenomenon. Some have offered hopeless excuses. Mitsubishi, for example, says it took a happy, winning word – Bingo – and replaced the B with a D (for Diamond) to arrive at Dingo.

Frankly, I am not convinced.

Other Japanese people have suggested to me that English words and names are nothing more than a series of squiggly lines to most of their countrymen, and it’s therefore how they look, rather than how they sound, that’s important. If they are aesthetically pleasing, they are stuck on cars, no questions asked.

Maybe that’s the case. Why else would you consdider driving around in a Cist, a Big Horn or a Bongo Friendee?

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