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Toyota’s wild KIKAI concept reminds motorists there’s more to a car than driving aids

Enthusiasts who make the trip out to this year’s Tokyo Motor Show will get to see one of the most outlandish cars Toyota has built in recent memory. Named KIKAI, the concept was designed to reconcile man and machine, and to remind motorists that cars are more than simply a list of high-tech electronic driving aids. (In Japanese, the word kikai can mean both machine and opportunity.)

The KIKAI boasts a hot rod-like design that lets onlookers and passengers admire all of the mechanical components that are usually hidden out of sight in modern road cars. As a result, all the parts that make up the braking and suspension systems and every component that’s bolted to the engine boasts an eye-catching, custom-built look.

Accessed via minivan-like sliding doors, the cockpit offers space for three passengers in a triangular configuration that puts the driver front and center. The steering is commanded through a retro-inspired, button-less wheel, and the instrument cluster consists of four analog gauges mounted on a curved piece of tubing. Toyota was coy on details, so what information the gauge with the arrow, the pig, and the Etch-a-Sketch-esque drawing is supposed to provide is anyone’s guess.

Surprisingly, Toyota hasn’t revealed what the KIKAI is powered by. A closer look at the images, though, shows that the car uses a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain that’s built around a four-cylinder engine located right behind the passengers compartment. An automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels.

Toyota cautiously points out the KIKAI is merely a design study, not a preview of an upcoming production model. It’ll undoubtedly generate an immensely positive response from show-goers in Tokyo and Toyota fans alike, but the chances of seeing it get the proverbial green light for production are non-existent. As a consolation prize, industry rumors indicate the heritage-laced S-FR concept that will also be shown in Tokyo stands a good chance of seeing the light that awaits at the end of a production line.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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