Ping Cars Vol.1: znug design’s “Dress-Up” Toyota for Kids

The two cars in the photo above are actually the same vehicle.

Similar to the “dress-up” decorated mobile phones that were trendy in Japan a while ago, this Toyota concept car for children has a customizable body. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the Camatte57s.

Let’s start with the awesome name. There are fifty-seven different body panels that can be used to “dress-up” the car, and then the designers added the “s” from the Japanese word sawatte, meaning “touch!” (“Camatte” comes from kamau, to care.) This combo of number and letter also implies a kind of advance car model, right? Japan, in spite of its world-class car makers, is actually suffering from the phenomenon of kuruma-banare — a drift away from purchasing new cars. This is heartbreaking for many people, not least the designer of the Camatte57s, Kota Nezu. We went along to the Tokyo Toy Show to speak with him at the Camatte exhibit.

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Kota Nezu of znug design, in front of his two Camatte cars. His dyed hair and beige overalls were almost as impressive as the vehicles he designed!

“What I wanted to do with the Camatte is get as close to people as possible,” Nezu tells us. Nezu used to be a car designer for Toyota, where he worked on the Toyota i-unit, which debuted at the Aichi Expo, and also the Toyota Pod, an IT car developed with Sony. After this the Luigi Colani-alike founded znug design, making the electric bicycle zec00. The Camatte57s was also developed with Kenji Tsuji at Toyota’s Product Planning Department.

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The Camatte57s is composed of fifty-seven body panels. Not only can kids customize the car themselves, they can even drive the car. Its cute aesthetic is both retro and futuristic.

“In recent years, cars have become too perfect. You can’t touch them. We’ve gone so far in pursuing efficiency and convenience that we’ve lost the humanity. That’s why I wanted to make a car you can take care of — and by doing this, the bonds between a family will be strengthened. This is why the Camatte design is super simple. Take off the body panels and it’s obvious where the motor and batteries are. Car-human communication takes place when anyone can understand how the vehicle fits together.”

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What the car looks like with all its panel off. You can see how relatively simple the layout of motor and battery are. The idea is to improve human-vehicle communication through making the design more open.

There have been real leaps in car safety but we still worry a lot about driving with kids. “For example, it’s now compulsory to have a child seat so going for a car ride isn’t such a fun experience for kids today. In my day, we used to watch our fathers driving, poking our heads in between the driver and front passenger seats. It was all really exciting.”

The “one-plus-two seat” layout came from brainstorming how to recreate those memories while still retaining car safety. The driver’s seat is in the middle, with two seats behind for the parents to watch over the child piloting the vehicle. There is also a backseat auxiliary brake so, in an emergency, the passengers can help out the young driver. The cabin has also been minimized so you get a real feeling of being one single unit.

“I think it’s very important that the driver and passengers are close, creating new communication,” says Nezu. “This will also deepen the bonds within a family. When I was at Toyota I once worked on a packaging project to make the use of space more efficiently, and I think the Camette’s compact cabin will also be liked by occupants.”

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The one-plus-two cabin design is conceived in order for kids to be able to drive safely. The seat is created with kids in mind so can be adjusted minutely, and there’s also an auxiliary brake in the back for emergencies.

Surely another big talking point for anyone in the Camette57s is the way the panels can be customized to be how you want. What is the secret behind the body design?

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The electric car’s removable body panels are… a canvas! You can change them as you like.

“It’s light,” Nezu tells us. “Each element is being expressed as an element. The elements in a car these days are too integrated — technology has advanced so much now and designers just want to do what they want. But for the Camatte57s we really scrutinized how we could simplify things. Look at it flat and it’s really beautiful. There is a narrative if you take a bird’s eye view. The tires also stick out and the fenders are like bicycle fenders, so it’s super easy to customize the design. It’s like a cool ‘block’. Kids won’t fall in love with a car that’s like tofu, right?!”

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The front of the car has been stripped of excesses. The headlights, indicators and wing mirrors are all circular, but still carefully positioned so as to function properly.

Here is an example of how the car can be customized: Camatte57s Sports. It was designed by Nezu, based on the Astralster Mini 4WD released by Tamiya this year.

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The Camatte57s Sports is a customized Camatte57s based on the Tamiya Mini 4WD, Astralster.

The unusual shape of the Camatte57s Sports shows how easy it is to customize the car. Dads will also surely have a lot of fun coming up with designs with their kids.

But Nezu is worried about something — the reaction of children at the Tokyo Toy Show.

“Kids are really honest, right? If something’s cool, they’ll say so. And if it’s not, they’ll tell you. So the Toy Show is make-or-break for the Camatte. I’ll be over the moon if they think even just a little bit about what they would do with the design.”

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They would surely never allow it but personally, we would love to drive in the car with just the frame! Please, please put it on sale just like that!

So do you fancy a drive in Toyota’s concept car for children? Nezu didn’t need to worry: kids at the Tokyo Toy Show seemed to love the Camatte57s.

This was the first in a series of PingMag articles that will look at not only cars but mobility in general. After all, whatever the era, people have always been on the move. What does the future hold? And what inspirations can we see today? Please look forward to the next installment of Ping Cars!