Best of 2013 #5: (Ping)Cars of the Year!

The Tokyo Motor Show held at the end of November attracted 900,000 visitors, a massive increase from last year’s event. There are lots of motor shows all over the world but the new models presented every year by Japan’s automotive manufacturers always feel truly futuristic. People often talk about kuruma-banare in Japan — consumers stopping buying cars — but if the Tokyo Motor Show is anything to go by, interest still seems very high.

With this in mind, we took a look back at the Ping Cars series we’ve been running this year and decided to pick our favorites for the crown of car of the year. If you look around you, there are a lot more interesting cars out there than you’d think.


When we featured the Toyota Camatte 57S earlier in the year, we didn’t think that there would soon be another “dress-up” customizable car out so soon. The KOPEN has been made by Daihatsu and, though it’s still just a concept model, it is unmistakably a sucessor to the Daihatsu Copen and can be “dressed-up” in just five minutes, turning your home garage into the pit lane.

daihatu_kopen(1) This is what the Kopen looks like without its body panels. (Even like this it looks great!) Okay, let’s put the door panel on first. (2) It took just one minute to finish attaching it. (3) Now the whole car’s been done! Total time? Just five minutes.


Another concept car from Daihatsu, the FC 凸 Deck (“FC Deko Deck”) seems big and small at the same time and you can’t help but want to touch this next-generation fuel cell Kei truck. We all love these kinds of compact trucks for their small bodies, but since a Kei truck requires rare metals it’s no easy task to make one that is affordable. And this is where the FC 凸 Deck comes in, a next-generation fuel cell truck that doesn’t need precious metals.

daihatsu_fcdekodeck(1) With its body resembling a piece from a puzzle, it’s no surprise that “凸” is a Japanese character meaning “convex”. The fuel cell is stored flat at the bottom of the body. It feels like at any minute the whole thing might transform into a new shape. (2) From the rear you can see how convex-concave it looks. The car itself seems to have become a battery. (3) The car has really raised the bar for fuel cell portability.

Yanmar Concept Tractor

We have never seen a tractor that looks as fast as this! The design comes courtesy of Ken Okuyama, who has previously designed cars for Ferrari. Has ever a tractor attracted this much interest at the Tokyo Motor Show before?! Saying that, tractor design is always something that’s a bit dynamic, especially the massive back wheels, and this one looks set to captivate farmers not only in Japan but around the world.

yanmar_kenokuyama(1) With such a stylish-looking tractor, it’s no surprise that there are photographers aplenty. (2) Check out the sporty steering wheel, complete with stitched leather. (3) Due to its driverless tractor technology, one driver can control two tractors, helping to achieve efficient large-scale farming. The high-tech farm is surely just round the corner!


I once spoke to my iPhone app Siri when I was driving. “I’m sleepy,” I said. “It’s dangerous to drive when you’re sleepy!” it replied. At times like these the Denso communication robot Hana would be easy to talk to because it knows you are driving. It’s surely not long till we’re communicating like this with our cars about the traffic and travel information to get to our destination. This time, though, it’s not the car itself but a robot.


Top: Hana installed in the dashboard. It’s kinda like driving with R2D2.
Bottom: Here’s Hana telling me her impressions of the Tokyo Motor Show.


From design to development and test drives in a mere six months, this has been another labor of love by the Toyota Engineering Society, a special club for Toyota employees who love building cars. “We wanted to make a car that would make anyone stop and look,” say the project leader Tsuyoshi Hayashi. At its demo drive at Mega Web in Odaiba, audiences from the nearby Toyota Motor Show flocked to the venue knowing that something special would be unveiled. Needless to say, when the Minute-S started up, it didn’t disappoint.

minitu-s (1) The Minute-S is a small hybrid motorbike combining the motor from a Toyota Aqua and a Yamaha WR 250cc engine. Check out its super futuristic tail lamp and the exposed rear tire. (2) From the front to the back, the slim body on the Minute-S exudes a truly distinct aura.


Remember znug design who gave us the Toyota Camatte earlier in the year? Now znug design’s Kota Nezu has got together wth Masaki Nakamura from custom motorbike shop Auto Staff Suehiro to produce this electric motorbike, zecOO, which is currently taking orders for delivery in 2014. The black and gold model has already been ordered by a prince in Dubai. They are apparently now in the final stages of preparing the vehicle for commercial release and we certainly want to hear more about zec00 before it goes on sale next year.


Top: This is the model destined for Dubai, which attracted a frenzy of photographs while it was waiting to be transported away. Also, if you turn the zec00′s throttle in the opposite direction the motorbike can go into reverse.
Bottom: First things first, take a look at this video and learn about the concept behind the zec00.


Okay, those of you who love supercars, this is what you’ve been waiting for, a Porsche 911 converted into an electric vehicle. The result is the eCurrent 930T-ev, developed by a Yokohama car dealership. It’s actually the realization of an idea dreamed up by Daisuke Egashira, the director of Current Garage, when he was a kid. There are certainly more than a few people who like the design of retro cars but are concerned about maintenance and the ecological issues, so for them the eCurrent is a must-see development.

Porsche_eCurrentA Porsche 911 is a rear-engine model, but here we have the battery and motor where the engine would be, with the gas cap converted into the charging adapter. Although you do, of course, lose that distinct sound of the engine, it nonetheless retains the original look of the vehicle while transforming it into an EV.

Tesla CHAdeMO Adapter

The Tesla Model S will go on sale in Japan from spring 2014. But there’s something we were curious about. In the same way as household electronics overseas have different voltages, wouldn’t the standard also be different for a rapid charger adapter? Well, the solution to this came in the form of the CHAdeMO adapter, which was showcased at the Tokyo Motor Show. Now voltages won’t be a problem and we can look forward to the foreign “black ships“!


(1) If you have a CHAdeMO adapter you can even go on holiday with your car. You can charge up at highway service areas or at the increasing number of rapid charging stations. (2) The Tesla booth made a big impression at the Tokyo Motor Show this

year and was always packed with visitors. (3) At the press conference both the Model S and CHAdeMO adapter made an appearance.

Fiat 127

Now for a little story from my private life. The other day I became acquainted with a certain Daisuke Kitagawa, a printing director whose means of transport in Tokyo is a Fiat 127. Since this is such an unusual vehicle we got talking about all things cars, during which Kitagawa told me: “Actually, there’s another person who drives the same vehicle and sometimes I get mistaken for him.” I only half-listened to this but shortly after the exact same car was parked at his office. Thinking it was Kitagawa I went in closer… but it was someone else! I had stumbled upon the other driver. It turns out that this second Fiat 127 driver is an art director called Hiroki Kusui. He also heard about this doppelgänger Fiat 127 being driven around Tokyo and was intrigued. This year’s most memorable car event was when these two Fiat 127 drivers got together in one place. The photo below is the moment the pair first met. Right after, they started off on an epic powwow about the Fiat 127.

fiat127Background: Daisuke Kitagawa’s Fiat 127. This nifty little car isn’t just used in Tokyo, Kitagawa even takes it on drives down to Osaka and back. Once Kusui’s car was mistaken for his and he got a photo sent to his phone from a friend telling him they’d snapped “him” somewhere.
Foreground: Hiroki Kusui’s Fiat 127 is a slightly darker green. After buying his Fiat he got told one day by a stranger (perhaps Daisuke Kitagawa’s friend?!) about the legendary “other” Fiat 127 in the city. If you see a green Fiat 127 zipping around Tokyo, you can almost guarantee that it’s either Kusui or Kitagawa out and about!

Rogues’ Gallery’s “Self-Made Car”

As we previously featured on Ping Cars, artist group Rogues’ Gallery have created their very own “farming car” (nominsha) and it’s awesome. Not being car-makers, they had to start from scratch. They even made a documentary about their experience and it was screened at Awaji Island, the place that served as the inspiration for the farming vehicles. A screening is planned next for Osaka, though we hope they bring the film to Tokyo in 2014.

roguesgallery_jisakujidoshaBefore they were able to create their first “self-made” car, the guys from Rogues’ Gallery went to Awaji Island every week to learn about the making process.

Ping Cars’ picks for 2014

So, how was our choice for Ping Car(s) of the Year? Quite a few of them haven’t been released yet so we are looking forward to seeing them in action on the streets. And having witnessed what Rogues’ Gallery could do, PingMag is also keen to make its own car some day… Well, here’s an idea — a car that is primitive in design but still feels futuristic. Take a look at the EV Kart by CQ Publishing.


The assembly kit is actually for sale and with it you can make your own DIY car with a windup motor. A bona fide PingMag Car may be a reality sooner than you might think…