Ping Cars Vol.7: Tommykaira ZZ, the EV sports car from Kyoto University

If you like flashy sporty bikes, we reckon you’ll love this car. It is equipped with both the fast acceleration of an electric motor as well as the unmistakeable handling of a sports car. What’s more, being an electric vehicle, it has zero emissions. Behold the Tommykaira ZZ, the car developed by Green Lord Motors, a business venture under the auspices of Kyoto University.

The Tommykaira ZZ was originally made some 16 years ago at the Tomita Yume Hanbai factory in Kyoto. At the time, it generated a lot of hype because its performance surpassed even that of the British Lotus. However, soon after its release, the Transport Ministry revised the law and so Tomita was forced to stop selling the car with over half of the reservations left. It became a ghost car; the sports car that never was.

tommykaira-zz01 This is the first Tommykaira ZZ, released in Japan in 1995. Perhaps it’s due to the round headlights but this sports car feels very friendly, though its also in a class of its own in terms of responsive performance. Here the image is uniquely “Kyoto”-esque, wouldn’t you say?

But why is a venture attached to Kyoto University doing something with such an esoteric automobile? Well, we asked ourselves the same question. And this is how we came to interview GLM’s Hiroyasu Koma.

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GLM was started in 2010 by Koma to take part in the Kyoto Electric Vehicle Project. Before this, while the students had been trying their hand at making EVs, since it was part of their studies on campus the results weren’t up to commercial standards. GLM started with the idea that if an experienced professional could come along and brush up what they had done, then a real commercial product was achievable. Kyoto is also home to many automobile parts suppliers; it’s a locale

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rich in capable engineers. The first engineer they hired was actually a veteran of Tomita. And this is when Koma first heard about the ZZ. He was then able to win approval from Tomita founder Yoshikazu Tomita to revive the Tommykaira ZZ as an EV. And then things really took off in order to create the new ZZ.  

A Lack of monozukuri

tommykaira-zz03 The GLM factory in Uji City in Kyoto Prefecture. Not an engine in sight!

While the prototype was completed faster than expected, there were two decisive problems to solve. First, in the 16 years since the original Tommykaira was produced, safety certification criteria have become far stricter and more difficult to meet. Secondly, there was the issue of the degree to which the model was finished as a car. Its acceleration was as strong as you’d expect from an EV even from the prototype stage, but the upshot of this was that the car ended up feeling more like a go-kart that a sports car. The team set their benchmark as the Tesla but what they had done was no match for the American EV.

At any rate, this was a dilemma with bearings on the fundamentals of monozukuri and it was clear it would not be solved in six months or a year. At the same time, the team had started to reach the end of its development funds and it had no partners to seek venture capitalization from. The project had run aground.

They were rescued from this predicament by individual investors who believed in and supported Koma’s ambitions. These included many eminent people such as Nobuyuki Ide, former Chairman of Sony, as well as Katsuhisa Ezaki, former President of Glico and now an executive at GLM. For car development, GLM also got help from Kyoto University students and leading automobile engineers at Toyota, and then spent two and a half years of constant trial and error until they were finally able to attain their goal.

Let’s take a look at the brand new Tommykaira ZZ, fresh from its third lick of white paint.

tommykaira-zz04 The new Tommykaira ZZ by GLM stays true to the identity of the original ZZ, while nonetheless giving off a new chic aura. It also feels very compact when you stand right in front of the car. The body covering the lightweight monocoque chassis uses fibre-reinforced plastic that allows for a highly precise design.

tommykaira-zz05 The design for the tail lights is also very minimal. After all, you don’t need such big lights. With LEDs you have enough visibility. A glance at the number plate and the diffuser underneath will tell you this is an EV, since there’s no muffler. Koma told us that the plan is to install a charging connector where the muffler is normally located.

tommykaira-zz06 The cockpit is encased in a “bathtub”-style shell. The only door handle is on the inside so you open the car door by reaching inside. The Tommykaira ZZ actually has neither roof nor windows! It had a special lock on the steering wheel so it won’t get stolen, but nonetheless you shouldn’t leave any bags inside the car when you park.

tommykaira-zz07 While the finish is minimal enough, the dashboard uses Ecsaine (Ultrasuede). The silver dial is for the shift while the red one functions like a “force-quit” button when there is an emergency.

tommykaira-zz08 The ZZ is a genuine sports car but its logo is a tortoise. Huh? It’s inspired by the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. It conveys how while Tomita is a small automobile manufacturer it nonetheless has its sights set on the big guns in the industry. The stylish logo is also cloisonné.  

Making a Creative Car

What we really like about GLM is how they have been so creative with the Tommykaira ZZ car. Similarly to the Roomette that we featured last year, the Tommykaira ZZ body is lightweight and uses fibre-reinforced plastic. Using this format it is possible to produce a car with a unique design that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, almost like it has been made to order.

GLM is also based in Kyoto, the city which of course is famous for the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. There’s something then rather apt about such an exciting new EV driving around in Kyoto. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing what they do in the future. And you see? We told you at the start that you’d like this car too.

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Thank you, Hiroyasu Koma and everyone from GLM!

Green Lord Motors

http://greenlordmotors.co.jp

On display at Roppongi’s Le Garage February 1st-28th.

Special thanks: HOXTON STUDIO

  • zdorovo

    Beautiful car indeed. And the logo is super cute.

  • 何 小惠

    Thank you, Hiroyasu Koma and everyone from GLM!