Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 11

The Tokyo Motor Show, now known as the Japan Mobility Show, has always been one of the most surprising on the circuit.

Historically the launchpad for some of the wilder concepts the industry has seen, Tokyo has also represented something of a forbidden garden, full of of pocket-sized delights that preview new Kei car models that are soon to hit the streets.

Once upon a time, we’d look at those cars and think Cute…” and move on. Yet in a world in which automobility desperately needs new answers to the challenges of increasing urbanisation and increasingly limited resources, Japan’s tiny car and sub-car concepts look more and more relevant.

In this show, Joe and Drew survey the Japan Mobility show, covering the hits (Toyota’s IMV 0, Mazda’s Iconic SP, Honda’s CI-MEV and Motocompacto) and the misses (Handa’s new Prelude and every Nissan at the show).

They also look at the opportunity that micromobility represents for Japanese automakers, and why it might just slip through their fingers.

That’s it for this episode! Thanks for listening.

If you like what you hear, please leave a review for us on your favourite podcasting platform. It helps other folk like you find us!

Click Read more’ for the transcript


Note: This transcript is machine-generated and may contain some errors.


[00:00:00] Joe Simpson: I feel like the thing with the Nissan stuff is that it, it shouts a kind of noisy more ness, which there’s a lot of in the world. Right now. And, and I, I’ve constantly asked this question of can you actually stand out today by being less, by taking things away, by going back to basics, by not just doing surface titillation and, you know, gratuitous tech excitement. Um, and, and stripping back and simplifying Can, can that make more of a statement?

[00:00:33] And I’m Joe Simpson.

[00:00:35] Drew Smith: And welcome to Looking Out - The Podcast auditory sidekick to the newsletter in which we connect the dots across the automotive industry, mobility, design, and culture.

[00:00:46] Joe Simpson: And coming up in this episode 11, we’re going to talk about everyone’s favourite topic, the Tesla Cybertruck.

[00:00:55] Drew Smith: No, we’re not.

[00:00:58] But hang on, you promised everyone we’d

[00:01:00] Joe Simpson: talk about the Cybertruck

[00:01:00] Drew Smith: Yeah, I know. the Cybertruck.

[00:01:02] we’re not,

[00:01:03] Joe Simpson: But why?

[00:01:05] Drew Smith: why? I’m just not ready.

[00:01:12] Joe Simpson: Right.

[00:01:12] Drew Smith: ready.

[00:01:13] No, okay. Look, there is, there is, there is a serious point here. I, uh, the thing that I absolutely do not want to do with the Cybertruck is jump the gun.

[00:01:24] And one of the things that I have decided that I would like to hang out for is to see somebody like Sandy Monroe actually tear this thing down and see if any of the big promises that have been made about this thing actually stack up as, as a production car

[00:01:44] Joe Simpson: So we’re going to wait until a production car, a proper production car, actually appears and gets into someone’s hands.

[00:01:52] Drew Smith: Which means that we’ll probably talk about the Cybertruck this time next year.

[00:02:00] Joe Simpson: Right, okay, so what are we going to talk about then?

The Japan Mobility Show

[00:02:04] Drew Smith: We’re going to talk about Tokoyo, the

[00:02:06] Tokyo Mobility Show, Japan Mobility Show.

[00:02:11] Joe Simpson: the Tokyo Motor Show as it was and is no longer known.

[00:02:15] Drew Smith: Yes. Yes. Tokyo Mobility. Because historically, the Tokyo Motor Show has been probably the most WTF on the calendar. That is until Geneva went to Qatar. which is a whole new world of WTF. I, I mean, think about it. Like, getting Qatar to host a motor show. It’s like getting the tobacco industry to wash a drug cartel.

[00:02:47] It’s just wild. Anyway, Tokyo. Tokyo. Tokyo. Yes. Yeah.

[00:02:53] Joe Simpson: So I think at this point it’s worth saying that neither of us went to the Tokyo Mobility Show. Um, so this is a view from afar, but I think, uh, as you said, represents the, well, our kind of Perception of how Tokyo has actually always been a really exciting, interesting show. It’s been a very, like, WTF show.

[00:03:21] There’s been stuff there that you just don’t see anywhere else and represents a spectrum of the Japanese auto industry that we just don’t see outside of Japan. But I think maybe now more than ever is a really interesting thing to look at in terms of what Japan’s doing on a global scale, what the relevance of some of the concepts are that maybe sit in more of a kind of mobility than a car space, right?

The context behind the show

[00:03:44] Drew Smith: Yeah, totally. And I think there’s some really important context for well framing for certainly how I reacted to what I saw at the show and that is that Japan is about to lose its actually I think it will lose its largest exporter of car status to China this year.

[00:04:07] It’s going to lose, um, third largest economy to Germany, right? World’s third largest economy.

[00:04:22] Um, it’s domestic automotive market is shrinking.

[00:04:27] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:04:27] Drew Smith: Um, it’s joint ventures in China are starting to collapse. Um, and. Against a backdrop of sort of widespread, well, I’m not sure if widespread is the right word, but against a backdrop of accelerating adoption of EVs in global markets. Japan is, okay…

[00:04:56] Let’s talk about penetration for a second. Cause I love talking about penetration. We talked about it last week as well, or in the last episode. So EVs, 30 percent penetration in China, 15 percent in Europe, 8 percent in Australia, 6 percent in the US. What do you think it is in Japan, Joe? 1.

[00:05:12] Joe Simpson: Ooh, um, well, knowing what I know about the kind of percentage of domestic auto sales and knowing, uh, kind of how, Committed or not, some of those brands are to EVs, I’m going to guess 5%?

[00:05:29] Drew Smith: 1.5 percent in 2022, according to Bloomberg NEF.

Toyota at the Japan Mobility Show

[00:05:38] Joe Simpson: So, does this to a degree explain, Drew, why Toyota, the world’s biggest car brand, EVs? At once, a huge laggard in the space, and yet seemingly… Saying it’s committing itself massively and saying it’s cracked the solid state battery and yet it’s, uh, CEO was on record last week when Ford and GM kind of pulled back from all the commitments that we reported on going, yeah, I see you told you so, told you this market was, you know, not going to happen.

[00:06:21] What’s going on there? What do you make of where Toyota’s at? The world’s biggest car company, what’s, what’s their play? What did we see from the Tokyo Mobility

[00:06:29] Drew Smith: Okay, if we look at the evidence presented by the Tokyo Motor Show, it was like that episode of Oprah, where she gave everybody a Pontiac. I think it was a G6.

[00:06:42] Joe Simpson: Jesus! One for you, one

[00:06:44] Drew Smith: Uh, I mean, I Those

[00:06:47] poor people. But, but that idea of You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You


[00:07:04] Drew Smith: I mean this was like Toyota going, You get a

[00:07:12] Mirai to be seen anywhere. Like, just Hydrogen? What’s hydrogen? Don’t be, uh, hydrogen. No, we don’t talk about hydrogen.

[00:07:24] Um,

[00:07:25] Joe Simpson: In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, this sort of relates to the fact that Toyota has been very bullish on hydrogen, has committed to hydrogen, said that hydrogen is the future, perhaps ahead of EVs, and now seems to be slowly walking back from

[00:07:40] that

[00:07:41] Drew Smith: we’re walking that back. Um, Look, let’s bear in mind, uh, Toyota, I think you’ll know better than me, uh, world’s largest car maker. They’re going to be producing 11. 38 million cars this year.

[00:07:57] And the percentage of those cars that will be electric is actually smaller than Japan’s EV penetration. So it’s about 1 percent of Toyota’s total production this year is going to be EVs.

[00:08:09] They have missed Whether you think this is wrong or right, they have so badly missed the zeitgeist, right? And I think what we’re seeing here is a desperate attempt. Um, and I have to say, an incredibly well executed attempt. You look at, you look at the quality of execution of those show cars, and you’re like, oh.

[00:08:43] Oh, wow.

[00:08:44] But, but it is this desperate attempt to say, okay, like we’re in the game. We’re serious about this and we are going to catch up. I think it’s also interesting that Toyota has been talking about adopting giga pressing, um, or giga casting, sorry, as a production technology to help them. Kind of scale their EV efforts.

[00:09:08] You were going to say something.

[00:09:10] Joe Simpson: I was gonna say catch up with Tesla?

Toyota and the solid state battery hype

[00:09:14] Drew Smith: Oh, 100%. 100%. So, I, I, it’s difficult to read as, as compelling as it was in many ways. It’s difficult to read sort of Toyota’s presentation at the show as anything other than a kind of like a response to an oh, oh shit moment. And, and yet. Some of the announcements, particularly around battery technology, like, you know, solid state batteries, Toyota has been claiming for, what, probably about 12 months now, maybe a little bit more, there is a, um, you know, they’ve got a breakthrough in, in the technology and they’re going to be coming to market, yet every time you read an article about when Toyota solid state batteries are coming to market, it’s couched in Maybe 2026, maybe 2027.

[00:10:14] Joe Simpson: Yeah, I maybe add on this. I did do some reading around this and obviously solid state batteries are being presented as a, I guess, a panacea. Um, in the A few things that they solve. One is that they potentially give you much greater range than today’s lithium ion batteries. Secondly, that they potentially have the ability to be lighter, and thirdly, that

[00:10:42] they’re kind of safer and they’re incredibly difficult and, right now, expensive to make. I’m not familiar with the actual production technique, but you… There’s an incredible degree of accuracy, as I understand it, that you need to manufacture them, and this is very hard to achieve, that you get, you know, sort of microns out in terms of this sandwich layering, and everything goes wrong.

[00:11:05] I’m sort of paraphrasing that badly. Um, but Toyota thinks it’s cracked it, which is potentially 2627.

[00:11:15] Drew Smith: Hmm.

[00:11:19] Joe Simpson: Which isn’t that far away. So that’s, that’s actually very interesting news, but what perhaps is more telling is that the analysts I read and some of Toyota’s own stuff says, well, actually though, this is going to be for very high end products because at least in the first years of production. They’re still going to be extremely expensive and we already we covered in the last episode how expensive a lithium ion is now It’s going to be an order of magnitude more than today’s lithium ions, which for most cars is fundamentally going to be a problem But then the second thing is the scalability the ability to produce these in very large numbers is extremely challenging So perhaps you can expect it in say a future Lexus LS product.

[00:12:03] That’s a you know, a very high end Fairly sort of small volume, uh, car, so I don’t think you should be expecting to see it in your Corolla, uh, next year.

Gigacasting and the end of the Toyota Production System

[00:12:16] Drew Smith: Um, I think, I think the other thing, just kind of coming back to the point around giga casting and what that That shift represents for Toyota, perhaps culturally or philosophically is Toyota has owned like absolutely owned the methodology that sits behind contemporary mass production. You know, and it’s been a point of pride and it’s been a point of actually revenue for them.

[00:12:53] You know, they can Toyota consults, they, they teach everybody else how to do it.

[00:12:59] Joe Simpson: they bring people from other car companies, from other companies, to Toyota to show them how they do it,

[00:13:05] Drew Smith: The fact that you can still buy a Porsche is thanks largely to Toyota going and implementing TMS at, uh, or TPS at, um. At Porsche in, in the nineties, you know, the 996 and, and the first generation Boxster were the first products that, that resulted from, from Porsche adopting, um, Toyota’s production system.

[00:13:29] So. I have to imagine that there is also a point of huge pride, which is under threat by these really wholesale shifts in how cars are being manufactured and you can argue, um, and, and maybe we should look into this in another show, but you know, you can argue the merits of giga casting when it comes to sort of vehicle durability and longevity and what happens in crashes.

The Toyota IMV 0

[00:14:00] Drew Smith: As I said, it’s, it’s a huge topic, but again, coming back to what might be sitting behind. Toyota’s extreme efforts at this show is a real desire to try and retake the narrative. think actually one of Toyota’s most interesting vehicles at the show, however, was, um, a pickup called, what is it? The IMV zero.

[00:14:28] Joe Simpson: Zero? Yeah.

[00:14:30] Drew Smith: And I found it interesting because it strikes me as. Toyota at its absolute, absolute, absolute best in terms of how do you manufacture something extremely efficiently and cost effectively. And as a result, that’s driven an aesthetic, which is completely charming. Um, you know, it has flat, a flat windscreen and flat side glass.

[00:15:01] It’s like an old Fiat Panda. Um, it’s driven a price point. You know, they’re talking about $10, 000 for this thing,

[00:15:08] Joe Simpson: is incredible.

[00:15:10] Drew Smith: is absolutely incredible. And it’s also designed from the outset to be modified and adapted in global markets and, and for global markets. Um, and it’s a response to the fact that the Hilux has become so expensive.

[00:15:30] You know, I think in Australia, it’s possible to spend 000 on a Toyota Hilux these days. So it’s, it’s no longer that affordable workhorse vehicle. And the IMV is Toyota saying, actually, we still know how to do this.

[00:15:43] Joe Simpson: Right, I was just gonna say that I think it’s super interesting and actually shows Toyota at it’s best. Let’s not forget that the The Hilux, Toyota has really Um You know, perhaps outside of North America, owned the kind of this market for sort of a robust working vehicle which has mobilized, you know, and really given sort of, um, wheels and the kind of tool on wheels to large parts of, you know, Africa, Asia, the part of the world you’re in, um, and, and Europe, to be honest.

[00:16:27] And it’s interesting in the context of what we’ve been saying the past few weeks about how expensive vehicles are getting that Toyota is maybe recognizing. Yeah, actually, we need to respond to this and particularly, I can’t stress this enough, the, the kind of power and impact that, that Toyota has had on a continent like Africa, how many of the vehicles there are Toyotas and how I think it’s maybe recognizing And speaking to the need to provide affordable mobility to many, many millions of people is super interesting.

[00:17:05] But what’s even more interesting to me is that then they’ve designed it in, um, consult with third parties. They’ve actually, um, taken things that we might take for granted like ABS. Because then when you want to upgrade the rear axle, um, as you know, you kind of, you kind of rebuild the rear body and put heavier things on it having an ABS system causes you issues. So yes, you can have ABS on this vehicle theoretically, but as standard, it comes without it. And they’ve actually worked really closely with the kind of people who tend to kit out and, you know, do the sort of third party conversion to these types of vehicles. And, um, at the Tokyo mobility show, they showed it in various guises in various sorts of kind of workouts.

[00:17:54] And I think that’s where. That brand has so much cultural impact. We just think of Toyota as this big kind of machine, but it’s actually incredible. And it’s where Toyota really still has so much to offer and does such actually quite interesting things that, you know, when it goes back to sort of, if you like basics, and that’s the wrong word, it really has immense, immense power

[00:18:18] Drew Smith: Yeah, but I don’t, I don’t think basics is necessarily a pejorative in, in, in this sense, because a lot of what you and I talk about, um, whether it’s on the show or whether it’s in our text messages is how the industry has got itself into such a pickle with the complication and the sophistication of the products, um, which is causing, as we know, just all sorts of issues.

[00:18:47] Um, and I find it really refreshing that Toyota is kind of going out on a limb and saying, actually getting back to basics can be a good thing.

[00:19:04] Joe Simpson: Yeah, and a good, a good thing for business for them. I think the interesting thing is, we were, we were trying to understand there’s some, there’s some conflicting insight around whether this vehicle’s actually for real or whether it’s kind of conceptual right now, it seems like it’s for real, but there was some doubt as to kind of when and where it comes to market, it seems like the question is for Toyota, is it actually going to undermine the Hilux business, which is sort of so profitable and valuable for them as always the challenge when you introduce a vehicle at that, at that kind of price point, but at kind of 10, 000, um, you know, price point, it has the potential to have such impact on the

[00:19:42] Drew Smith: amazing.

[00:19:43] Joe Simpson: And it’s, yeah, it’s, actually a really great piece of design, actually. It

[00:19:47] Drew Smith: yeah, yeah,

[00:19:48] Joe Simpson: people to go and look at it.

[00:19:49] Drew Smith: Truly, truly delightful

Nissan at the Japan Mobility Show

[00:19:50] Drew Smith: Um, let’s move on to Nissan then.

[00:19:57] Joe Simpson: I shouldn’t have just laughed at the word, at the mention of Nissan. That’s very rude.

[00:20:02] Drew Smith: set against, set against kind of the, the, the real world, uh, delight of, of that Toyota, um,

[00:20:13] Joe Simpson: INV0.

[00:20:15] Drew Smith: the IMV0, um.

[00:20:17] Joe Simpson: Catchy name.

[00:20:18] Drew Smith: Yeah, watching, like, Nissan, it’s like, you know, my, my coach, Andy Polaine once said to me, you know, we were talking about aging and the challenges of, of, of, you know, growing up as a child and watching your parents age.

[00:20:35] And the fact that you essentially watch your parents become children.

[00:20:40] Joe Simpson: At some point, the relationship, not to be too personal, I feel like I’m going through it with one of my parents at the moment. The relationship flips where you become the parent and they become the child again. And it’s very sad and quite hard to deal with.

[00:20:52] Drew Smith: A hundred percent. And it’s quite sad and hard to deal with. Um, what happened to Nissan in Tokyo? Um, it, again, there was a, a significant number of concepts. What do we have? We had the hyper force, the hyper punk, the hyper

[00:21:11] Joe Simpson: They’re all called hyper.

[00:21:12] Drew Smith: the hyper adventure, and the hyper urban, and every single one of them was wildly hyperactive, um, and just so extreme.

[00:21:23] Um, so wildly extreme in their expression and, and it was difficult for me from a design perspective to draw the thematic link across them other than

[00:21:43] just hyper,

[00:21:44] Joe Simpson: extreme.

[00:21:44] Drew Smith: like they were extreme.

[00:21:46] Joe Simpson: And how true would you, because you just said when we were talking about Toyota that you I felt that they were very polished and it was, I mean, I’m putting words in your mouth. You didn’t say they were cohesive, but you said they were very polished as a kind of, was a way of presenting several vehicles.

[00:22:04] I think Toyota had what, like four or five key concepts that all did different things. How would you compare it to Nissan? Would you say that the hyper, yeah, the four hypers were polished?

[00:22:18] Drew Smith: No. I mean, if I’m frank, but, but there seems to be a bit of a theme of this at Nissan at the moment, um, there was the concept 2023 from Nissan Design Europe, which was, uh, came out, I think it was to celebrate 20 years of, of the Nissan,

[00:22:37] Joe Simpson: 25 years, I think, or

[00:22:38] Drew Smith: uh, 25,

[00:22:39] Joe Simpson: Nissan Design Europe, yeah.

[00:22:41] Drew Smith: Nissan Design Europe, it’s been around for a while. They produced a concept card to celebrate it.

[00:22:46] And it’s, it’s sort of this extremely pumped up, extremely fricking angry Micra

[00:22:53] Joe Simpson: yeah.

[00:22:54] Drew Smith: At least that’s, that’s how I read it.

[00:22:56] Oh,

[00:22:56] Joe Simpson: and they said, they said in that, it’s like, we designed a car, um, that we kind of wanted for ourselves, and to drive in and around London, or something to that effect. And for those of us, you and I both lived in London, I was just like, Sorry? In 2023

[00:23:15] Drew Smith: I, the,

[00:23:22] Joe Simpson: took it to another level,

[00:23:24] Drew Smith: the hypers, the hypers did take it to another level and what. Um, you know, if we think about Nissan’s design legacy, whether it’s kind of Micra and, and, and popularizing cute,

[00:23:47] which I think it did an, an extremely good job of in say the European market, which, you know, typically didn’t do cute people bought the Micra in droves.

[00:23:56] And it was this extremely cute car, Qashqai. Um, total fricking game changer.

[00:24:03] Uh, Juke, total fricking game

[00:24:06] changer.

[00:24:08] Joe Simpson: Skyline,

[00:24:10] Drew Smith: Skyline, total fricking game changer. Sorry, GTR. GTR, we call it the GTR these days. There was none of that conceptual innovation that I could read from these cars. There was nothing that kind of said to me, This is how we’re going to move the game on.

[00:24:31] It was basically taking a series of existing typologies and turning the volume up to 11.

[00:24:38] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:24:38] Drew Smith: In terms of graphic and surface treatment. Yeah.

[00:24:44] Joe Simpson: And then some of the expression of technology inside.

[00:24:48] Drew Smith: Yeah.

[00:24:48] Joe Simpson: Do you think, Drew, that that shows, um, No, let me ask this another way. Do you think if they’d been more… expressive or experimental with the very typology and proportion of the vehicle, that could have had more impact. Because I agree with you, they were fundamentally quite, they seemed to be almost on packages of things they do at the moment and then just sort of gone mad with in terms of the surface language and the graphics and the

[00:25:22] Drew Smith: So I, I was, I was interviewed by somebody recently.they were trying to, they were trying to work out what, what should this organization be doing in order to sort of better position itself in the, the emerging world of, of, of electrified vehicles. And I said, look, the thing that I see, and I say this with so many brands and we talked about it last week is we’re not. we’re not seeing the packaging advantages of EVs being used to the full effect and I have absolutely no doubt that if Nissan had started with a clean sheet of paper Started asking the sorts of questions around, okay, well, like they probably ask questions around Kashkai. Okay, like, what, what can a C segment car be?

[00:26:21] You know, with Juke, what can a B segment car be? You, you, you, you start from a, a much more fundamental question and you wind up with a much more radical result.

[00:26:34] And Nissan has a history of doing this. And, and that’s probably what I would’ve liked to have seen from them.

[00:26:43] Mm-Hmm

[00:26:44] Joe Simpson: And I think, you know, they, this is where it gets interesting for me, you know, as someone who’s a strategist and design strategist. Nissan has played this really interesting game where they have not gone for one consistent Nissan design language. It’s a series of quite disparate characters, which have quite different expressions and differ quite a lot between, say, the Japanese market, the European market, and the American market, even.

[00:27:18] And I feel that what they were doing here was perhaps taking some of their well known, um, nameplates, like GTR, like Juke, and saying, okay, we need to now evolve that nameplate. And work out what it is for the future. But if you’re not, you know, a BMW or a Mercedes or a Porsche or a premium brand where you, you kind of traditionally do that evolution and you have a set of things to build on and you’ve got one eye in the, on the future and you’re a Japanese brand.

[00:27:54] I think. I feel it’s got a bit confused because it’s not, as you’ve articulated, it’s not been about questioning or it doesn’t feel like it’s been about questioning what, what is this vehicle for? Who’s it talking to? What does it need to offer? What’s going to be its relevance in the future? It’s been more the other way of saying, okay, we’ve got GTR, we need to protect GTR.

[00:28:15] Um, let’s think about what AI and technology might mean and then apply that to GTR. And it doesn’t really work.

[00:28:25] Drew Smith: Let’s let, let’s take AGTR and make it more, let’s make it ai. Let’s

[00:28:31] make it

[00:28:31] Joe Simpson: uh, I think this is the other thing that I, um, and maybe walks us into a discussion about the next one. We’re going to talk about Tokyo mobility. I feel like the thing with the Nissan stuff is that it, it shouts a kind of noisy more ness, which there’s a lot of in the world. Right now. And, and I, I’ve constantly asked this question of, can you stand out?

[00:28:57] And I think maybe that Toyota IMV 0 is a good example of it. Can you actually stand out today by being less, by taking things away, by going back to basics, by not just doing surface titillation and, you know, gratuitous tech excitement. Um, and, and stripping back and simplifying can, can that make more of a statement?

The Mazda Iconic SP

[00:29:18] Drew Smith: Well, okay. Let’s talk about Mazda and the Iconic SP then. Um, and I, I, I, in some ways I’m, I’m, I’m a little bit conflicted with this car. Um, and in other ways, I’m, as I’m sure a lot of people are completely besotted with it. And, and, and one of the reasons I’m besotted with it is because against this background of visual noise, it. And, you know, you can debate perhaps the merits of car as an object standing beside itself, but in context against a general noisy background. This thing was just like a breath of fresh air. Ah. You just kind of sighed with delight when, when, when you saw it against, you know, what, what Nissan was doing, what Subaru was doing, what even what Toyota was doing, as well executed as they were, they’re very noisy, visually noisy products.

[00:30:24] Um, what’s your take on, on, on the little Mazda?

[00:30:30] Joe Simpson: I think I summarize a bit where you are. I, I at first was slightly disappointed. I always, I think as a strategist and someone who’s not actually, you know, drawing daily with a pen and trying to kind of perfect surfaces, think about the bigger picture. And it’s not perhaps the big move forward and re questioning that I.

[00:30:58] Drew Smith: No,

[00:30:58] Joe Simpson: Perhaps might have hoped for, but then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, well, there’s Mazda and you have the Miata or the MX 5 and the RX 7. And I thought, yeah, it makes lots of sense.

[00:31:12] Drew Smith: it doesn’t. The look on your face, you’re like a little puppy dog. You’re just like, Oh,

[00:31:17] it’s so lovely.

[00:31:18] Joe Simpson: I really, I really want to put this out on record. Mazda, perhaps more than any brand.

[00:31:27] That I can name off the top of my head has over the past few years with certain cars and really mainstream cars like the current Mazda 3 done absolutely incredible things in terms of refining their surfaces. And this, I would always kind of hold judgment of like, I would like to see it in the metal, but I think we get enough of a sense from pictures and the reports that.

[00:31:52] It’s another example of a beautifully surfaced, um, Mazda. And fair play to them. They just are doing great work in that area. And they’re not doing something that is all about busyness and lines. But as anyone in the industry will tell you, that’s hard. To do this stuff well and apparently appear simple and not put creases everywhere is hard.

[00:32:20] To get, you know, the surfaces and all the highlights and things to work. And it looks like they’ve once again done a really wonderful job, and I’m just like, yeah. I can’t help myself, but just really like it. Also, kind of modern pop up headlights. I know a bit

[00:32:33] Drew Smith: I know.

[00:32:34] Joe Simpson: but Yes,

[00:32:36] Drew Smith: It’s so cool. Um, the other thing that’s coming to, that came to mind when I saw it was there, there was, there was something of the Toyota 2000 GT about it, which just as a side note, uh, made my heart go, ka dunk, ka dunk, ka dunk, or pa dunk, pa dunk, as Kylie Minogue, uh, once sung. Um, where I think this car is, is super interesting is. Where I think Mazda is interesting. I mean, if you were to be uncharitable and you think about Mazda’s EV product MX 30, um, it, it is in many ways, so laughably behind the eight ball, uh, when it comes to, again, this industry zeitgeist of electrification. I wouldn’t be surprised if that actually becomes Mazda’s calling card, you know, it, it’s sort of raging against the dying of the light, um, by, by saying, okay, well, look, yeah, we’ll put a rotary range extender in this thing.

[00:33:43] Um, but. Hey, it’s still got a rotary and it’s still an out and out sort of junior sports car and that’s really important to us as a brand and actually we think that’s really important to the idea of the car as well.

[00:34:00] Joe Simpson: Yes, exactly. And Mazda seem to know who they’re talking to,

[00:34:05] Drew Smith: Yeah.

[00:34:06] Joe Simpson: who, who is for them, but they also, and they’ve said this for a long time since they kind of divorced from Ford, they are not chasing volume. Unlike pretty much every other brand, they’re not chasing volume. They’re happy at being, I think it’s like 1.

[00:34:21] 3 million vehicles and they don’t have a desire to grow. And they have. always and increasingly still set themselves apart with slightly idiosyncratic ideas and technologies. And I think they know that there’s enough people for them to have a viable business that were like, yeah, I like that. It’s slightly different.

[00:34:43] It’s not different in a kind of weird, have to explain yourself way, but it’s different. You know, uh, it it’s. Sets itself apart, and I, I admire that, and I think that’s, there’s something in Mazda, although it’s very quiet, that to me is actually, it is very Japanese, it’s very, um, it is, it’s different in it’s kind of cultural approach to other places, but it’s also not seeking to kind of try to shout about it and take over the world.

[00:35:18] Drew Smith: Yeah, actually, this whole conversation reminds me, particularly the, when we were talking about the surfacing and just how hard it is to get that right. My first ever boss in the automotive industry was a guy called Ginger Ostle and he worked at Porsche, um, and then went to Mazda. Um, I believe it was at the Rizzlesheim studio, is it

[00:35:39] Joe Simpson: Under Peter Burt Whistle maybe?

[00:35:41] Drew Smith: Yeah, he worked at, he

[00:35:42] Joe Simpson: no, not oh,

[00:35:44] Oberhausen or somewhere I,

[00:35:47] Drew Smith: Yeah,

[00:35:47] somewhere outside Frankfurt.

[00:35:48] Joe Simpson: my German geography’s not very good.

[00:35:50] Drew Smith: anyway, we would, we, we’d actually gone to photograph a Mazda concept car, um, at the studio and we were driving back to, to, to the office. And I said to him, you know, like, what was the biggest difference between. You know, like when you worked at Porsche to, to going to Mazda and he said, well, um, at Porsche, we worked on surfaces for like 18 months and at Mazda, we had about six and it’s just really interesting because you look at something like the iconic, what is it?

[00:36:20] The iconic SP,

[00:36:21] Joe Simpson: P

[00:36:22] Drew Smith: like there is so much love and labor that has gone into surfacing that thing, just as it has with the Mazda three,

[00:36:30] Joe Simpson: Yeah,

[00:36:31] Drew Smith: it’s

[00:36:32] Joe Simpson: I, I think they probably have some of the best, um, surface modelers in the industry would be my guess. You know, like this whole, don’t forget the modelers thing. yeah, probably Mazda is the, you know, kind of key, key hold up an example of that. Hmm,

Honda at the Japan Mobility Show

[00:36:48] Drew Smith: So, so sort of cute historical asides aside, um, let’s move on to Honda, because I think as a study in contrast, uh, against Mazda, um, Honda’s, Honda’s, big thing at the show was a new Prelude.

[00:37:13] Joe Simpson: which is, am I right in saying that it’s a nameplate we’ve been without for a little while? Yeah,

[00:37:20] Drew Smith: Probably a nameplate that we didn’t need to be with again, uh, given how they’ve chosen to revive it, I think, and, and that might sound unduly harsh. Here’s the thing that always stuck out about the Prelude. Um, at its best, that car was like a scalpel.

[00:37:42] Joe Simpson: I,

[00:37:42] Drew Smith: You know, it had. Such a leanness and a liveness to it, and, you know, there was that, also that thing about Hondas of, of, certainly if I think about the third and fourth generation Preludes, where the cowl height, right, the base of the windscreen was so low.

[00:38:03] So, you’re in this Coupe with a whole bunch of glass, incredible visibility, this low cowl height, and it’s just you and the road, um, as a, as a kind of like a mid market sports coupe,

[00:38:21] Joe Simpson: yeah.

[00:38:22] Drew Smith: there was such a distinct and delightful positioning for this thing. And it feels like this new one just doesn’t do any sort of justice.

[00:38:33] Joe Simpson: No, um, No, I was gonna say something cruel. Um, I I, I just want to expand on a point that you just made. I, quite a long time ago, interviewed Clay Dean when he was at GM. I think he was in a very senior position, possibly even head of design at Cadillac. And I said to him at the end of the interview, I said, What… If I could give you a magic wand, what thing would you have? What would you change? about GM and he was like, he looked for a minute and Cladian’s a very smart, thoughtful guy. He’s now at, um, he was at Under Armour, he’s just moved somewhere else, um, some kind of, I think, off road company. And he was like, I wish I had Honda’s powertrains and packaging because their powertrains are so, and their engines are so clever and so compact that you get incredible benefits of packaging.

[00:39:36] space, low cowl point. And I think it’s really interesting when we’re talking about this constantly in the context of the move to electrification. Honda is a brand that’s famous for this. They can package like no other. I mean, even current civics, incredible the amount of space they managed to create in the cabin, uh, from a car within that footprint.

[00:40:00] And yet, this car feels like it doesn’t really have any of those benefits, any of that sort of athleticism, any of that sort of slimness and smartness that those Preludes of Yore had. And famously, you know, LJK Setwright, famous, uh, writer. From the UK in the kind of, you know, 90s and noughties. He was a massive, massive fan of those previous generation, um, Preludes particularly.

[00:40:29] And kind of Honda powertrains more, more generally. Um, and I, I worry that he would maybe turn his grave at this.

[00:40:38] Drew Smith: This had the prelude nameplate on it. There’s, there were another couple of Hondas that I think are worth mentioning. Um, one which, at an aesthetic level, I think, what they did with the original Honda e concepts, which was to take a, a Honda from history and update it in a, in a pretty charming way and the Sustania C, which took the Honda City,

[00:41:07] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:41:07] Drew Smith: um, quite a delightful aesthetic update.

[00:41:12] They talk about, um, how, you know, it’s sort of Honda’s vision for circularity, but there’s predictably little. Um, sort of detail on that other than the fact that it’s got recycled resin bodywork. Um, but what you’ve just said about powertrain and packaging, you know, if I, if I now look at the sustain you see with that in mind, feels a little bit more cynical because again, you know, it doesn’t speak to. The benefits of what Honda could be extracting from, from, from the transition to EV, a

[00:41:55] Joe Simpson: No. Um, maybe not. I wonder about this one. I, I, I would really like to know more. I feel this is one of those where I, I’m not clear whether this is a proper a proper effort that’s just not been communicated very well, got lost in a morass of, or a melee of kind of insight and the fact that not many people went to Tokyo, or whether it’s a bit of a, a me too sort of reaction to cars like the BMW iVision Circular and sort of saying, Oh, we’re looking at things like this as well, because you know, all the suppliers are looking at those sorts of things.

[00:42:37] Um, I would say that I think there’s I hear you on the packaging point. There is something about this which, aesthetically, in terms of its kind of proportions, it’s got a real character to it, which I feel

[00:42:50] like all the best Hondas have. And I do like that about it.

[00:42:54] Drew Smith: Yeah, no, absolutely. I, I, I immediately looked at it and went, Ooh, this does spark joy.

[00:43:00] Um. You know, in, in the vein of Maria Maria Kondo.

[00:43:03] The other thing that sparked joy from Honda was, um, something called the c hyphen, MEV, um, Great name. Uh, and this is a, an urban, like a tiny sort of sub k last mile or, or neighborhood electric

[00:43:26] Joe Simpson: It’s almost like a canter or something. Kind

[00:43:28] Drew Smith: It is, it’s a lot like a counter, uh,

[00:43:32] Joe Simpson: But good.

[00:43:35] Drew Smith: give me a counter, but make it good. Um, and, and I think, so,

Taking a step back: the opportunity for Japan

[00:43:40] Drew Smith: so this is where I want to take a step back and think about what, what was best at the Japanese show. Um, and it is things like the CIMEV.

[00:43:57] It was stuff like all of the really small Daihatsus,

[00:44:02] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:44:03] Drew Smith: right? And the really small Suzuki’s.

[00:44:05] It w it was things like that Toyota pickup that I keep forgetting the name of, uh, IMV0. Um, and. I think it’s particularly at the micromobility end of things that there is the greatest opportunity for a number of these Japanese brands to have continued relevance, if not increased relevance and the CIMEV, um, shows that, you know, if Honda puts its mind to it.

[00:44:45] There’s a whole new world of sub car mobility devices that is opening up and it’s, it’s currently there for the taking because a lot of the sub car, but four wheeled stuff is generally speaking a bit crap at the moment it’s, you know, because it’s not being made by car makers with You know, long histories of mass production and the quality standards that the car industry operates at.

[00:45:13] And, you know, if you could get a brand like Honda to enter into that space, whoa, that’d be, that’d be super cool.

[00:45:22] Joe Simpson: I mean. Drew, I predictably very much agree. I’m looking at, and in fact, we have a, we have a newsletter going out. Uh, well, it will come out before this, this has come out. Um, if you don’t already subscribe, go to lookingout. io and subscribe to our newsletter. Um, but I’m looking at the Suzuki Go, which is basically the idea of a kind of senior walker.

[00:45:47] Um, and I think there’s something that’s really important here. The level of, and I can’t find the word, but, um, sort of evolution or, um, sophistication, wrong words, of a society is, um, or the measure of it is how well they look after and care for their elderly. And I believe, uh, that in Japan, That is something that the Japanese take quite seriously.

[00:46:28] And people tend to live quite a long time in, in Japan. And for years, we’ve seen. The Japanese brands work on these sub car in between a bike or a Segway or a scooter. Honda also has recently launched this kind of briefcase that turns into a scooter, which is, you know, really quite kind of adorable. Um, and we’ve been seeing these concepts for years at the Tokyo show. As you say. They are on this, they can do this like no other brands, the miniaturization, the kind of the, the, the cleverness of the way they can do things in small spaces. Things fold up, you know, and, and yet the kind of, the quality of the design and, and the engineering is just on a level that you, you can’t, you don’t see in the kind of things like mobility scooters that you can buy today. I am not sure whether the Japanese brands. know and understand how to commercialize this. Because we’ve been seeing it for years, and we’ve never really seen anything come to market. You know, Toyota has something, I can’t remember its name, but it was like a better version of the Twizy. Which I remember they took a load of journalists to drive, and then they said they were going to bring it to market, and basically never did. And, I… I really think and I hope there’s people in those companies really trying to kind of work on this because to, you know, the interview we’ve seen you do with or heard you do with Horace Did You, there’s such an opportunity in this space. Um, and I don’t think they fully get it or kind of have worked out how to kind of, if you like, exploit it.

[00:48:14] And I think Horace actually said something about this relative to the Japanese brands, right?

[00:48:19] I’ve spoken to Japanese companies who’s, I’ll name one of them, Honda.

[00:48:26] Horace Dediu: Um, started out making motorcycles, actually not even probably mopeds is what we would call them. Very small vehicles. Um, you know, growing through the, the civic phase into an automaker, uh, establishing themselves as a very, you know, prestigious automaker even with, with a new brand Acura, et cetera.

[00:48:49] Unable, unable to do anything about micro mob mobility, right?

[00:48:54] Enjoying the idea in an intellectual sense. Uh, you know, doing studies po possibly developing, uh, prototypes, cannot commit to it.


[00:49:08] Drew Smith: And what I think is really interesting about what Horace is saying there, and I think you could, you could apply the same observation or critique to the, the, the motor show overall is conceptually. These brands get it, but when it comes to executing, they just can’t make the leap and it’s, it’s such a shame when you think about, you know, everything that we’ve talked about with Honda.

[00:49:51] Right. And, and the incredible engineering prowess of that, that organization, Toyota, the incredible engineering prowess of that organization, there is an entire new market that is opening up and that is sort of ready for the taking. Um, but I guess as, as, as Horace would argue as a. Student of Clayton Christensen, for industry incumbents, the things that will disrupt them look like toys and therefore are not really worthy of consideration.

[00:50:34] Joe Simpson: Yeah. I, I wonder if there’s a lesson in this for these brands in terms of what Toyota did with the Prius. It’s arguably a lead they, in the current light, look like they might have squandered. But, for years, they built this reputation as the green leaders in the industry. They… Created a car which was the ultimate virtue signaler before Tesla came along.

[00:51:12] Drew Smith: Hmm. Remember when people turned up to the Oscars

[00:51:15] in Priuses?

[00:51:16] Joe Simpson: exactly what I was thinking.

[00:51:18] Um, Leo DiCaprio, Leo DiCaprio? Leo DiCaprio

[00:51:21] Drew Smith: DiCap

[00:51:22] Joe Simpson: and, uh, and Gwynny, uh, getting out of, you know, getting out of Prius.

[00:51:29] Um. I still never wrote the kind of, it’s the collective noun for a group of priors. Um, but they did that kind of like largely as a loss leader, but the reputation that it built them and the opportunity that I would argue it created them was enormous.

[00:51:48] Drew Smith: Yeah.

[00:51:48] Joe Simpson: I think there’s a similar. Possibility in this space in that right now, probably seeing in the current business model of our automotive OEM, how do you take micromobility and commercialize it and make it scale and build it in your factories, make money off it within the current framework of those companies is very hard.

[00:52:14] Drew Smith: Yes.

[00:52:15] Joe Simpson: But I suspect if one of them went for it and did it and committed hard, they could create a leadership position in that space quite easily. And that could create them, I suppose, I think, a real… platform for the future. And I mean, Honda and Toyota and others have talked about becoming mobility brands. I think really the time is now and we can see that they, as you said, the design and engineering brain is there, it’s just the will to actually, you know, do it and commercialise it and maybe


[00:52:51] Drew Smith: Well, on, on, what, what, huh? That was perfect, Joe. You didn’t need to say anything else. I think that was a beautiful, that was a beautiful wrap up. Uh, because, on that note Uh, that’s it for this 11th episode of looking at the podcast, uh, coming up on our next show. Joe, what are we talking about? Can

[00:53:16] Joe Simpson: Are we going to talk about the Cybertruck? Or not. We could just have this as an in joke for the next sort of, you know, 5 episodes. If we’re still here.

[00:53:31] Drew Smith: Maybe we don’t talk about what’s coming up in the next show because we’re not entirely sure. But what we, what we do know is that, uh, you’re going to China.

[00:53:41] Um, soon,

[00:53:43] and we will be recording a show from China in the coming weeks. So I’m super, super interested to get your perspective on what’s happening on the ground.

[00:53:54] Um, so if you want to know what’s coming up in the next show, you’re just going to have to listen to it, I’m afraid. If you liked this show, uh, please leave us a review. Um, share it with people, uh, subscribe to our channel on YouTube. Uh, so youtube. com forward slash at looking out podcast. You can also follow us on Instagram, um, at looking out podcast.

[00:54:22] Uh, for more about the topics in this show, you can also sign up to our newsletter. Uh, which you can do at lookingout. io. Um, yeah, looking out the podcast was written and presented by Drew Smith.

[00:54:37] Joe Simpson: And Joe Simpson.

[00:54:39] Drew Smith: is Drew Smith and thank you so much for listening and watching.


End note

[00:54:43] Drew Smith: Oh, I’m really looking forward to looking at the

[00:54:49] Joe Simpson: What?

[00:54:53] Yeah.

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November 23, 2023