WiLL Vi Canvas Top and Honda red

Car of the Day #25: 2000 WiLL Vi Canvas Top

WiLL Vi Canvas Top and Honda red
2000 WiLL Vi Canvas Top • via Toyota

Today, we won’t go too far down the rabbit hole that was Toyota Japan’s five-year automotive and lifestyle experiment from 1999 until 2005.

Why? We’re gettin’ off at WiLL Vi; extant from 2000-2001 (RIP).

Sort of like Scion, without the sportiness, music compilations, or soft swag socks, WiLL was a brand aimed at young professional women. Yes, there were three fantastically odd cars, the WiLL Vi (top), WiLL VS, and WiLL Cypha—but I’ll start by highlighting the less conventional aspects of this Japan-only Toyota sub-brand.

In close collaboration with a number of top-level companies in various industries from consumer electronics to vacation providers, WiLL offered buyers a suite of exclusive products and experiences.

Can’t afford a car? Here’s a pen…

Then-Toyota chairman, Hiroshi Okuda, had decided back in 1997 that the youth market was worth pursuing, and WiLL was really the result of intensive market research into what young people really want: personal electronics, snacks, and tours. And, sure, cars.

Don’t know where to take your shiny new motor? Try the WiLL tour in Okinawa. Or the WiLL “City and Resort” Tour.

While you’re there, try the WiLL on time chocolate, have a WiLL relax tablet and Ashai WiLL be free beer, before using your Panasonic WiLL Fax Machine to let your boss back in Tokyo know that you’re bringing him back some WiLL black bean candy and his favourite WiLL scent, clear mist, from your vacation.

From microwaves to portable MiniDisc players, eBikes to stationary, you could WiLL yourself into an all-new lifestyle experience…and have the lactose-charged movements to prove it.

Every brand does this lifestyle dance. But few can do it as big or in such a committed way as Toyota Japan. Who knows—maybe a little bit of WiLL DNA is still buried deep in Toyota today. 

If you have experience with WiLL or have stories to share about it, please leave a comment or get in touch.

My personal favourite, the folding WiLL Bike and WiLL E-Bike (above).

Surely, one of the first automotive company-branded eBikes…? Being ahead of the curve rarely pays…

OH–almost forgot—silly me! WiLL made a car! The Vi; I’m unsure if this is meant to be ‘6’ or ‘Vie’. It could be had with a canvas top, in addition to several shades of interior and exterior finishes. Can you guess which car it borrowed its mechanicals from? Rhymes with Paris

Its 1.3-litre inline-4 2NZ-FE engine, front-wheel drive and 4 speed automatic-only powertrain is typical of Toyota of the time, and in my estimation makes this car quite desirable now: there are no weird French car parts to find.

As long as you’re not hoping to replace a fender, windshield, or any of its uniquely coloured interior pieces, life must be grand and somewhat unremarkable with the WiLL Vi.

According to Toyota’s official UK magazine, its environmental credentials were strong for the time. Lead was removed from production of its radiator, heater core, and wiring loom, and its insulation was recycled.

Approximately 16,000 were produced in its two year run, making it one of the rarer retro cars to come from Japan but nowhere near where I feel its potential could have taken it. This is Toyota we’re talking about: it’s not uncommon to see vehicles produced for a decade or more without significant changes — the Vi could never build steam in the market.

Whether or not you can appreciate the WiLL Vi as a product from a unique moment in time, you can’t deny that its dedication to simple charms: nice materials, (optional) opening roof, and easy-to-live-with mechanicals are endangered features in today’s car market.

The column shifter and bench seats? Blasphemy! Where will people charge their phones? There is no infotainment screen?? The doors don’t light up???

How charming, and how precious: at 950 kg (2,090 lb), it weighs 730 lbs (328 kg) less than a Hummer EV’s battery pack.

To me, there are few early-2000s cars that ooze as much cool as the Vi, partly for its obscurity and partly because it’s a poster child for a type of car we’ll never see again: Toyota made ~16,000, but in time, they’ll all disappear.

WiLL Vi • via andpremium.jp

Special mention: Design Storehouse.K article on WiLL, the best information I’ve seen so far on WiLL products (source, in Korean)

Brief Japanese owner report:

私とクルマ。 YUKIKO KOMATSUBARA × TOYOTA WiLL Vi - 『&Premium』No.33 2016年9月号「&CAR LIFE」より
「ほぼ毎日の通勤で活躍してくれているこのクルマ、実はもう16年も乗っているものなんです。前に乗っていたホンダのコンチェルトが壊れてしまったとき、ふと目にした駅貼りポスターがウィルの広告で。カタチが面白い!と思ったのが第一印象。気になって調べてみると、コラムシフトにベンチシートと探していた条件にぴったりの組み合わせだったので、即決しました。コラムシフトとベンチシートの他にも、横から見たときのなんとも …


REVVIN’ IN RED - Before Toyota’s WiLL brand had to in no way fight to put its branding in ice cream, Soichiro Honda had to fight to paint his cars in the colour red. Seriously. Whenever Brendan McAleer does a deep dive into automotive history, File -> Print -> Save As… to expand your personal automotive knowledge-base. via Car and Driver

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