As Tuesday 27 October morphed into Wednesday the 28th on the United States east coast, this author was intently following the goings-on and unveilings at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show half a world away. It soon became apparent that the go-to source for near real-time, up-to-the-minute English language commentary was Autocar’s Tokyo motor show live blog – how the show unfolded. One particular post, made at 10:01 by Matt Burt, stopped me in my tracks:
“British consumers should be up in arms that they don’t get to buy production versions of vehicles such as the Alphard Hercule Concept, which is 5265mm of minivan magic. It is supposed to invoke a nautical theme, hence the front end that looks a bit like a boat’s prow and the vaguely oceanic livery. It also has a vast roll-top fabric roof and wooden decking to complete the look.”
Toyota Alphard Hercule Concept? There was no mention of this whatsoever on the Toyota Global news release detailing the world premieres in Tokyo of the S-FR, FCV Plus and KIKAI concepts. Nothing from Akio Toyoda, either, on his press conference video. A minivan that “invokes a nautical theme, with vaguely oceanic livery” conjured memories in this aging baby boomer author of something akin to the Mercury Villager Nautica. Sold between the 1993 and 1998 model years, it marked the last hurrah of the U.S. fashion designer car interior craze prevalent at American Motors and Mercury’s stablemate Lincoln brand between 1972 and 1992.
Curiosity piqued, we turned to Google, which at that point only turned up a Russian Drom.ru page where we were dumbfounded and flabbergasted to see the picture to your left, itself originally sourced from the Response.jp site. That nose! How to best describe it? Optimus Prime, as the Filipinos suggest? A minivan-meets-old locomotive cowcatcher? Hannibal Lechter’s muzzle? The world’s biggest codpiece, one too large for even Jonah Falcon? Autocar‘s description as “minivan magic with a front end that looks a bit like a boat’s prow”? It just tells us that the Brits are champions at tongue-in-cheek understatement. Up in arms that we don’t get to buy production vehicles such as these? Relieved that we can’t is more like it!
Toyota and its Lexus brand are notorious for a number of front ends and grilles that are large, bold and in-your-face, or just plain ridiculously ugly and recoil-in-horror grotesque, depending on your sensibilities. The ugliest and most repulsive of the Lexus spindle grilles? The 14th-gen S210 Toyota Crown Athlete’s zigzag grille? The post-2014 facelift Land Cruiser Prado Dracula fangs? The new Toyota Esquire’s massive schnoz? All polarizing, to be sure, but none surpass the Alphard Hercule in sheer audaciousness.
Running that Drom.ru article through Google translate for an English version, we learn that the Toyota Alphard Hercule Concept is, in fact, just one of 5 distinct concept cars produced by Toyota Auto Body (a wholly-owned subsidiary affiliate of Toyota and a full-fledged member of the Toyota Group) for the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. Although Toyota Auto Body is also responsible for Prius production, its main mission and focus is on “becoming the world’s leading manufacturer of Minivans, SUVs, and Commercial Vehicles”. These include Land Cruiser 70 and 200; the latter’s Lexus LX fraternal twin; the rear-wheel-drive HiAce vans and Coaster buses; and a trio of front-wheel-drive minivan families: the smallish Noah, Voxy and Esquire triplets; the medium Estima; and the large Alphard and Vellfire twins. A historical timeline for Toyota Auto Body appears on both the company website and on the Toyota Global site.
A Russian website or two (why are the Russians so enamored of this thing?) and Malaysia’s Carlist.my have posted a number of photos that remind us that there’s more to the Toyota Alphard Hercule than that snout. The wavy delineation of the two-tone blue and white exterior is almost as overwrought as the front, and that baskethandle wing spoiler smack in the middle of the roof makes it that much easier for Godzilla, King Kong or the Jolly Green Giant to just carry this thing off. Not a bad idea, perhaps…
Keep exploring, and some redeeming values emerge. The notion of the world’s first convertible minivan is an intriguing one, even if the convertibility is essentially a giant fabric rollback sunroof that amounts to 10 or so Fiat 500C roofs put together. Rear vision with the top fully retracted? In olden days, we’d say fuggedaboutit, but in this day and age of ubiquitous rearview cameras, no biggie. And the interior is as truly inviting as the exterior is off-putting. Leave your blue jeans at home, though, for the nearly all-white seats promise to be a magnet for excess denim dye. Put on a swimsuit or khakis and a t-shirt, park by the ocean and open that megasunroof and let the breeze and sunshine in, just cruising in supreme comfort amidst a lavish wood-and-leather interior that is as sublime as the exterior is ridiculous. Yes, we can’t help but notice that Hercule rhymes with ridicule…