The Tokyo Motor Show is known for its unique concept cars, but usually from the domestic manufacturers, not the foreign ones. So it was quite a surprise to see Chrysler introduce a concept car at the 2005 Show – the Chrysler Akino.
The Akino was a departure from Chrysler concepts of the time in a number of ways.
Besides its unusual Tokyo introduction, the Akino was an elegant little subcompact proposal at a time when Chrysler was introducing either large, luxurious, retro-styled cars, or steroidal muscle car concepts. Additionally, the car had a Japanese name, which was also the name of its designer, both of the interior and exterior – Akino Tsuchiya, then a 37-year-old designer at Chrysler Group’s Pacifica Design Studios in Carlsbad, California (now Daimler’s Southern California studio from where, ironically, the enormous Maybach coupé and cabriolet came).
Ms. Tsuchiya’s name, Akino, means Autumn Field, and that was certainly an introduction to the design themes in Chrysler’s little concept.
In Chrysler’s show press release Tsuchiya spoke of the concept behind the Akino:
‘ “I wanted the soothing, comforting feeling of a living room on the interior all surrounded by an elegant form that reflects the Chrysler brand. We very much wanted a feeling of being at home on the road.” Tsuchiya added that for those in Japan, driving on a weekend or free time is an experience of being together such as through family outings or traveling with friends.’
The exterior is a very compact one-box design with Chrysler design cues – more elegant details than something sporty that might have been proposed by Mitsubishi or Dodge. The driver’s side (on the right; another unusual touch for Chrysler, but recognising the potential Japanese market) had one broad door to access the interior, while the left side had two centre-opening doors that allowed a generous entry sequence for such a small car.
The overall form was what you might imagine a one-box super-mini might be. But intersecting the rear of this form was a sort of half-cylinder that raised the roof slightly and allowed for additional headroom in the rear seat. This partial cylinder had a glass roof for additional light and a feeling of spaciousness in the rear seat.
Initial renderings showed a more articulated roof, its profile like the curved intersection of two paper fans. Fan-like expanses of obscure glass articulate the glasshouse. There was also a large gridded front grille, a Chrysler design element prominent on larger concepts. These elements were all toned down a bit in the final concept, with the obscure glass remaining, but contained within the supermini form. The grille was reduced to a slot beneath the winged Chrysler emblem.
Once one stepped through the large passenger doors, the broad banquette of a back seat (complete with throw pillows) and two captain’s chairs for driver and passenger welcomed occupants. The driver’s seat was fixed, but the passenger’s chair could swivel to face the back seat. Overhead, a screen dropped down for rear seat entertainment. The rear seat theoretically seated three, although they would need to be small adults or children. Still, the rear seat, with its moonroof, was much more than the dark ‘penalty box’ that awaits most hapless occupants of the rear seat of small cars.
Interesting shapes and textures revealed themselves with a look around the cabin. The driver’s area had blue suede on the seat and instrument panel. At the passenger areas this transitioned to cream suede, with a matching throw rug. The flooring was bamboo. There were light sconces just behind the rear seat, and mood lighting strips overhead. Privacy was maintained by translucent glass panels at the side of the cabin.
The instrument panel was a layered assemblage of curved panels, each with a different texture. A burlap-coloured and textured base supported a blue suede panel that contains the instruments. The instruments themselves – non-functional mock-ups – were vaguely retro-futuristic in shape and character, displaying the usual speed, fuel levels and so forth, but also a navigation map.
The effect of the interior seemed to be a nice automotive commentary on Japanese culture – deeply rooted in tradition and evocations of archetypal Japanese elements, all the while embracing a pursuit of the future.
“We wanted an artful, sculptural and graceful form that was influenced by artwork and architecture,” Tsuchiya noted at the time. “Refinement is at the heart of the Chrysler brand. The combination of those brand attributes and artistic grace helped us to bring much of the home into the automobile.”
Looking back from a decade on, through all the trials and tribulations Chrysler has endured, it is clear that the muscle car concepts that characterised the era have won out over small, elegant concepts. Just take a look at Dodge and Chrysler’s production offerings – muscle cars and people-haulers dominate their dealer showrooms. But interestingly, the Akino seems more relevant today than a decade ago. Its compact size, the subtleties of its architecture, and the elegance of its interior all have something to say in today’s exploration of the future of the car.
Perhaps the ‘Autumn Field’ is not so much an evocation of a bucolic family getaway as it is a challenge to think differently and more elegantly about the future of the small car.
A postscript: Akino Tsuchiya retired from the auto industry in around 2009, and is now teaching design and making rather beautiful jewellery. Her website can be found here.