From the September 1990 issue of Car and Driver.
Mr. Robert B. McCurry
Executive Vice President
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
1900 I South Western Ave.
Torrance, California 90509
We don’t know a lot about managing a big-time car company, and goodness knows we don’t presume to tell other people how to run their business. But may we offer a suggestion? Find out who told your Japanese colleagues that America doesn’t want a car like the Sera, and tack his hide up on a shed somewhere.
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You see, Mr. McCurry, it’s been a long time since we drove a car that attracts as much attention from the general public. And as many spontaneous expressions of approval. We get smiles, nods, waves, and thumbs up every time we take it out. It’s almost a hazard on the freeway, with rubberneckers changing lanes all around to get a better view. Crowds gather wherever we park it. The litany has become familiar: “It’s a Toyota. A prototype. It’s in production and on sale in Japan. And it’s cheap—the equivalent of about $11,000. But Toyota isn’t going to bring it here. Yeah, we think that’s a big mistake, too.”
Sure, the eyecatchiness of the Sera (you really want it pronounced ser-AH, as in, “will be”?) stems partly from its pea-soup-metallic paint and its right-hand-drive cockpit. But most of the car’s appeal, we’re convinced, is rooted in its fundamental character. The Sera is tiny, fun, and modern. And it looks all those things. Who could resist?
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It would probably be enough that the car has a unique, all-glass, bubble-top roof. But then those delightfully trick semi-gullwing doors swing up…and the crowd goes wild. The designers at your parent company in Japan, Mr. McCurry, likely conceived those features for auto-show impact. But we found them to be likable and surprisingly practical in real-life use. The doors feel sturdy, raise easily, and don’t mind high curbs or close-parked cars. And the wraparound glass provides an open, airy feeling and a truly panoramic view of the world. It’s like a convertible without the noise and mussed-up hair. Okay, a blazing sun can warm the cockpit. But between the air conditioning and the clip-on overhead sunshades, we never overheated.
Even the mechanicals contribute, we think, to the Sera’s endearing nature: straightforward, absolutely conventional Starlet-based stuff throughout. That little sixteen-valve, 1.5-liter four runs as sweetly as most all your engines do now, sir, and its 108 horsepower pulls the one-ton car around with spirit and verve, if not exactly muscle. Rack-and-pinion steering, a strut front suspension, a well-located rigid axle in back—it’s all disarmingly simple. The car is light and compact enough to feel zippy and responsive without a lot of fancy chassis hardware. The four-wheel disc brakes and ABS add a welcome dash of upmarket technology.
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Considering its diminutive external dimensions, the Sera seems truly vast inside. It reminds us, if we may say so, of the clever CRX, which also sits on a 90.6-inch wheelbase. But your boys wedged real fold-down plus-two seats into that envelope. Even if they aren’t very comfortable, those seats expand the practicality of the car (and would do good things for its insurability). Where real usefulness as a car is concerned, the Sera embarrasses the popular but cramped Miata something awful. And wouldn’t you like to be stealing a little of that car’s thunder right now?
We took the liberty, Mr. McCurry, of calling your product-planning department, and we spoke with a fellow there we know to be intelligent and professional. He patiently explained that bringing the Sera to the U.S. is not even an option anymore, because it was developed without regard for our government’s crash standards and doing the necessary structural engineering now would amount to starting over. And he had other completely sound reasons for leaving the Sera in Japan: its powertrain is no longer common to anything in your American lineup, lawsuits could result if the doors were to trap occupants in a rollover, and (the one we hear all the time) the volume wouldn’t justify the investment.
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Well sir, those may be the sorts of considerations someone in your position needs to weigh. But we’re just not convinced. Okay, maybe this particular car is out of the question for U.S. importation. But couldn’t it serve as a finished prototype for a fresh and practical little glass-roofed hatchback for America? The Corolla’s excellent 1.6-liter four would solve the engine-commonality issue. The structure around the doors and windshield is no more frail than that in a T-topped car, so surely it could meet roof-crush standards. And as for lawsuits, well, there have been gullwing cars before—and, anyway, what isn’t vulnerable to litigation today?
No, we really don’t see any serious impediment to doing a Sera II for the States. Except perhaps one. Our friend in product planning admitted that when the Japanese designers showed the Sera to his American team a year and half ago, he didn’t pay much attention. Didn’t care for it. Didn’t take it seriously. Never drove it. Thought it was impractical, with a silly roof and silly doors.
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That, Mr. McCurry, sir, is a problem. We expect that sort of reaction from stodgy, overlarge car companies that have maybe forgotten what attracted them to this business in the first place—as opposed to the electric-razor business or the toaster-oven business. We worry when we se that response from the company that brought us the MR2, the Celica All-Trac, and the Previa.
Well anyway, thanks for listening. And keep up the good work.
Car and Driver
P.S. If you don’t mind, we’re going to suggest to some friends that they too, drop you a note if they agree that the Sera should be sold here. But don’t worry. There shouldn’t be more than a million or so of them.
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Source: Reviews - aranddriver.com