TOYOTATIMES

Driving the Mirai and the Future: A Talk between Automotive Journalist Goro Okazaki and Fashion Designer Yosuke Aizawa

FEATURE STORIES 2021.07.19

INDEX

At the end of last year, Goro Okazaki, an automotive journalist, in his YouTube channel “Zenbu Kuruma no Hanashi (Stories All Relating to Cars),” revealed that he had ordered a new-generation Mirai.

Later he had successfully purchased one. On the program, he had mentioned that 10 years ago he never would have thought he would be getting a Toyota vehicle. What was the reason for getting the car, and what is his impression on the Toyota vehicle?

With Yosuke Aizawa, a fashion designer and also a car enthusiast, Okazaki talked about what he found after getting a Mirai, and the possibilities of the Mirai and cars in the future.

Automotive journalist Goro Okazaki (right), and fashion designer Yosuke Aizawa (left). In an office at White Mountaineering, with next season's samples lined up.

My criteria for my new car was that it is fun to drive— so I ordered a Mirai

It was in the opening of his YouTube program, “Zenbu Kuruma no Hanashi #7” released last fall, when automotive journalist Goro Okazaki revealed that he had ordered a Mirai.

He commented, “I didn't think I'd buy one, but then an attractive one came out” and “I didn't want the first generation Mirai at all. The designs, the driving performance—I didn't feel any of its appeal as a product, anyway.”

The talk started off with the topic of Okazaki personally buying a Mirai.

Okazaki
When an automotive journalist buys and then praises the Mirai, some people say they must have got it free from Toyota or got it cheap, but I hardly got any discounts (laughs).

Aizawa
I think that's the good thing about Toyota—they don't try to butter up those who are close to the company. Apple is the same, for instance. It's nice that they regard themselves as a brand and deliver their products to the people who they want to buy them.

Okazaki
I had doubts about the way Japanese cars were made. For example, UNIQLO is fast fashion, but they have created a value beyond its affordable price by designing clothes and creating stores with the spirit of improving Japanese fashion styles.

I was wondering, “Why hasn't the automotive industry reached that level? Should cars just be affordable and good quality?”

Aizawa
I see. That's interesting.

Okazaki
When I first saw the second-generation Mirai, I thought maybe Toyota has taken a step forward with it and is in the process of changing.

There’re some clothes that feel good the moment you put them on. The same goes for cars, too. That sensation you get the moment it starts moving is very important.

Test drives often take about an hour per car, but in fact, it only takes the first five to ten meters, or just a few seconds in time, for us to know whether a car is good or bad. And then we spend the remaining 59 minutes analyzing why it's good or it's bad.

This is exactly what made me buy a Mirai—I got it because when it started moving, it felt extremely good. The first time I drove it was on a race track, but I already had a feeling that it was going to be great on the pit road before I even entered the track.

And just as I thought, when I got on the track it had amazing steering, and I was surprised at how good it felt to take corners even though it's a luxurious ride. It's really Toyota's best. I was convinced that I had to buy one.

Aizawa
It was certainly very easy to drive on the highway. It has a sporty feel, and it matches my feelings.

In fact, Okazaki pointed out when he spoke about how he got to order the car that “it provides the comfort of driving the way you want to,” and “shows that people who know about cars are really trying to make a good one.”

Okazaki
People often assume that I got a Mirai because it's a fuel cell electric vehicle that uses hydrogen as fuel, but that's only half the reason. The other half is how it drives, and the design.

I've already talked about how wonderfully it drives, but no matter how good that is, you can't purchase a vehicle if you don't like its design. In that regard, although it’s no yet perfect, I think the second generation Mirai is much better than the first generation.

Design: The Mirai's design may not be for everyone

Okazaki cited realizing the Mirai's fun drivability as a car, over it being a hydrogen-fueled fuel cell electric vehicle, as part of his motive for purchasing one. But it was its design that had given him the final nudge.

As the topic shifts to design, Aizawa—who has designed for Adidas, Burton, Moncler, and other brands where a high level of function and design must be achieved while keeping up with trends—responds to questions from Okazaki.

Okazaki
I like the overall design of the Mirai, but I wanted its front face to look a little better. I like the rear, though. Is there anything that you like and don’t like about the Mirai?

Aizawa
It's the other way around for me, and I liked its face (laughs). Except for the front, the rest was rather ordinary for me. I thought for a moment that it looked like a Lexus, too. So I thought there is more room in terms of the design to differentiate from other models.

Okazaki
I see. I believe this disagreement we're having is probably exactly what the Mirai designers were aiming for. The design is not for everyone. In particular, the face has a strong personality, so there are people who like it and people who don't. But I think that's what makes it attractive.

It's probably its proportions that make it similar to the Lexus. When you look at a car up close, it's the details like the curves on the front and sides and the plating's texture that catch your eye, but when you look from a distance, it's the proportions that make it look cool.

In that sense, the Mirai's great proportions are not very surprising because it uses the same platform as the Lexus LS.

Aizawa
I think it's difficult to try something new with the design for a car that's designed for the mass market. So, if they intentionally adopted a divisive design that people either like or dislike for the Mirai, I think that's interesting.

The fully redesigned second-generation Mirai. Its distinctive front features a large trapezoidal lower grille and a plated molding at the bottom, creating a low feel to it.

Okazaki
I wondered why the logo "MIRAI" was on the dashboard. When I asked the developers, they gave me several reasons. But I thought that leaving a part that's easy for ordinary people's eyes to see was very Toyota-like—and not in a bad way.

Aizawa
The interior of Toyota's car, including its steering wheel, gives a strong impression of a design that has three-dimensional depth. It has a kind of digital feel to it. I like it more than other Japanese cars.

Okazaki
It feels more like a car when it's well-defined, rather than sleek, doesn't it?

Aizawa
This is totally my own personal impression, but I felt that the Mirai was designed to make people feel the future ahead while naturally blending into today's Japan, or with those thoughts in mind.

Cars and Environmental Issues: Taking environmental measures are becoming more valuable in the fashion industry

The topic moves on to hydrogen and environmental issues. Aizawa talked about the fashion brands he's been involved in and their approach to the environment, and Okazaki talked about the challenges the automotive industry is facing and their solutions.

The Mirai doesn't emit CO2 when it's moving. An image of people running behind the car is displayed.

Okazaki
The Mirai is characterized by a system that generates power by taking in hydrogen and oxygen without emitting CO2 while it's moving.

However, the part about being eco-friendly isn't going to easily be the main incentive to buy. The most important thing is how the buyer feels. This is important for us, because we see cars as luxury items.

Aizawa
The Mirai might be a little bit out of reach for people who see cars as a daily necessity. But I think in the future we'll have to think about our mindset regarding designs and the environment. Having three children myself, I think we adults have to think about the environment our children will be living in 20 years.

Okazaki
Environmental issues have always been major challenges for the automotive industry.

Aizawa
I've worked with Adidas for a long time now and they've said that they'll stop trading with manufacturers that use virgin polyester by 2024. The topic came up when I talked to a major textile manufacturer the other day, and I heard that there had been an announcement about it. This may encourage companies around the world, including Japanese companies, to have some thoughts about environmental issues.

I think it's a good thing. When it comes to luxury items like sportswear, fashion products, and cars, environmental issues can only be a secondary buying motive. However, when companies send out messages, it leads to new ways of thinking.

The idea of manufacturers and brands communicating with their affiliated companies and working together to fix this problem is necessary for fashion designers in the future.

Okazaki
The UK will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030 and hybrid electric vehicles in 2035, but I don't agree with this.

The movement to use fake fur and fake leather was fine, but losing all choice and being bound by law in a democratic society makes me worried. I want things like that to remain.

Aizawa
I used Adidas as an example first, but also Patagonia's founder, Yvon Chouinard said that to keep using a good thing for a long time is the right approach toward the environment. That's why they make good things. I wonder if the automotive industry would lose that way of thinking.

It's still unclear now, but I like old cars too, so I'm interested to see what it's going to be like. There are concerns that, eventually, older cars will no longer have a place to put petrol, there will be no engineers left to repair them, and we will also lose the idea of making good things that last for a long time.

On the other hand, environmental issues are directly connected to product prices and usability. The topic then changed to the usability of hydrogen and hydrogen stations.

Okazaki
Harumi, Toyosu, and Ariake—there are three hydrogen stations within 2 km from my home, so it's convenient for me to fill up a car with hydrogen. I've had little problem filling my car up so far. And if hydrogen stations opened in the expressway service areas, it would be perfect.

Aizawa
I live in Meguro and there weren't any hydrogen stations nearby when I looked for one (laughs).

Okazaki
I wouldn't recommend the Mirai for people who don't have hydrogen stations near their home (laughs). But the number of hydrogen stations is increasing and they're becoming easier and easier to use.

Well, when compared with BEVs, I couldn't charge one of those at home because I live in an apartment. That means I have to use the quick charge, but it still takes at least 30 minutes and I'm too impatient for that (laughs). So in that sense, filling up your car with hydrogen takes three to five minutes so it doesn't feel any different than filling it with petrol.

A specialist fills up a car at a hydrogen station. It takes only about three minutes to fill up. Currently, there are 147 hydrogen stations throughout Japan (as of July 2021).

The Future of Cars: In the end, cars should continue to be fun

Okazaki
Accidents and emission gas are negative aspects that cars create. Engineers have been working hard in development to reduce them. I think in the future making them safer and reducing their impact on the environment will advance further.

But doing just those things isn't going to make them fun. Just as much as they focus on the safety and eco-friendliness, I also want them to make cars more fun.

Aizawa
As a person who loves cars, I totally agree with you.

Okazaki
I bought the Mirai for this very reason. I thought the developers had taken safety, the environment, and feelings of excitement into consideration during its development. If they only focus on safety and the environment, cars will become simple commodities and countries with lower costs and labor costs will win.

Aizawa
I guess the idea for creating new cars in the future shows that it's time to drastically change the design of cars that people want to own. It's very interesting that with its impactful design, Toyota gave a clear message that the Mirai belongs to a new genre of cars.

I think in an era where we think simplified things are better, it's nice to have a few things that are not. I'm looking forward to seeing how cars will evolve and fit into the future in response to the rapidly changing times.

This dialogue was held in April 2021.

Profile:

Goro Okazaki

Automotive journalist
Born in Tokyo in 1966. Okazaki got into writing while he was studying at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering, Aoyama Gakuin University. He engages in various types of media, including newspapers, magazines, and websites. His lifework is looking at cars from a variety of perspectives such as hardware evaluation, marketing, branding, and, concept-making, and understanding people and society through cars.

Yosuke Aizawa

Fashion designer
Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1977. After graduating from the Department of Product and Textile Designs, Tama Art University, Aizawa launched White Mountaineering in 2006. He has designed for Moncler W, BURTON THIRTEEN, Adidas Originals by White Mountaineering, and many more. He was also appointed director of Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in 2019. In addition, he launched Lardini by Yosuke Aizawa from Spring-Summer 2020. Currently, he also serves as a visiting professor at Tama Art University.

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