How Mitsuoka Makes Adorable, Extraordinary Handmade Cars in Japan
You've probably never seen one, because if you had spotted a Mitsuoka Motor car on the road, you'd remember it. Hand-adapted from base engines and chassis made by other Japanese automakers like Mazda and Nissan, these automobiles end up looking a little akin to warped, futuristic versions of luxury cars from several different countries. But in truth, there's nothing like them in the world. Photographs by Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg
Would you like to drive something that looks like a Rolls-Royce but is just different enough that it will make even a die-hard Rolls fan raise his eyebrows? Then you may want to consider a Ryugi by Mitsuoka Motor—an automaker based in Toyama, Japan. The Ryugi looks like a Rolls-Royce, but it has a smoother edge to it. And, more important, it runs on a Toyota engine, is offered with a hybrid option, and costs under $40,000.
The MSRP for a base model Rolls-Royce Phantom is $417,000.
Now, the two cars aren't comparable. The performance and luxury that comes with a Phantom is second-to-none. But Mitsuoka isn't trying to compete with, or replace, the cars from which it draws inspiration. Rather, it hopes to appeal to a hip clientele that wants to drive something that stands out.
"Our priority is design, not cutting-edge functions," says President Akio Mitsuoka. "It has to be cool. It has to be cute. It has to be adorable. Just like fashion. Of course there are many cool and cute cars on the streets, but ours are different."
And the handcrafting is a key element to what makes a Mitsuoka stand out, he adds. "It takes time. We use machines in the process, but we have to use a human touch to make sure the surface is perfectly smooth at the end," he says. "We depend heavily on individual craftsmanship. It's our big headache securing the right people over the long term. I must admit we have low productivity. I believe the more time we spend, the better product we can make."
Below, see how the small team of 45 technicians builds the wonderful, weird Mitsuoka vehicles.