The Good Oil: When Toyota Yaris met the America's Cup... in 1999
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The new Toyota Yaris is bold, brilliant and highly acclaimed (just announced as European Car of the Year, no less). But it’s not the first time it has stunned and surprised.
The change from previous Yaris to current one is incredible: from hopelessly dated to truly dynamic. But it’s easy to forget that the original Yaris was as much of a groundbreaker.
Back in 1999 the original Yaris wasn’t a Yaris, at least not in New Zealand. It was an Echo and it was launched to Kiwis in December 1999, right in the middle of a little boat race called the America’s Cup.
Toyota being a major sponsor of Team New Zealand (more major than it is now), the media launch was all about glamour and global reach. Greek designer Sotiris Kovos, who led the Echo/Yaris design team, even made the trip Down Under to speak to Kiwi media. In hindsight, the sailing might have been part of the attraction.
“Too many small cars are bland and featureless,” he said at the time. “We wanted people to love the Echo or, if they must, hate it. That is at least better than being indifferent.”
Those comments would apply to the Yaris equally today. The more things change, right?
Those present at that original launch will remember equally well how emphatic Kovos was that he had no hand in designing the Echo sedan. Which lacked a certain… elegance.
The Echo hatch was arguably the first really cool car of its size (we were still years away from the modern-era Suzuki Swift, remember) and Toyota NZ did its bit with a range of outrageous accessories and a fantastic television ad portraying the Echo as the Pied Piper, leading a bunch of boring cars off a cliff.
What a shame Toyota did the bare minimum to keep the Echo, later Yaris relevant over the next two decades.
But boy, is it back on form now.