A car built on cuteness

Who needs horsepower when your car comes with stuffed animals?

Published March 20, 2007 5:11PM (EDT)

A couple of years ago I remember being weirdly fascinated by a Volvo concept car called the YCC ("Your Concept Car") designed to be friendlier to women. It had headrests with divots to accommodate ponytails, and no hood -- its front could only be opened at a mechanic's. The car was designed to tell when it had an engine problem and send a message directly to your local shop telling your mechanic to call you to tell you that your car was messed up -- which, if you ask me, seems a little passive aggressive for a sedan. But whatever. The YCC raised some hackles, but was never actually built for sale.

Fast-forward to now: Nissan has introduced a car into its Japanese market that goes further toward so-called femininity than the YCC could ever dream of. It's called the Pino and is aimed primarily at 18- to 30-year-old women in Japan. And how do you attract people in that specific demographic? Apparently by playing up cuteness to a point that might make most people over the age of 5 want to vomit into their cars' cup holders. As one of Nissan's Japanese marketing managers quoted by the AP put it, "Rather than focus on the features of a minicar, we thought it better to talk about how cute it is."

So how cute is it? Very. The 11-foot minicar comes in adorable colors like pink and "milk tea beige," has star-stamped upholstery (which you can swap out for other patterns, of course), and is accompanied by a merchandise line that, according to the AP, includes "pink bear-shaped cushions, seat covers with hearts, a CD case that looks like fat red lips, and a colorful cover for a tissue box." It even has hubcap covers "inspired by a snowflake" so that the car will look like it's sparkling while it's on the road. (If you want to find out just how cute your Pino can be, go to its Web site and try switching around its upholstery and decorating your backseat with miniature stuffed animals.)

The AP also points out an irony: The Pino isn't actually made by Nissan. It's built by Suzuki and is a modified version of its Alto model. And apparently all that added cuteness doesn't come cheap -- the Alto starts at around $5,600, the Pino at $8,600. Despite the cost, Nissan got more than double its target number of orders in the first month the Pino went on sale. The moral of this story: Sparkling hubcaps run around $3,000 a set. But the value of a car that makes you seem like you're too young to drive? Priceless.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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