Several Japanese companies embarked on the WiLL sub-brand exercise at the dawn of the new millennium. Miscellaneous WiLL-branded products were introduced alongside a funky new car offering from Toyota, the WiLL Vi.
The baguette-themed retro sedan was an immediate failure amongst the youthful consumers WiLL was supposed to attract, so Toyota had a very quick rethink. Meet VS.
The Vi’s fate was sealed after just over a year in production. Though Vi was built through December 2001, VS production began in April that year. Toned down and altogether more sporty and serious-looking than Vi, VS was thoroughly modern in its design. No retro cutesy themes or French cues to be found, VS went after a different youthful customer: The kind who said “That’s tight yo!” but in Japanese.
Based on the E120 Corolla platform (like the future Matrix) that was new for 2000, the 2001 VS was curiously introduced at that year’s Los Angeles Motor Show. The right-hand-drive VS was not intended for North American distribution, but Toyota decided Americans should look at it anyway. VVC drew design inspiration for this new VS, apparently, from the 1980s Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft. Do with that information what you will.
A few months after the LA Auto Show, sales began in Japan. The introduction was accompanied by a vigorous ad campaign that featured the very un-cutesy British electronic band Underworld.
This time, WiLL gave its customers trim, engine, and transmission options and did not foist upon them a singular specification with a small engine and automatic transmission. Three basic trim levels topped out at a premium VS with a sporty body kit, fog lamps, alloys, and a paddle-shift automatic. Engines were all of inline-four specification, with displacements of 1.5 or 1.8 liters. Two different 1.8s were available: a VVT-I that offered 140 horsepower, or the 180-horse VVTL-I from the Celica. A typical four-speed automatic transmission was available, but the sporty WiLL customer chose the six-speed manual. All examples were front-drive.
All those goodies meant the VS cost more than the smaller Vi, both in the showroom and for the purposes of the taxman. However, unlike the unloved Vi, VS garnered much popularity in Japan. Fans liked its concept-like styling and higher level of equipment than offered on Corolla. But as is common, supposed popularity does not always translate into sales. The VS remained in production for exactly three years and wrapped up in April 2004. Toyota noted 14,965 total examples produced – not stunning.
By the time the VS was halfway through its run, however, the folks at WiLL management and VCC decided to have one more go at Vi under a different naming scheme. But the third and final WiLL was most definitely the worst of the three. We’ll talk about that next time.
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