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Toyota unveils Fun-Vii concept, a rolling smartphone on wheels

Every two years, Japanese automakers turn the Tokyo Motor Show into a cavalcade of the bizarre with concept cars that resemble nothing else on earth. Meet the latest addition: the Toyota Fun-Vii, the car that surrenders to distracted drivers by turning itself into a smartphone.

The exterior of the Fun-Vii eschews paint for an electronic display for photos or videos; the unveiling shots show one presenter using the door panel as an iPhone-like touchscreen. Same goes for the interior, which Toyota says would blend traditional car navigation with augmented reality. And the Fun-Vii would connect with other vehicles and the environment to warn of driving dangers or just for fun, because everyone likes to status update on Facebook while driving.

Toyota unveils Fun-Vii concept, a rolling smartphone on wheelsWhether three people shown joyously riding in the Fun-Vii would actually enjoy such a ride will remain a mystery; there’s no chance Toyota will build something like this. But the Fun-Vii does highlight the insecurity of major automakers, who see a generation of young people worldwide staring, touching and spending on their iPhones the way they once did on cars.

One answer might be to build more compelling vehicles, something the staid Toyota will attempt with the upcoming GT 86, which will be sold in the United States as the Scion FR-S. Shown this weekend for the first time in production guise, the rear-wheel-drive coupe built with Subaru's help will aim to revive Toyota's reputation for low-cost sports cars. Powered by a 197-hp four-cylinder engine and weighing just 2,662 lbs., it's the most anticipated model Toyota has built in years.

Toyota and Subaru engineers wax rhapsodic about the steps they took to make the GT 86 -- and its
upcoming mechanical twin, the Subaru BRZ -- as nimble as possible, like mounting the engine so low in the chassis that it can't use Subaru's all-wheel-drive system.

It's a risk for Toyota chief Akio Toyoda, a racing enthusiast who wants to breathe fun back into Toyota's vehicles following years of ever-more conservative designs, but the Fun-Vii and the GT 86 show how hard he's trying to connect.

UPDATE: To get into the spirit of fun, Toyota created a Japanese TV ad featuring live-action versions of a classic Japanese manga called Doraemon. The protagonist (Nobita) is distraught seeing his rival classmate driving around with love interest Shizuka, and tells Jean Reno (portraying an oversized Doraemon) that he needs to get to the Tokyo Motor Show… rather than fishing with men in Charlie Brown shirts.