CC Capsule: 2003 CQ Q-Car Qi Quno — Benny, Is That You?

This one of those occasions when a discovery just has to be shared with the wider world. Show of hands, who had ever heard of CQ Motors before today? I’m not picturing too many digits are rising (mine certainly didn’t), which is why this very recent find made it to the top of my to-write pile.

The story behind this miniature EV is quite intriguing — almost as much as its looks, anyway. There is virtually no information about these in English, so I had to piece this together via Google translate and a bit of detective work. Which means I’m not 100% sure of everything, but hopefully it’s close enough to the facts of the matter.

Created in 2002, CQ Motors was a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese toy giant Takara for the sole purpose of building EVs. The parent company was renowned for their self-propelled Choro-Q toy cars, so that’s where the “CQ” bit comes from, it seems.

Under the skin, CQ used the Araco Everyday Coms electric vehicle’s underpinnings, which was launched in 1997. Araco is a Toyota subsidiary, but in this instance they only sold parts to CQ. The assembly of the cars was undertaken by Cox Ltd., a VW specialist custom shop based in Tokyo. All in all, a rather complicated conglomeration of companies — but it gave rise to a mini-range of very interesting microcars.

Here’s what CQ could built for you, about 18 years ago, in exchange for ¥1-2 million, depending on the model and specs. Aside from the streamlined retrolicious Qi Quno we’re looking at today, you could also get the shopping cart-like U (top left), the Caterham-esque Q7 (bottom left), the ’20s-inspired QQ Nine Nine (bottom right) and the gloriously over-the-soft-top Q-Volt (top right).

Of all these variations on the same chassis, the Qi Quno (whatever that actually means) was, along with the U, the more popular one, it seems. But it’s all quite relative: CQ Motors only lived for about three years (2002-04) and made 500 vehicles all told.

I have no idea what kind of batteries this thing hasm but given its age, it has to be pre-lithium ion and thus pretty limited. According to at least one source, the differential was only an option on these, as it was deemed quite a heavy addition to the car. Must have made fro some interesting dynamics.

I’m not sure where they got those taillights — there’s something Ford Cougar-like about them, only it’s not that at all. Just like the Takeoka we saw a little while ago, this thing has a motorcycle-like license plate, so I’m assuming you don’t need a full license to operate it.

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw this Qi Quno was Benny the Cab in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s just a matter of adding a dab of chrome, black paint on the fenders and some checkers on the sides, and that CQ could wisecrack just like the cartoon (albeit in Japanese). There’s a lot of Chrysler in there as well — which makes sense, as the PT Cruiser was having a moment in those days. And maybe a touch of Kaiser-Darrin for the grille…

Most EVs and license-free cars of that generation were ugly little pillboxes. They say (and they may well be right) that it takes just as much effort to make a stylish car as a boring one, so it’s a good thing that a toy-maker decided to make a life-size vehicle one day and inject a little fun and colour in the mini-EV segment. Pity it didn’t catch on, but lucky I managed to catch (or rather hail?) this particular one.