Toyota’s APM Cat Bus is  modeled on the iconic bus in which Satsuki and Mei hurtle through the night sky in the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro. Free Car Mag have no idea what that is and don’t really care, it’s a cartoon of some sort and we will put on the cover of Free Car Mag 130 because it fits our Cheshire Cat narrative..

The design is based on Toyota’s Accessible People Mover (APM), a low-speed, short-distance BEV used at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. But let’s jump right into the details

Sink into fur-like seats…

You can’t help but smile. This whimsical design is the work of Naoki Nagatsu, Professional Partner at Toyota’s Vision Design Division, and his team, in close communication with Studio Ghibli director Goro Miyazaki.

The big tail, the adorable paws. Since the vehicle isn’t bound for public roads, it even has a decorative license plate whose numbers, as per Goro Miyazaki’s idea, contain a hidden meaning when sounded out in Japanese.

Any guesses what it might be?

The steering wheel, instrument panel, and other details are colored to match the cat’s fur. “We came up with a two-tone palette of ‘cat brown’ and ‘cat beige,’ created to fit the car’s overall color scheme,” says Nagatsu, the designer. “After speaking with Goro Miyazaki, we worked to bring out the unique textures of each material.”

The Cat Bus’s destination reads “Ghibli Park.” To evoke that retro mood of the late 50s and early 60s, the designers were very particular about lighting, going so far as to dim the destination display. And no Cat Bus would be complete without the furry seats that so delight Satsuki and Mei. The seat covers are removable for easy cleaning. Soft and fluffy to sit on, they make you feel like you’ve stepped right into one of the film’s most memorable scenes. Overhead, the roof is also lined with the same fur. The team’s attention to detail can be found in every component, so let’s delve a little deeper.

Eyes facing different directions

The concept for the APM Cat Bus was “fantastical feline shapeshifts into APM.” Bringing out the details required the unique carmaking skills of veteran designer. Director Goro Miyazaki placed particular importance on those otherworldly eyes.

The two eyes don’t actually face forward but slightly out to the sides. This was Miyazaki’s advice for achieving that supernatural look, but positioning the left and right pupils nicely on the spherical eyeballs was difficult.To begin with, we had to get the car sitting perfectly level.

Normally, this is done by adjusting the tire pressure on both sides, front and back, while using a laser measuring device to ensure the vehicle is level, but “you can pretty much tell by looking at it,” Nagatsu says casually. Incidentally, the APM Cat Bus’s steering wheel is centered in the vehicle—not placed on one side, as is usual—because the weight difference would cause a slight lean if the tire pressure were not adjusted. Now that’s fine-tuned craftsmanship.

Yet the biggest challenge in designing the APM Cat Bus was the problem of moving from on-screen animation to three-dimensional vehicle. While animated characters are drawn with outlines, no such contour lines exist on real-world objects. Looking closely at the finished APM Cat Bus, you can see that the “cat brown” sections are raised rather than outlined.


“It’s not simply a matter of raising certain features and painting them in different colors. For example, we add light gray in the space between the mouth and teeth. What you would call the lips on a person we painted in our “cat lips” color, and the teeth in “cat tooth” white, which is neither too bright nor too dark. Although the nails are also white, they are done in a slightly different shade.We also took into account how it looks from a child’s height, rendering the silhouette through form and coloring rather than painting black outlines as in the animation.

While a real cat doesn’t have any distinct “boundaries” between its fur colors, for the APM Cat Bus, we raised sections of different colors. With this approach, the color boundaries actually end up slightly different between the data and the real three-dimensional molding. That makes the painting difficult. I felt a great sense of accomplishment seeing the designers and painting personnel working together as a team through countless revisions.”

A veteran’s instincts and know-how are more than mere intuition. They are the culmination of meticulous attention to detail and logic underpinned by experience—the skills of a carmaking professional.

Just like real cat’s eyes

One of the Cat Bus’s standout features is eyes that shine in the dark. How were they brought to life?The team crafted eyes in many color and shape variations, repeatedly testing how they lit up indoors, under natural light, and in the dark. When the APM Cat Bus is actually operating, most people will see it during the day. That makes the nighttime cat eyes all the more special. When Nagatsu first proposed his idea for the APM Cat Bus to director Goro Miyazaki, he presented something like the following sketch.

Looking very pleased, Miyazaki commented, “It’s great to see something hand-drawn these days!”


“Before fabricating anything, we fleshed out the details by exchanging sketches, and he offered a lot of feedback. “Make the claws a bit sharper,” or “It would be more exciting to see it in full stride.”

Studio Ghibli are professionals at entertaining people, so they pointed to ways we could bring out the magic. It wasn’t like doing fielding drills, but a really fun session of catch.

Drawing on his expertise in designing the APM, Nagatsu also continued to make his own suggestions as a professional designer, showing what was possible and where more could be done. The Cat Bus is a creature of the imagination. Bringing it to life required both animation and carmaking specialists, working without compromise to create something that would captivate everyone.

Only for the pure at hear

The APM Cat Bus is based on the Accessible People Mover, which was designed to accommodate seniors, mobility-impaired passengers, pregnant women, and parents with young children. As such, it is configured to provide easy access for all types of people, with a ramp that can be deployed in just 10 seconds.


“It allows a wheelchair user and their companion to board from opposite sides. Another basic APM feature is the raised driver’s seat, which makes it easy to turn around and check that the passengers are safe when setting off.”

Finally, Nagatsu showed us the rain curtain for keeping passengers dry. “It’s only visible to the pure at heart,” he said with a laugh as he unveiled the design:

Adding a character’s silhouette to the rain curtain was one of his own suggestions.

They tried a layout with Totoro’s full body, umbrella in hand, but this made him look small. It was Goro Miyazaki who replied, “Don’t worry about fitting in the whole body; let’s make Totoro bigger.”

Bringing together different companies and departments, the APM Cat Bus was created by a group of adults who take their job seriously while having fun along the way.

Ghibli Park visitors can catch the Cat Bus for themselves at Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park (Nagakute, Aichi) from March 16, with tickets featuring illustrations by director Hayao Miyazaki.