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Wanted: Sedan with sliding doors

What car do dealers in jam-packed Tokyo want? A sedan with sliding doors, of course. No, I'm not kidding.

I talked recently with Ryuichi Katsumata, head of Chiba Toyopet Co., one of Japan's biggest Toyota dealers, about what car he'd like to see from the company but isn't getting.

He wants sedan- or hatchback-style cars with sliding doors like a minivan because it makes it a lot easier for people to get in and out.

In a metropolis like Tokyo of 12 million people, parking space is at a premium. The distance between cars is often measured in millimeters. So eliminating the typical side-swinging doors, at least in the rear, would be a big plus and a big selling point, Katsumata reckons.

Katsumata has repeatedly pitched the idea to Toyota. So far, the maker isn't biting.

Firstly, engineers tell Katsumata that sliding doors aren't as durable as the hinged kind. And second, the feature is too city specific. Toyota's product planners say rural areas of Japan, let alone swaths of the United States, aren't crowded enough to warrant such a change.

But could slide-door sedans catch on? Maybe if enough people keep asking for them.

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