By Steve & Tamami Laser reporting from Tokyo, Japan
We’ve been covering the auto industry for what seems like an eternity yet an event as rare as the Olympics happened in November. The Los Angeles and Tokyo auto shows occurred simultaneously. We made the decision to head for Tokyo. Why? L.A. is an annual show while Tokyo is biennial. Missing it meant we would have to wait until 2015 for the next one.
The 43rd Tokyo Motor Show was held at Tokyo Big Sight, a sprawling convention complex adjacent to Tokyo Bay. We attended the press preview on Nov. 20 and 21, before the show opened to the public.
In addition to displaying concept vehicles and current production models, the show ponders the future of mobility. Will cars be powered by hydrogen, electricity or gas? Will they have three, four or more wheels? Will we still own cars or borrow them as needed? Will they drive themselves leaving us free to pursue other activities in transit?
The big news at Toyota was the unveiling of the FCV concept, a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle slated for limited production in about two years. Looking like a next-generation Prius, Toyota plans a driving range of about 300 miles with refueling times as low as three minutes.
Hydrogen, stored in two tanks, is mixed with oxygen from the air in a fuel-cell stack that generates electricity to drive an electric motor and send power to the wheels. The byproduct is water that drips out the tailpipe making this a zero-emission vehicle.
Toyota hopes to sell the FCV for an undisclosed amount to consumers where hydrogen refueling stations are available – meaning Japan and L.A. will be targeted as the initial markets.
Micro-mobility cars like Toyota’s three-wheeled electric i-Road provide a practical solution to commuting in cities. This EV that leans in turns like a motorcycle is being tested in Japan for possible production. Even more far out is the new FV2 three-wheeler concept that lacks a steering wheel. The driver shifts his or her weight to make turns.
Nissan gets our biggest thumbs up for introducing three all-new concept vehicles. The first was expected while the other two were complete surprises.
The Blade Glider is a futuristic electric vehicle with a shape influenced by its Zeod RC racing car. The narrow front sports a single seat for the driver while two passengers can ride behind. The triangular cockpit design provides the “free-soaring experience of an airborne glider.”
Nissan’s IDx Freeflow looks much closer to production. This compact rear-drive coupe aimed at younger buyers was developed with the input of “digital natives” or those born after 1990. The result is a back-to-basics approach. The dashboard sports an analog clock while the seats are covered with denim.
Also shown was the IDx Nismo with racing stripes and other cues influenced by the BRE Datsun 510 of the 1970s. Nissan was coy about potential powerplants saying only that the IDx could offer a 1.2- to 1.5-liter gas engine while the Nismo might use a 1.6-liter.
The Autonomous Drive Nissan Leaf is currently being tested in Japan. With this technology, Nissan says it will bring “greater pleasure and comfort in mobility.” The auto maker plans to have this hands-free car ready by 2020.
Honda unveiled a new S660 concept two-seat roadster as a modern successor to its first car, the Sports 360 from 1962, which was also displayed.
While the N-WGN is a new version of its top-selling N-BOX micro van. All of these are classified as “Kei cars” in Japan which means engines are limited to 660cc. Thus we will not see them here.
The new Honda Vezel was introduced as a small crossover based on the Fit with 1.5-liter gas and hybrid versions. This is destined to come to America next year with a different name.
Mitsubishi, Subaru, Suzuki and Others
Mitsubishi showed a trio of new concept crossovers including the GC and XR plug-in hybrids and the AR with a flexible interior design that can be reconfigured to seat four or six.
Subaru introduced the new Levorg Sports Tourer, which will go on sale in Japan next spring. This futuristic wagon offers 1.6- and 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylidner Boxer engines with direct injection and all-wheel drive.
Subaru’s VIZIV concept is purely a show car with scissor-style doors while the new Cross Sport Design concept may provide a preview of the direction for the next-generation Forester.
We relished the opportunity to see what’s new from the full spectrum of Japanese manufacturers including Mazda, Suzuki, Daihatsu, and Isuzu.
European brands at the show included some we haven’t seen in the U.S. for quite a while, like Renault, Peugeot, and Citroën.
“Carrozzeria,” or coach-builders, displayed custom vehicles from Ken Okuyama design, Campagna, and Takayama Cars.
There were separate displays for commercial vehicles, motorcycles, parts suppliers, and machinery tools, plus toy models for kids of all ages from Tomica.
Smart Mobility City
“Smart Mobility City” showcased a variety of alternate energy vehicles and technologies plus the rare chance to drive small electric vehicles from several different brands. Test rides were offered in vehicles from a variety of manufacturers in the categories of Personal Mobility, Micro Mobility, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, plus an Autonomous Vehicle Demonstration, and Charging Infrastructure for EVs and PHEVs.
The “Toyota Home” display featured “HEMS” which stands for Home Energy Management System, developed to share electricity between vehicles with batteries and your home. Users can charge their PHEVs or EVs with solar power or at off-peak hours, then supply power to the home using the car during peak hours, allowing for more efficient energy use. Toyota says a PHEV can supply enough energy on one tank of gas using the engine to power a standard home for around four days (40kWh).
We were intrigued by Nissan Shatai Co. Limited’s booth in the Vehicle Bodies area. Nissan’s NV350 Caravan (not sold in the U.S.) was displayed fitted with a Chrome Gear Package designed for personal use such as surfing trips, while the separate Transporter based on the standard body GX was equipped with vinyl flooring and cargo hooks for moving furniture, bicycles, or outdoor gear.
In addition to exhibit space, Tokyo Big Sight includes a central concourse with a variety of restaurants, a Family Mart convenience store, and six-floor conference tower with glass and titanium panels that look like four huge inverted pyramids mounted on steel-frame legs. A miracle of modern engineering, one of the biggest thrills is walking underneath the 6,500-ton structure that appears to be floating above you.
We found it a bit ironic that few people actually drive to the auto show, since Tokyo’s public transportation system is remarkably diverse and efficient. The Yurikamome light rail line stops near the entrance to Tokyo Big Sight, while the Rinkai Line is a short walk away and connects with transportation hub Tokyo Station. Also nearby is the Tokyo Monorail, plus water taxis and pleasure craft.
It’s time to recharge our batteries as we prepare to cover the 44th Tokyo Motor Show scheduled for October 2015.
CarNichiWa.com thanks the Tokyo Motor Show for providing us with press passes to the media preview days
Story, photos and videos ©2013 CarNichiWa.com