Despite an effective ‘no-show’ from the rest of the world’s major carmakers due to the recession, the 41st Tokyo motor show still managed to pull off the wraps to some of the most highly conceptual and futuristic vehicles seen anywhere this year.
Aside from three small European sports car exhibitors showing special editions – Lotus, Caterham and BMW’s sporting arm Alpina – the 2009 event opened to the public last weekend as an almost exclusively Japanese affair. It also had a suitably Japanese catchphrase to match - “Fun Driving for Us, Eco Driving for Earth” – promoting the belief that driving fun and eco-awareness can both be accommodated.
Given the Japanese car industry’s traditional expertise at tiny city vehicles – so-called ‘kei’ cars in its domestic market get special tax breaks – Tokyo’s main emphasis was on innovative small cars majoring on efficiency and emissions awareness – and in most cases electric power of one sort or another.
Technologies on display ranged from super frugal combustion engines (the Daihatsu Deca Deca and e:S), petrol or diesel/electric hybrids (Honda CR-Z, Subaru Hybrid Tourer), to plug-in ’full electrics’ (Nissan Leaf, Honda EV-N, Toyota FT-EV2) and ‘range extender’ technology (Mitsubishi PX-MiEV), where a small and efficient combustion engine is used solely to top up the power in the battery for the electric motor, rather than power the vehicle’s wheels directly.
But among the 20 or so global car unveils there were also some sportier moments, from the world’s first production-ready hybrid sports car in the shape of the Honda CR-Z, to the conventionally-powered V10 petrol two-seat Lexus super car. And to some extent, even these vehicles espoused the new industry-wide mantra of efficiency – in their case through excellent aerodynamics and lightweight design.
The 2009 Tokyo show may have seen its floor space halve compared to the 2007 event due to US, European and Korean manufacturers choosing to save their money in recessionary times, but what Tokyo 2009 lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality.