Tokyo-Auto shows in general seem to be declining in importance, as you can see pretty much everything that’s going to be at a show on the internet, usually before the show itself opens.
That said, the crowds at the press day for the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show which opened this week seemed as big as ever. The civility for which the Japanese are rightly well-known seems to go out the window when photographers are jockeying for the best angle to shoot the cars.
Tokyo is increasingly becoming a national show. There were no North American, Korean or Chinese cars there at all that I could see, and nothing all that new from the handful of European manufacturers, either.
Still, there were a few surprises, most of the pleasant variety.
Like several car companies, Mazda had a preview the night before the press day. This was originally planned for the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, part of the Tokyo National Museum, following something like six months of negotiations because this venue is not normally used for such purposes.
But the typhoon that smacked Japan a couple of days before the show put paid to that idea, and it was relocated to a spiffy new Mazda dealership in Roppongi, the nightlife epicentre of Japan’s capital.
The car they showed there was a gorgeous concept dubbed “Vision Coupe,” a large-by-Japanese-standards four-door fastback with exquisite detailing, including subtly shaped curves in the front doors and a blessed lack of ornamentation.
We assumed this would be the star of Mazda’s show stand, and it was indeed there.
But they also unveiled a smaller but equally gorgeous car, also a four-door hatchback, named “KAI.” At a subsequent interview, I asked Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda’s head of Global Research and Development, if this in fact was the next-generation Mazda3.
To the extreme consternation of the public relations staffers in attendance, he replied immediately and emphatically, “Yes!”
This car will debut next year with Mazda’s new SKYACTIV-X engine. This is a gasoline engine which operates largely on a Diesel-like compression ignition principle. A month ago in Germany, we drove this car which had been doctored to look like the current Mazda3. I recorded fuel consumption in the low five litres per 100 kilometres range, driving at speeds up to 163 km/h on the Autobahn.
Is this the future of the gasoline engine? It will certainly play a big part.
Toyota’s press conferences are usually led by Akio Toyoda, the company’s energetic president. This time, the duty fell to Didier Leroy, the company’s executive vice-president. He stressed that Toyota’s vision is “mobility for all,” and that automated driving, while still a long way off, is part of that vision. Japan’s population is aging, and this cohort’s desire for mobility will not wane as fast as their ability to drive. He also announced a couple of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Toyota will be a sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, which fits in well with that “mobility for all” rubric.
The only novelty on their stand which might fetch up in our market is the TJ Cruiser, looking like a three-years-late replacement for the FJ, Toyota’s semi-faux off-road-ish SUV. Squarer and blockier than FJ, the TJ also looks more modern. The vehicle shown at Tokyo had a hybrid engine; if it does reach our shores, that might stick, but there will surely be gasoline engines as well, and four-wheel drive is bound to be at least an option.
Nissan offered a variant of the new-last-month second-generation Leaf electric car, labelled NISMO, the company’s performance arm. Sportier looks and suspension are the highlights, although there was little mention of it being any quicker than the regular Leaf.
Honda also offered an electric, the Sports EV Concept, which to me looked a bit like the old Honda Prelude. Technical details were scarce, but it appears to be similar to the front-drive Urban EV Concept shown at last month’s Frankfurt show. That vehicle is a dead ringer for the first-gen Volkswagen Golf (our Rabbit), so it looks like nostalgia is king chez Honda.
If anybody can make electric cars fun to drive, it’s probably Honda. We’ll see.
Subaru showed a handsome concept called “VIZIF.” Subaru typically doesn’t toss money away on whimsical concepts, so this is surely the next-generation WRX. As such, it will be beloved by four-wheel drive performance enthusiasts the world over.
I mentioned no North American content at Tokyo this year. Not on four wheels, anyway. But Harley-Davidson had some motorcycles here, and Canada’s own Bombardier had one Ski-Doo!
O Canada …