Wild and wacky in Japan

The Tokyo Motor Show offered a glimpse of all the new futuristic models, as well as some that might even make it to the Holy Land.

Tokyo Motor Show Japan 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tokyo Motor Show Japan 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, one of the most important international motor shows in the world opened in Tokyo. And yet, somehow, this show is also one of the world’s most modest and strange car expos.
The Japanese automobile industry is without a doubt one of the most important in the world. Toyota is the largest automobile manufacturer in the world – with respect to the net number of cars produced – and Nissan, which is the second-largest Japanese car manufacturer, has a plan to overtake Toyota within four years.
Japanese manufacturers are leading in developing markets and in developed countries in the Far East (including China), as well as in Turkey. Their successes in the US have been recounted in a number of books.
Car manufacturers that up until the 1980s were still considered copycats and technology thieves (unjustifiably so) have long ago become role models, at least when it comes to production methods and quality control. And we shouldn’t forget to give them credit for leading the electric hybrid car industry either.
The local Japanese market, however, has different needs, and therefore buys completely different cars.
THE TOKYO Motor Show is one of the most well-attended shows in the world, with respect to the number of visitors, even though it is housed in a very small physical space and only a small number of exhibitors can display their cars. Foreign manufacturers are almost nonexistent at this show; this might be due to Japanese culture.
Those that do participate in the show do so quietly, or on the underground level.
Despite the international significance of the Japanese car industry, the exhibition is aimed at the internal Japanese market, and car manufacturers strive to entertain the Japanese with the things they love more than anything else: gimmicks, toys and the most unrealistic, futuristic and wacky gadgets that can be attached to the inside of a car (as long as they do not interfere with driving).
One of the new models that was displayed last week in Tokyo could also be relevant for the Israeli market. It’s a small Honda SUV concept car called Urban (name not finalized), which was first unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show this past January.
The Urban model, which is already available for purchase in Japan, is based on the future Jazz platform, and like the Nissan Juke, the Renault Captur and the Chevrolet Trax, the Urban is a supermini-sized crossover.
Its 1.5-liter engine will also be used in the future Jazz, which is scheduled to be launched next year, and its fittings and features are expected to be at a luxury level.
Launches for the US, European and Israeli markets are planned for 2014.
Mazda did not unveil any new models at the Tokyo Motor Show, but they do have something that might be quite interesting if Mazda importers succeed in getting this new venture off the ground. In addition to the gasoline and diesel Mazda 3 models, the company is planning to introduce its natural gas (CNG) engine, which will be powered by the type of gas that was recently discovered off Israel’s coast and which is currently being pumped and brought to land here.
Presently, only a handful of auto manufacturers have converted cars to run on natural gas (Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, Opel and Fiat), but none of them have taken the final step and jumped into the deep end, since they all assume the bureaucracy involved will delay the progression of this project for a number of years.
Similar to its competitors, the new Mazda models will run on natural gas, as well as regular gasoline.
In other words, when the natural gas tank becomes empty, the car will automatically switch over to using gasoline without the driver or passenger noticing a thing. This means that the car’s driving range is not limited by the proximity of natural gas filling stations. In addition to putting an end to our dependence on imported oil, cars that run on natural gas emit 20 percent less air pollutants, and the Finance Ministry believes these cars are a very good value for consumers.
Incidentally, Mazda also showcased its Mazda 3 hybrid, which will most likely benefit from tax reductions. Unfortunately, Mazda is not currently planning to export this model to Israel at this time.
THE MOST important news that came out of the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show is that apparently the new Toyota FCV (fuel cell vehicle) model is almost ready for production, to be powered by fuel cell.
For more than a decade, numerous automobile manufacturers have been talking about futuristic cars that will be powered by fuel cell and hydrogen gas. Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Honda, General Motors, and even Hyundai and Kia have all been promising that any day now, the common citizen will be able to fill his car with hydrogen gas, and only tiny drops of water will be emitted into the air – nothing else.
It’s still unclear when exactly this will occur, but just to be on the safe side, let’s reintroduce the updated, 2013 version of the FCV Concept. The FCV is an interesting and futuristic four-seater, with an elongated front end and a low, aerodynamic look.
The distinctive, classy design of Toyota’s Prius is one of the reasons this groundbreaking hybrid car has been so successful (as have Honda’s “green” cars). With the FCV, Toyota chose to emphasize the theme of water (in the fuel cell, the hydrogen connects with the oxygen in the air to form water), and this is why it was designed to look like “a catamaran, and evoke flowing water.” There are also endless features throughout the car that are connected to the water theme.
The fuel cell and electric engine car will have 135 horsepower and a 500-km. range, which Toyota claims could be refueled in as little as three minutes. Toyota says the fuel cell vehicle is scheduled for launch “around 2015,” but we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Let’s not forget that Honda has had a relatively successful hydrogen-fueled car on the market in the US for years now. Honda’s project, however, is aiming at slowly introducing its car over the long term, with an extremely small number of cars on the road. Toyota, on the other hand, is talking about mass producing its FCV cars.
By the way, as I mentioned above, Japanese visitors come to the motor show to see unconventional vehicles, and in an effort to avoid disappointing them, Toyota created and modeled the FV2 Concept Car, akin to a very sophisticated Segway, which also offers a number of add-ons that aid drivers, such as an accident prevention system.
The FV2 is an odd-looking, three-wheel vehicle that you can drive either standing up or sitting down, and it has no steering wheel whatsoever.
It’s “a concept car that can express Toyota’s ‘Fun to Drive’ philosophy, even in a future world in which vehicle technology has greatly progressed. The vehicle enhances the driving experience by connecting physically and emotionally with the driver, becoming more fun to drive the more it is used.”
As with a Segway, you drive the FV2 by leaning toward the direction you want to go in if you’re standing up, and if you’re sitting down, the idea is to develop “a relationship similar to the relationship of trust and understanding that a rider might have with his or her horse.”
However, in contrast with the Segway, the FV2 includes assistance programs similar to those for luxury cars, such as identifying the environment through visual and audio clues.
LEXUS ALSO launched its new RC sport coupé at the Tokyo Motor Show, and apparently this model is ready for production. The RC is a two-door, four-seat sports car, which like all of Toyota’s luxury vehicles, has an avant-garde, unconventional design. The design is based on the LF-CC concept car that was shown more than a year ago at the 2012 Paris Auto Show; the backside of the car is similar to the LFA vehicle that was shown at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show.
Lexus announced that all of the upcoming Lexus models, including the RC, will be hybrids. The coupé will be available in two versions: the conventional RC350 with a 3.5-liter gasoline engine, and the RC300h with a 2.5-liter hybrid setup. According to the Lexus spokesman, the RC is expected to attract new buyers and compete with other medium-large coupés, such as the new BMW 4 series and the Audi A5. The RC will be launched in the second half of 2014.
Lexus also displayed its new, unique LF-NX concept car, which was expected to compete with – at least in terms of design – the Range Rover Evoque in Frankfurt last month. The significance of this unveiling of the crossover concept is that the LF-NX will have a new 2.0-liter turbo engine, in part to show that Lexus has not been left out of the turbo luxury market. When this model is launched in 2014, it will be the first Lexus to include a turbo engine, and the company is planning to use this engine in other models as well.
One of the coolest cars shown in Tokyo – though not very relevant for the Israeli market – was Nissan’s BladeGlider. This car is a three-seater, with a narrow front (1 meter from the interior) and a wide back (1.9 meters). As in the McLaren and a number of other past concept cars, the driver sits in the middle of the front area, and the two passengers sit on either side of him in the back.
Nissan also has a three-seat concept race car called DeltaWing, which was debuted at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The logic behind the engineering, according to Nissan, was to put “focus on aerodynamics: achieving low drag (cdA) while generating road-hugging downforce.” The body of the car is built mainly from plastic and composites, and large air receivers help keep the battery (which is stretched along the entire underside of the car) and the engine cool. The main part of the lithium- ion battery sits in the back, so that only 30% of the car’s weight is in the front.
The battery energizes the four electric engines inside the tires.
Even though the model that was shown in Tokyo can already be driven, Nissan has not yet set an official production launch date. On the one hand, some sources close to the manufacturer say that this type of car is not meant to be too expensive so that it will be popular among young buyers. But on the other, some people say that it will be marketed for wealthy clients who are currently considering purchasing a BMW i3 or i8.
Subaru is also planning on launching a new station wagon sport next year called Levorg. It’s smaller than the Legacy and looks larger than the Impreza.
The name Levorg is a combination of the words Legacy, Revolution and Touring, which means the concept car might illustrate what the next-generation Legacy station wagon will look like.
The Levorg will have a new 1.6-liter turbo engine, which Subaru promises will be strong and economical. This engine will apparently be used in other upcoming Subaru models. Mitsubishi and Suzuki also both have three new concept cars, but they are only preliminary ideas – and we are unlikely to see anything tangible from them before the next Tokyo Motor Show in November 2015. Translated by Hannah Hochner.