2003 Tokyo Motor Show, Part I

October 22, 2003

2003 Tokyo Motor Show Index (10/21/2003)

 

Dollar Versus Yen

The opening of the Tokyo Motor Show was almost overshadowed by the long-festering argument over the value of the U.S. dollar. The Big Three have complained for more than two years that the Japanese competitors have gained an unfair advantage because the Japanese yen has been undervalued. John Devine, GM's chief financial officer and vice chairman, made it plain this week during a visit to Tokyo that he believes the dollar is still overvalued versus the yen. The yen should be valued around 100 yen to the dollar but the dollar continues to buy more yen because the Japanese government has used its power to depress the value of the yen in an effort to stimulate the economy. The Japanese government is estimated to have spent more than $80 billion this year alone to protect the yen from increasing in value, critics of the Japanese policy note.

Fujio Cho, president of Toyota Motor Co., the Japanese company that benefited the most from the policy, however, also told reporters in Tokyo that the yen is already overvalued and it should actually trade at between 110 yen and 120 yen to the dollar. Helmut Panke, the chairman of the chief executive officer of BMW, said after a press conference in Tokyo that he believes the euro is overvalued and the dollar is undervalued, given the relative strength of its economy. But he also noted that no two economists seem to agree on what the proper values should be.

The word coming out of Washington, D.C., however, is that the automakers and their allies, frustrated that President George Bush's lack of progress in lobbying the Japanese government for a cheaper dollar have gone for naught are now contemplating a using federal trade laws against the Japanese competitors. The so-called Section 301 actions were used for great effect by the steel companies, which pressured the administration to impose tariffs on the foreign rivals because they were subsidized by their government.

 

2003 Kia KCV3 concept

2003 Kia KCV3 concept

Kia KCV3 Catches Attention

The South Korean automaker Kia didn’t have a press conference at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show but it did manage to sneak in a sporty concept vehicle, the KCV3, which got plenty attention thanks to a strategic display — and elegant models — placed along the well-traveled path between the three exhibit halls housing the displays of the various car manufacturers. If the throngs of male journalists lining up to snap picks actually took a glimpse at the KCV3, they'd get a good idea of a very real ragtop project underway at Kia. It is, however, several years away from production, sources suggested, a bit further out than the convertible being developed by the Korean carmaker's parent and one-time rival, Hyundai.

 


Mazda Ibuki: The Next Miata?

Mazda Ibuki concept

Mazda Ibuki concept

Mazda used the Tokyo Motor Show to unveil the Ibuki concept vehicle, which is expected to serve as the prototype for the next Mazda Miata. Mazda itself has done little to quell the speculation and fed the interest of the media assembled in Tokyo by mentioning it could serve as the replacement for the Miata. (Indeed, senior Mazda officials reportedly acknowledged that to their rival company counterparts over the last few days.) Exactly how much of Ibuki makes it into production is unclear, but while there are definite
Mazda hydrogen-powered RX-8

Mazda hydrogen-powered RX-8

similarities to the long-lived Miata, the show car is a bit more chunky overall, with creased "character lines," such as on the front fenders. In  prototype firm, Ibuki boasts a lightweight body with a front-midship powertrain configuration that should mean a quicker, more stable ride.

Mazda also showed off an experimental version of the RX-8 — the RX-8 RE, which runs on hydrogen rather than gasoline. Mazda was one of the first automakers to publicly discuss the idea of using the lightweight gas — but unlike other manufacturers emphasizing fuel cell technology, Mazda has focused on hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines. In this case, it's a modified version of the Renesis rotary found in the production RX-8


 

2003 Suzuki Terrace concept

2003 Suzuki Terrace concept

Suzuki Borrows Hy-Wire from GM

Suzuki unveiled a new concept car dubbed the Mobile Terrace, which is based on the Hy-wire, the rolling chassis General Motors has built for fuel-cell-powered vehicles. The Terrace is four meters long and offers an open interior with three rows of seats, sliding doors and roof to give the vehicle an open and spacious feel, according to Hiroshi Tuda, Suzuki President, who said GM's help with the project was much appreciated.

 

Another Suzuki concept unveiled for the Tokyo Motor Show was the Landbreeze, which was built with aluminum and other materials that are easy to recycle, according to Tuda. Tuda also showed off the S-Ride another small, commuter car that could serve the active lifestyles of young car buyers.

 

2003 Mitsubishi Tarmac Spyder concept

2003 Mitsubishi Tarmac Spyder concept

Mitsu Shows DC-Developed Concept

Mitsubishi unveiled the first concept vehicle based on the new platform developed in collaboration with the Chrysler Group. Rolf Eckrodt, the president and chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Motor Corp., said that the four-seat Tarmac Spyder unveiled this week in Tokyo is the first of several vehicles that will come from the development of the new platform. The first production vehicles developed via Mitsubishi's collaboration with the Chrysler Group will be ready in 2005 and 2006. The joint platform will give both Mitsubishi and Chrysler substantial economies of scale, he added. "It's an 800,000-unit per year platform," he said.

 

2003 Mitsubishi i concept

2003 Mitsubishi i concept

Mitsubishi also unveiled three other minicars developed jointly with Mercedes-Benz, including the SE-RO, funky looking, one-box that uses a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. It's expected to appeal to buyers in the minicar segment with substantial hobbies. The "i" concept also is built on the same platform but incorporates more high-tech features in its instrument panel.

 

 

Honda Reaches for New Designs

No one has ever challenged the quality of Honda's engines but the company’s designs have never been noted for their flair. Takeo Fukui, Honda's new president and chief executive, seems committed to put some new energy in the company's design efforts. During the company’s presentation at the Tokyo Motor Show, Fukui announced the company had set up a new advanced design studio in the heart of Tokyo's Ropppongi District. "Tokyo Studio is a nexus of interchange that transcends nationalities and job titles — it's a wellspring of freethinking," Fukui said.

 

2003 Honda HSC concept

2003 Honda HSC concept

In addition, Honda unveiled four new concept vehicles among them the HSC, a prototype that some were speculating could serve as the replacement for the current generation NSX. Honda officials refused to discuss such speculation, but they admitted the Acura sports car is due for a replacement. HSC is a pure sports car with a long wheelbase and short overhangs. In show car form, it features a midship-mounted V-6 developing something over 300 horsepower. The driver can use either an unusual dial shifter or Formula One-style paddle shifters.

 

2003 Honda Imas concept

2003 Honda Imas concept

In addition, Fukui also unveiled the IMAS, a sporty 2-seater featuring an aluminum frame and ultra-light carbon composite body, powered by a hybrid-electric powertrain. Designed to suggest where the teardrop-shaped Insight two-seater could evolve, IMAS is quicker than the original, yet still gets more than 80 miles to the gallon. To underscore the sporty nature of the show car, it features what Honda dubbed the "naked interior of a road racer."

 

2003 Honda Kiwami

2003 Honda Kiwami

The Kiwami is a futuristic looking sedan built around Honda's newest fuel cell stack. The hydrogen powertrain can operate below freezing, a problem with many fuel cell prototypes. Honda lays claim to being the first automaker to market a fuel cell vehicle, or FCV. But mark that entry into the record books with a big asterisk. Those first few vehicles were "sold" to select fleet customers who can carefully monitor and control their use. Fukui said this week that it's unlikely Honda would be able to deliver to dealers an FCV ready for the mass market until sometime after 2010, at the absolute earliest.

2003 Honda ASM concept

2003 Honda ASM concept

Virtually all new Honda show cars feature some sort of "green technology. That includes the Odyssey ASM, which comes with a new-look interior that features three rows of seats capable of seating up to eight passengers. The oval-shaped, luxuriously-equipped minivan also boasts the latest version of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist, or IMA hybrid-electric system.
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