2003 Tokyo Motor Show Part II

October 22, 2003

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

Where Are the Wackymobiles?

Call them “fantasies in chrome,” if you wish, auto shows have traditionally been a showcase for over-the-top ideas. And no show typically features more of the way-out models than the biennial Tokyo motor fest at Makuhari Messe. But there was a surprising dearth of truly far-out ideas this year. Sure, there were the odd names, like Daihatsu’s strange D-bone, but few concepts like the Fuya-jo of a few years back,

1999 Honda Fuya-Jo concept

1999 Honda Fuya-Jo concept

(shown here from TCC archives) which a Honda official likened to a “telephone booth on wheels.” (And it actually did offer a place for students to cram inside for mobile partying.) True, Toyota came up with the sci-fi PM, and Jeep offered its Treo, but most makers stuck to the relatively conventional and reasonably produce-able this time ‘round. The question is why? “Everyone’s getting more savvy and sophisticated, offered Chrysler advanced product design chief Freeman Thomas, who did duty as pitchman for the cutting-edge Treo. “Maybe it’s because so many of the Japanese companies are now controlled by Westerners,” added an executive from one of those European manufacturers, asking not to be named. The oft-contrarian analyst Jim Hall, of AutoPacific Inc., insisted that as a percentage, the wild designs “are still there,” but noted the overall decline in show cars this year. Japanese manufacturers “just don’t have the money,” he reasoned. Whatever the reason, lamented Thomas, “I miss the inventiveness of the Tokyo Motor Show.”

2003 Jeep Treo

2003 Jeep Treo

Enlarge Photo
A Treo of Ideas

Well, if Japanese makers were playing it cautious, Chrysler wasn’t. But the question some were asked about the head-turning Jeep Treo, is whether this three-seat concept vehicle actually might have a future in some form or another. Dubbed “an urban mobility vehicle,” by the automaker’s head of advanced styling, Freeman Thomas, it’s definitely designed to push the envelope with features such as its rear winglets — which actually serve practical purpose, housing taillights and the cooling vents for the Treo’s fuel cell stack. The Treo features a curious interior configuration: two seats up front and a rear single-person jump seat that can fold down for more storage. In a nod to the GM Hy-wire show car, the Jeep’s by-wire controls can be slid across the instrument panel, so either front occupant can take control. Michael Castiglione, the young stylist who actually penned the Jeep entry, insists it has real relevance as a study for a future Jeep that might be considered “the ultimate student car.” Cheap and easy to operate in tight urban environments, it could also do duty on the open road, even off-road over the weekend with an optional four-wheel-drive system. What’s clear, he stressed, is that “we’re looking to expand” the options of the Jeep brand.


Scheele Denies Brown’s Lane to Close

Reports of the demise of Jaguar’s big Browns Lane assembly plant have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. The rumors first surfaced in the London Sunday Times last weekend and have been circulating ever since. Ford COO Nick Scheele sought to shoot them down during a roundtable discussion with the media at the Tokyo Motor Show. “The answer is, no,” he blared with unusual force. “It’s not planned. I don’t know where this is coming from.” That stance was later echoed by Mark Fields, head of the automaker’s Premier Automotive Group, which includes the British marque. “The strategy is to use what we’ve got,” said Fields, though he acknowledged that could mean future tweaks in the utilization of production capacity. Analysts have long argued that Jaguar doesn’t need three full assembly plants. Could another PAG brand get moved into a corner of Browns Lane? Fields suggested there’s no plan, but he refused to rule that option out in the future.

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