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

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.

 

Scheele: U.S. Showing Some Strength

The question of cutting operations was high on the list for journalists confronting Scheele during his Asian appearance. The automaker’s new contract with the United Auto Workers union will permit it to make the cuts it first announced as part of an aggressive turnaround plan revealed in January 2002, but the market has become much tougher since then, and many analysts believe Ford will need further reductions in capacity. Not so, said Scheele: “We’re not intent on cutting capacity in a market that’s showing some strength,” he said, referring to the U.S. As for Europe, he admitted the market is weak and that Ford’s turnaround is slow, but while there could be more cost-cutting there, plant closing “actions” are not in the works.

 

Health Care on the Table

The domestic U.S. automakers are being crushed under the burden of health care costs. Ford alone shelled out $2.5 billion for worker medical bills last year, noted Ford COO Nick Scheele. Declaring the subject “a crisis,” the executive called for a national debate over the future of health care, starting with a question on how much the U.S. can afford and then looking at how medical coverage should be paid for. Scheele stressed Ford is “not asking (for) a bail-out at all,” but he all but endorsed a plan proffered by former Reagan Administration Budget Director David Stockman. Now a Detroit auto supplier executive, Stockman recently proposed that the government relieve the Big Three of paying for worker health care, instead letting the bills of all U.S. auto workers be covered by applying a tax to all cars sold in the States.

 

2003 Nissan G2 concept

2003 Nissan G2 concept

Go, Go Little G2, Oh

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, who’s become a minor deity in Japan by reviving the long-troubled automaker, made a stylish entrance to kick off the Tokyo Motor Show’s first news conference. With an ear-to-ear smile on his face, he drove out in the open-air G2 which, said Ghosn, reflects “Nissan’s rich heritage.” The concept roadster wasn’t quite retro, but it definitely uses hints of the 1930s to offset creatively futuristic features, such as light bars that begin at the bumper then curve all the way up to the windshield. While the G2 is clearly not something that’s going to roll out of a Nissan plant in current form, Ghosn hinted, “We are setting our own standards and pushing the limits of what is possible.”

 

2003 Nissan Serenity

2003 Nissan Serenity

A Moment of Serenity

The Tokyo Motor Show’s first press day is a hectic affair, so Nissan’s Serenity took a calm pose. Like all the automaker’s concept vehicles, it was designed to underscore not only Nissan’s emphasis on product, but its goal of moving in a very different direction from its rivals. The Serenity is being dubbed a multi-purpose saloon, but it might better be thought of as a next step beyond the likes of the popular new Murano crossover vehicle. Its high style is offset by high functionality and plenty of high tech. With no B-pillar, the doors swing out to create a cavernous opening – a design theme actually echoed throughout the Tokyo show this year.

 

The Shape of Infinitis to Come?

Nissan Fuga

Nissan Fuga

Nissan officials make no bones about the need to kick-start their Infiniti division with a new flagship vehicle that won’t simply be a clone of the competition. The Fuga offers some clear hints as to where a next-generation Q or M model might go, according to Nissan official. According to CEO Carlos Ghosn, the prototype is designed to “appeal to both the rational and emotional.” It’s supposed to offer a more sporty ride than either the current Q or M, with a look that’s more aggressively distinctive than any sedan to come out of Nissan since perhaps the original, controversial Q45. But it does not return to that ’89 sedan’s quirky, controversial belt-buckle grille.

 

2003 Nissan C-Note concept

2003 Nissan C-Note concept

Striking a C-Note

It wasn’t clear whether the name of this compact concept vehicle was intended to evoke a musical theme or refer to the $100 bill. But clearly, it’s meant to show that small can also be exclusive. “The C-Note is for comfort,” said Ghosn, and features “carefully selected materials” and other features.

 

 


2003 Nissan Redigo

2003 Nissan Redigo

Are You Redigo?

Nissan officials acknowledge interest in developing a crossover vehicle smaller than the new Murano. And they’re actively exploring the needs of the emerging Gen-Y buyer. The Redigo hints at what they may have in mind. It’s a youthful compact loaded with technology. Leaning towards the crossover in design, it shows that “People are willing to blur model labels to accept a breakthrough concept,” suggested Ghosn.

 

2003 Mercedes-Benz F500

2003 Mercedes-Benz F500

Piece of Mind from Mercedes

You don’t have to be a mind reader to understand where Mercedes-Benz might be heading, thanks to the F500 MIND. Described as a research show vehicle, the F500 demonstrates that “We are far from reaching the limits of our technology,” asserted Dr. Thomas Weber, the DaimlerChrysler board member in charge of research and technology. About the most conventional feature is the car’s CL coupe-style grille. In fact, the four-door has a very coupe-like body. Like many Tokyo show prototypes, the MIND has no B-pillar, but the rear door can either swing rearward to create a yawning entrance, or be opened like a conventional car door. The “mobile research laboratory” features a diesel hybrid-electric powertrain that can operate in battery-only mode to reduce emissions and maximize fuel economy. The diesel pumps out a full 800 N-m of torque. The F500 boasts an active infrared laser night vision system, by-wire steering and instead of conventional foot pedals, there are pressure-sensitive plates. A “cone of sound” aims navigation instructions and warning sounds reach the driver, but cannot be heard by others in the vehicle. As typical for Mercedes, this show car hints at technology under development — “not for the next generation, but the one after that,” acknowledged the automaker’s head of passenger car operations, Juergen Hubbert.

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