2003 Tokyo Motor Show, Part III

October 23, 2003

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

Cartoon Characters

2003 Los Angeles Auto Show Ford banner with type

2003 Los Angeles Auto Show Ford banner with type

As reporters enter Makuhari Messe, the convention center housing the biennial Tokyo Motor Show, they’re greeted by the ear-splitting road of 20 road racing simulators. Along the side aisles, auto parts makers and aftermarket vendors pitch digital gadgetry for your car, as well as auto-related games for your car. The Japanese are electronic crazy, and that passion is often combined with their fascination with animation. We’re not talking Disney. Japanese “anime” tends to be raw, sexy, brutal, blending sci-fi hardware with dungeons-and-dragons settings. Unlike American comics and cartoons, anime crosses into the Japanese mainstream, so much so that a sizable portion of the guys and — mostly —   young women on the auto-show stands have been dressed in costumes right out of the latest comic books. Of course, skimpy also sells in Japan, so “cheesecake” remains a must-have for automakers’ stands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invasion of the Pod People

2003 Toyota PM conceptt

2003 Toyota PM conceptt

No, this Toyota concept, one of the big draws of the show, was not created for the remake of Invasion of the Pod People. Nor is it meant to show the future design of the vending machines ever so popular with Japanese consumers. The name is short for “Personal Mobility,” explained Toyota CEO Fujio Cho, during the automaker’s hour in the auto-show spotlight. Like most automakers, Toyota is searching for ways to win over a new generation of buyer, and this is its cutting-edge idea of what might find a niche in tomorrow’s crowded urban environment. Rather than driving a PM, the automaker suggests you’d “wear” the electric vehicle, which has a variety of modes that result in the passenger pod moving up and down. When you get to your destination, the seat gently lowers you to the ground — without anyone having to insert a coin.

 

2003 Toyota Fine-N concept

2003 Toyota Fine-N concept

A Fine Idea

Cho declared the Fine-N concept the “ultimate eco-car,” and “the culmination of 100 years of vehicle development.” While others might resist such superlatives, there’s no question the prototype will be drawing plenty of attention as a high-line showcase for Toyota technology. Built around a new, low-profile fuel-cell stack, the Fine-N features an extremely low, flat floor that, because of its close-to-the-road

Toyota SU-HV1

Toyota SU-HV1

center of gravity, minimizes concerns about SUV rollovers. Four in-wheel motors mean all-wheel-drive control. By integrating a lithium-ion battery and increased fuel tank pressures, Toyota claims a cruising range of more than 300 miles.

 

Many industry leaders promote the idea that hybrid-electric technology is just a stop-gap until the fuel cell is ready for prime time. Cho disputed that concept, arguing that

Toyota CS&S

Toyota CS&S

HEVs will find long-term application in the auto industry. To underscore that point, Toyota rolled out a number of show cars integrating the automaker’s sophisticated, second-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive. That included the obviously named SU-HV1. The sport-ute hybrid blends electric drive with a 3.3-liter V-6 engine.

 

The CS&S 2+2 mounts its  Synergy drive midship to give the roadster sports car handling. An even more advanced version of the hybrid technology is mated to a 1.5-liter gasoline engine, and rigged to provide all-wheel-drive. The CS&S’s rear seats can be hidden away by a sliding canopy when not in use.

 

2003 Lexus LF-S concept

2003 Lexus LF-S concept

Lexus Greens Up with LF-S

Even Lexus gets into the green scene with the LF-S, short for Lexus Future Sedan. Don’t be surprised to see this make it into production sometime soon, sources reveal. The sporty four-door features a V-8 gasoline engine mated to a high-output hybrid designed to enhance performance, as well as mileage. The LF-S also boasts coupe-like styling, an indication of the direction Toyota hopes to take its up-market brand. Since its debut in 1989, Lexus has been available only in a limited number of markets, with an emphasis on the U.S. In Japan, its products are sold through an assortment of other Toyota divisions — one reason there has not been a consistent Lexus “look.” That should change, as LF-S suggests. The marque now has its own board of directors, design studios, and research labs, and it is about to debut in Japan.

 

2003 Lexus LF-X concept

2003 Lexus LF-X concept

When it does, potential customers could see a version of the LF-X, the brand’s second Tokyo show car. The Lexus Future Crossover has a more wagon-like body than the current RX330. It’s powered by a 4.3-liter V-8 and features all-wheel drive.

 

Green Machines Old News in Tokyo

Environmentally friendly technology dominated the last two auto shows in smoggy Tokyo — not surprising considering the number of cars on its roadways and the time they spend stuck in daily traffic. Green technology was still a hot topic this year, as Toyota’s presentation demonstrated. But it didn’t dominate as it has before. If anything, the need to make cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles has become a simple, accepted truth among Japanese manufacturers. “It is essential we share awareness of (such) problems,” said Yoshihide Munekumi, the chairman of Honda Motor Co., during an industry round table. This “awareness” has resulted in some strange bedfellows. Take Toyota, which is involved in two eco-friendly joint ventures: one with General Motors, the other with Nissan. The latter Japanese marque will bring its first hybrid to market by 2007 using a version of Toyota’s latest Hybrid Synergy Drive.

 

Small Cars, Big Aspirations

It’s one of the smallest of the Japanese automakers, but Daihatsu has some big ideas, as it demonstrated by rolling out a half-dozen concept vehicles during this year’s Tokyo Motor Show. An affiliate of Toyota’s, Daihatsu focuses primarily on the market for micro and minicars, finding creative ways to package in a surprising amount of interior space.

 

2003 Daihatsu Qi

2003 Daihatsu Qi

The Qi (pronounced chee), is a city commuter concept vehicle that, according to company officials, is meant to “outwit today’s problems.” Barely nine feet, nose-to-tail this van-like vehicle is a full-fledged four-seater, though the rear bench is best suited to kids or cargo. Qi features a low load floor and a sliding passenger door. It’s powered by a range of engines, including a miniscule 660cc three-cylinder gasoline engine, or a hybrid electric that gets nearly 90 mpg.

 

2003 Daihatsu D-bone

2003 Daihatsu D-bone

The D-bone is, well, a bare-bones design with a skeletal frame that becomes part of its design theme. With its bug-eyed headlights, motorcycle-style fenders and four-wheel-drive system, it’s a pocket-sized ute meant for city driving or sand dunes.

 

Daihatsu UFE-II

Daihatsu UFE-II

The ultra-fuel-efficient UFE-II claims to be the highest-mileage vehicle ever. The successor to a mileage miser shown two years ago, the windswept two-seater uses an unusual Atkins 660cc three-cylinder gasoline engine mated to a two-motor hybrid drive. The body was wind tunnel tested to a drag coefficient of 0.19. For the aerodynamically challenged, that translates to slick. And it helps the research project to deliver a record 141 miles per gallon.

 

Subaru Turns Up The Battery Power

Subaru has dubbed its display at the 37th Tokyo Motor Show the Blue Cocoon, for

Subaru B9 concept

Subaru B9 concept

its blue lighting and deep blue background, which was used to show off three different concept vehicles — among them the B9 Scrambler, a sleek two-seater with a sequential hybrid power train that will get the equivalent of 48 miles per gallon with the space used for a conventional all-wheel-drive system. One of the keys to the system is a manganese lithium-ion battery that stores more energy longer than a nickel metal hydride battery. The B9 also serves as a design research vehicle. Subaru has been looking for a more modern version of the corporate grille and other front end features, and has been testing reaction with various recent prototypes. Given a positive reaction here in Tokyo and perhaps at the Detroit show in January, this could become the automaker's new "face."

 

Subaru R1e

Subaru R1e

While known in the U.S. for all-wheel-drive products, such as the Outback, Subaru is one of Japan’s biggest small car manufacturers, and that's the segment it targeted with various concepts, such as this electric vehicle, dubbed the R1e. It’ s a four-seat, two-door commuter car that also draws its power from manganese lithium-ion battery, which can be recharged fairly quickly, and produces zero emissions. The car is described as environmentally friendly answer to the challenges of urban commuting.

 

Subaru B2

Subaru B2

The third concept vehicle presented by Subaru was the R2, a four-door wagon-like vehicle that looks nearly ready for production and for sale in Asia where one-box vehicles are gaining popularity. The R2 features an electronically controlled throttle and a supercharged in-line four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission for optimal fuel economy in a package that Subaru’s designers believe is both sporty and functional.

Subaru also showed off a prototype for Legacy Touring Wagon that features a seat that swivels making it easier for a passenger to get in and out of the seat.

 

Coming to a Dealer Near You

You’re not likely to find the UFE-II at your local dealer any time soon — even if you live in Japan. But a number of other Tokyo show cars will make the leap from concept to production in the not-too-distant future. As you’d expect, most will be bound for the U.S. market. The Subaru RS, for example, is expected to replace the aging Pleo minicar, but it’s simply too small for American tastes. U.S. buyers will see the Mazda Ibuki show up as the next-generation Miata, though the edgy styling should be toned down a bit before then. Mitsubishi’s Spyder show car gives a hint of what’s to come when Chrysler launches its next line of C-class passenger cars, which are being developed largely by the Asian automaker, a member of the DaimlerChrysler family. As their names suggest, one will see the Lexus Future Sedan, or LF-S, and Lexus Future Crossover, or LF-X, set the tone of models to come, while Nissan’s stylish Fuga is being touted as the shape of things to come at the Infiniti brand. And don’t be surprised to see Honda borrow many of the styling cues found in the curvaceous HSC sports car, perhaps to serve as a replacement for the Acura NSX.

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