Tokyo Auto Show: Maybe, Maybe Not

January 20, 2009

Sometimes, watching the auto industry in action is like watching a big celebrity meltdown. No, you may not witness as much random naughtybit flashing or drunken hamburger gobbling, but there's still plenty of  deception and intrigue and gossip and drama to keep you satisfied. Case in point: the fate of the Tokyo Auto Show, which is currently enduring a roller coaster ride rivaling that of Amy Winehouse's (alleged) career.

On Friday, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), which organizes the biannual event, announced that the show will take place as scheduled in October 2009--despite much discussion of its cancellation and despite pullouts from America's Big 3 automakers. Then came news that Volvo had also declined to participate in the show. According to JAMA, every major Japanese and German company has registered, but no word on any makers beyond that.

On the upside, weekend before last saw record crowds at the Toyko Auto Salon, an event that's primarily for tuners and fans of custom-built vehicles. Even better: many of those in attendance were young. That would be good news in any year, but it's especially good now, as car ownership has become markedly less important among Japanese youth.

So: what might the huge turnout for the Tokyo Auto Salon mean for the Tokyo Auto Show? Well, at the very least, it indicates that there's still a very strong interest in cars in Japan, which should mean that the marketplace is due for a healthy rebound once Japan's financial markets line up. And assuming that the vitality of the marketplace helps automakers decide whether or not to participate in auto exhibitions, Japan's latent auto boom just might result in stronger attendance for the Tokyo Auto Show. Perhaps the Big 3 should reconsider their RSVP?

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