AUTOSHOW - Clean cars of the future to dominate Tokyo show
TOKYO - Japanese auto makers aim to captivate drivers with environment-friendly concept cars at the Tokyo Motor Show starting on Saturday, showcasing technology they hope will set a global standard for a rapidly growing segment.
Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T: Quote, Profile, Research) and Honda Motor Co Ltd (7267.T: Quote, Profile, Research) , Japan\'s top two, set a world first last year when they put on sale fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), which run on hydrogen and emit only water as a by-product. They are also alone in selling fuel-efficient gasoline-electric hybrid cars by the tens of thousands.
Toyota is eager to popularise hybrids to meet its target of selling 300,000 of the cars annually by mid-decade, and among the highlights of the 12-day show will be its CS&S open-top sports car and SU-HV1 sport utility vehicle (SUV) concepts, both of which use a hybrid powertrain.
With a sporty two-seater that can rev up to 100 km (62 miles) an hour in 8.6 seconds, cruise at a maximum 205 km (127 miles) an hour and get 33 km for a litre of gas (78 mpg), Toyota hopes to convince the anticipated 1.4 million visitors that environmental and driving performances can go hand in hand.
Visitors will get a chance to test ride some of the FCVs and hybrid cars at a seaside park next to the exhibition halls in Makuhari, outside Tokyo.
One of Toyota\'s biggest rivals in promoting next-generation powertrains is Detroit\'s General Motors Corp (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , the world\'s best-selling car maker.
Foreign auto makers have had a steady seven percent share of the Japanese market for the past half-decade and most plan no world premiers for the Tokyo show, which is typically dominated by local players.
But GM has been stirring up local media attention over the past few weeks. The company, which wants to be the world\'s first to sell a million FCVs, will show off its Hy-Wire concept car for the first time in Japan, hoping to dash its image as a maker of massive gas-guzzlers such as the Hummer H2 SUV.
The Hy-Wire, which stole the show in Paris a year ago as the first driveable vehicle to combine hydrogen fuel cell power with new \"drive-by-wire\" - or electronic - control technology, is a complete rethink of the way cars are designed, taking advantage of the space for the bonnet, for instance, to stow the engine.
It is quiet, roomy and has no gear stick or brake pedal, using instead a single steering unit that looks like a giant video game control. It spews nothing but water from its exhaust pipe.
Car makers generally count on international auto shows to boost sales in the local market, but the Tokyo show will be more about pitching futuristic cars as industry officials expect Japanese auto demand to go nowhere fast in the near term.
Sales of new cars and trucks during the six months to September in Japan - the first half of the country\'s business year - were roughly flat from the year before, up just 0.5 percent at 1.9 million units.
Annual car sales, excluding 660 cc mini-vehicles, are expected to hover around four million units until the sluggish economy picks up.
By volume, Japan is the world\'s third-largest car market after the United States and Europe, but it accounts for less than 20 percent of auto makers\' profits due to competitive pricing.
Honda sells nearly twice as many cars in North America as in Japan. And third-ranked Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T: Quote, Profile, Research) said last week it now expects to sell more cars in the United States than at home.
\"What\'s important about Japanese auto makers\' domestic operations is the research and development function,\" said ING Securities analyst Kurt Sanger. \"They\'ve got demanding consumers here who seek new technologies and help push innovation.\"
That approach is in keeping with Japanese auto makers\' drive to lead the world in environment-friendly technology, as well as with the show\'s theme, \"Driving Toward a Better Future\".
The show will see the debut of 41 concept and production vehicles from 38 car makers.
- Toyota\'s Fine-N FCV has in-wheel motors in all four wheels, which have been pushed out to the corners of the car to open up interior space with a flat floor.
- Nissan Motor Co\'s (7201.T: Quote, Profile, Research) 3-metre (9 ft 11 in) -long Effis city commuter features light-weight packaging with recyclable seats and a \"super motor\" combined with a compact lithium ion battery.
- Suzuki Motor Corp\'s (7269.T: Quote, Profile, Research) six-seater, compact fuel cell van, the Mobile Terrace, features sliding doors, seats, floor and roof. The rounded, translucent van aims to mimic an open terrace, and uses 20 percent owner GM\'s Hy-Wire platform.
- Honda\'s Kiwami fuel cell design concept features flat floors and a spacious interior, though the car does not actually run.
Amid all the crystal-ball gazing, some leading car makers will showcase actual production models, such as Honda\'s fully remodelled Odyssey minivan.
The company launched the vehicle in Japan on Friday, in the thick of a slump that has seen its domestic sales drop more than 20 percent in the year to date. Figures like that may yet prove the toughest test of the industry\'s innovation.
Story by Chang-Ran Kim, Asia auto correspondent
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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