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Tokyo Motor Show set to boost domestic demand

The biggest names in Japan's auto industry will be unveiling no fewer than 76 brand new vehicles at the upcoming 43rd Tokyo Motor Show as they try to inject new life into a moribund domestic market.

A total of 177 car companies, from Japan and around the world, will be exhibiting their latest creations at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center on November 22. And while that is an increase on the 174 firms that took part in the last show, held in 2011, it is down significantly from the 241 companies that took part as recently as 2007.

Japan may still be home to some of the biggest names in the automobile industry - Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Suzuki, Mazda, Lexus, Mitsubishi all spring to mind - but they are facing a declining market at home brought about by a shrinking population and a broader apathy amongst young people towards splashing out on cars. And abroad, the competition is getting tougher.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers' Association, organizer of the event, hopes the cutting-edge designs and new technologies to be unveiled at the show - under the slogan "Compete! And shape a new future" - might increase interest in their member companies' products.

Better than 2011 event

"This looks like it's going to be a bigger event than the one two years ago, when the country was reeling from the impact of the natural disasters," Peter Lyon, a journalist who covers the auto sector in Japan, told DW.

"People are more optimistic, cars are selling and there is the sense that the government's economic policies are taking hold. And that might be enough to encourage more people to buy cars," Lyon added.

NISSAN BladeGlider is both a proposal for the future direction of Nissan electric vehicle (EV) development and an exploratory prototype of an upcoming production vehicle from the world's leading EV manufacturer. (Photo NISSAN)

The BladeGlider, Nissan's sporty concept electric vehicle is certain to turn heads

The BladeGlider, Nissan's sporty concept electric vehicle is certain to turn heads once the show opens to the public, with the Yokohama-headquartered company saying it is targeting male drivers who want styling and performance in an environmentally-friendly car.

With the driver seated centrally and space for two passengers behind each shoulder, the eye-catching, aerodynamic vehicle is made of lightweight carbon fiber. "In our view, the Tokyo Motor Show is one of the world's most important automotive events," Chris Keefe, a spokesman for Nissan, told DW.

Tier One class show

"We rank the numerous auto shows held around the globe every year in order of importance, and for us the Tokyo show is absolutely Tier One class," he added.

Toyota intends to use the event to showcase "future mobility," including a next-generation fuel cell concept car, the FCV, which could be on Japan's roads as soon as 2015. With a range of at least 500 kilometers and a re-fueling time of around three minutes, which puts it on a par with conventional petrol vehicles, it will have a major advantage of the present generation of electric cars.

Toyota FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) Concept. (Photo: Toyota )

Toyota's FCV could be on Japan's roads as early as 2015

Another Toyota car making its debut will be the FV2, a single-person vehicle that does away with the traditional steering wheel and is guided by the driver shifting his or her body to intuitively move the vehicle in the required direction.

Honda, another of the big Japanese manufacturers, is taking the wraps off its S660 Concept, an open-top sporty mini-vehicle, the NSX Concept, a next-generation super sports model and the all-new Uni-Cub, a personal mobility device developed on the theme of "harmony with people."

And while Tesla Motors, the US electric-vehicle venture, will be making its debut in Tokyo this year and AB Volvo of Sweden will be returning, the American "Big Three" of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors are conspicuous by their absence.

Difficult to show in Tokyo

"They effectively can't show here in Tokyo because the market place does not let them," said Lyon. "General Motors sells just 1,200 cars a year in Japan and that's not enough to warrant a stand at the show."

The strong competition from rival motor shows means that the Japanese event has lost much of its cachet, Lyon believes. "Japanese car companies need to generate more interest in the international market place, but that is becoming more difficult as the Koreans eat into Japan's market share," he said.

"Other nations' cars are more attractive to the eye, cheaper and are a match in terms if performance and reliability, all of which Japanese manufacturers used to excel at. "It might be a tall order for Japan to seize back the initiative."

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