2009 Tokyo Motor Show Overview
A smaller, quieter Tokyo Motor Show displays its greener side
Chiba, Japan - I swore if I heard "environmentally-friendly", "reduced carbon dioxide emissions" or the word "green" one more time during the press day for the 41st Tokyo Motor Show, I was gonna hurl. Every car maker was trying to position itself as greener-than-thou, despite the fact that personal transportation cars and light trucks are responsible for only about a tenth of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
But the automobile industry is every government's favourite whipping boy, so regulations pile up, costs increase, engineers are taken away from truly beneficial projects - and our air gets no cleaner.
To complete this litany of irony, the debutant which got the most noise at the show was the fastest, thirstiest, most expensive and the least likely to be bought by Dr. David Suzuki - the Lexus LFA. Despite its carbon-fibre body, it weighs more than Chevrolet's Corvette. Despite its 552-horsepower V10 engine, it isn't as fast as Nissan's GT-R. Yet with LFA's US$375,000 sticker, you could buy a Corvette and a GT-R and have enough left over to buy - well, another of either.
Not to mention the fact that to most eyes, the LFA bordered on ugly. At the very least it was nowhere near as pretty as Toyota's own FT-86 concept sport coupe which may (we hope) be the next Celica. Toyota says production of the LFA will be limited to 500 units over the next few years. I wonder if they'll be able to even flog that many.
Toyota also showed the plug-in Prius, which should make its overall fuel consumption even better. But if you want to drive a compact Toyota and do something for the environment, buy a Corolla and put six grand's worth of insulation in your attic. You'll spend less, be greener overall - and have a vastly better car to drive.
Too bad Toyota's microcar division Daihatsu doesn't sell in our market, because there is more styling innovation in this sector than in the rest of the Japanese car industry put together. The Basket open four seater? Or the Deca Deca, the microvan so nice they named it twice? Bring 'em on.
Honda has weathered the economic downturn better than most, mainly because of a more conservative approach to product development. President and CEO Takanobu Ito believes that the long-term solution for environment-friendly cars is hydrogen (as any right-thinking person would). But until governments invest in a hydrogen supply chain, Honda will have to keep playing the electrification game.
Joining the Insight and Civic hybrids next year will be the CR-Z, a two-seat sports hatchback that has been shown in concept form a couple of times. This is as close as Honda has yet to come to the late lamented CRX, even if the weight of the hybrid powertrain will dull its performance and handing.
Ito-san's company also has no choice but to work on battery-powered cars, as various governments are insisting on a 'zero-emissions' contribution from every car maker. Honda's proposal is the tiny, all-electric EV-N two-door subcompact.