Tokyo Auto Show Spotlight Dimmed Only Slightly

TOKYO – The 2015 Tokyo auto show will be a mere shadow of shows of a quarter-century past, when the Japanese economy was moving at warp speed yet so out of sync with the rest of the world that the palace grounds in central Tokyo were assessed at greater value than the state of California.

Then “pop!” went the bubble and domestic-vehicle demand began a steady slide, falling 20% from pre-bubble averages (and yet to recover), which coincided with the diminished status of owning a car – not a problem unique to Japan but hitting harder here because of an aging and declining population.

Ironically, the Japanese auto industry has never been stronger. In the most recent fiscal year, half of OEMs (two-thirds counting truck makers), reported record earnings. All can operate profitably at current exchange rates of $1:¥90, even $1:¥80. Before the bubble, analysts warned automakers would have difficulty surviving at $1:¥200 levels. Today’s rate is $1:¥120.

Besides operating more efficiently, this reversal of fortune also is the result of boosting production overseas. Since 1990, the nation’s automakers have added more than 15 million units of capacity outside Japan while tripling their share of overseas production to 60%. That means fewer than half of Japanese-brand vehicles are produced in Japan.

With the industry’s increased focus abroad, the Tokyo show has become less significant as it competes with Frankfurt, Geneva, Detroit and Los Angeles, as well as Shanghai, New Delhi and more than two dozen other major cities around the world.

Still, as the home market for Toyota, Nissan and Honda, it affords them a chance to bedazzle with their latest environmental, telematic and safety technologies.

Plans call for 48 world premieres, including 42 cars, at the show that opens to the media Oct. 28 and to the public Oct. 30. It runs through Nov. 8.

Will Honda Steal Show From Toyota?

Toyota again will be the headliner because of its sheer market size, still claiming nearly 30% of domestic sales and globally ranking No.1, although Honda expects to see considerable interest in its FCV hydrogen-fuel-cell car and NSX super sports car.

At Toyota’s exhibit will be the new Prius hybrid and C-HR hybrid CUV concept. The automaker also will display three futuristic models including the S-R compact sports car, FCV Plus fuel-cell car and Kikai (standing for machinery) 4-wheel contraption.

Lexus will present redesigned GS, GS F and RX models. The GS and GS F, powered by 3.5L and 5.0L turbocharged engines, were displayed along with the Prius in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The RX debuted in April at the New York show.

Toyota says Lexus also will unveil a special concept car on Oct. 28.

Honda, in addition to the FCV and NSX, will present Japan premieres of the Civic Type R and Odyssey Hybrid, which features the automaker’s Sport Hybrid IMMD system.

The FCV, successor to the FCX Clarity, has a range of 430 miles (700 km) with its fuel-cell powerplant positioned under the hood. The vehicle is expected to go on sale in March.

Nissan will display the Gripz, a compact CUV concept displayed at last month’s Frankfurt auto show, and an upgraded Leaf featuring an improved battery giving the world’s best-selling all-electric car a range of 175 miles (280 km) per charge. The Gripz can run on both gasoline and electric power.

The automaker plans to launch an upgraded Leaf in December.

Nissan also will show off a futuristic Gran Turismo concept sports car.

Mazda will display the Koeru sports car concept, also first shown in Frankfurt.

In the powertrain area, the automaker will put on view a 2.5L version of its Skyactiv-G engine reportedly adding turbocharging to the gasoline-engine series for the first time. Mazda also will exhibit a new 1.5L diesel developed for the Mazda2 subcompact.

Jeep Lone U.S. Flag-Bearer

Fuji Heavy Industries, maker of Subaru cars, will present the Viziv SUV and Impreza 5-door concepts. The Impreza is billed as a design study.

Subaru, which registered a 14% profit margin in fiscal 2014, also will display a special edition of the WRX S4 SporVita and major upgrades of the Forester and XV, all of which will be announced formally on Oct. 28.

In powertrains, the automaker will display its next-generation hybrid system employing a downsized turbocharged engine as well as its next-generation turbocharged engine, first applied to the Levorg, which is sold as the WRX in the U.S.

Mitsubishi will present the eX Concept, a battery-powered SUV, and a clean-diesel version of the Pajero SUV.

Suzuki, Japan’s leading maker of 0.66L minicars, will exhibit two concept minis, the Mighty Deck and Hustler Scoot, along with a concept CUV, the Ignis, and its new B-segment car, the Baleno.

The Baleno will be displayed with Suzuki’s new 1.0L Boostjet turbo and 1.2L Dualjet gasoline engines. Boostjet features both direct injection and turbocharging. The 1.0L Baleno goes on sale in Europe next spring. The 1.2L version of the car, available with an optional 1.3L diesel, arrives this month at Indian dealerships.

Daihatsu, Toyota’s small-car subsidiary, will display its D-Base ‘mini’ concept and Hinata mini-MPV.

Jeep will be the only nameplate to represent the U.S.

The supplier hall will feature more than 100 exhibits including the ‘Who’s Who’ of the Japanese supplier industry – Denso, Aisin Seiki, Hitachi Automotive Systems and JATCO. Robert Bosch, Continental and Mahle will be in attendance from overseas.

This is the 48th edition of the show first held in 1954, when marques such as Prince and Datsun were front and center and before Honda and Mazda (then Toyo Kogyo) began making cars.


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