2009 Tokyo Motor Show

October 23, 2009

“Racing Otaku visited the opening Wednesday press day for the 2009 TMS and was very disappointed to learn that virtually none of the European manufacturers had decided to come to the party. All the big Japanese names were there with some exciting products including the new LFA Lexus and FT86 Toyota but the hole that is Europe was glaring and impossible to patch.”

I’m not going to lie to you. The 2009 Tokyo Motor Show was a pretty big letdown punctuated by pockets of expectation and amazement.

Without doubt everyone was expectantly anticipating the arrival of cars like the Lexus LFA and the Toyota FT86 but there was no denying the fact that the Makuhari Messe was empty, especially by TMS standards. The Makuhari Messe is a massive venue and became even more cavernous with the absence of almost every European and American automotive manufacturer.

Not wanting to sound too critical, this was the smallest TMS I’ve been to by a long way and with the current economic climate in the state its in, this is cause for concern on a number of levels. I have it on good stead through a contact high up the ladder that the European arm of the automotive world gave the Japanese event the thumbs down due to the economic crisis. Make of that what you will but keep in mind all those absent from the TMS were present at the Shanghai Motor Show. If there was a single action that would bring about the most consternation within the TMS, this was it. My contact tells me that Chinas market for one particular manufacturer is a massive 10 times that of Japan and this went some of the way towards the decision not to attend. Amazingly, it was conveyed to me that when one of the manufacturers baulked at staging a display at this years TMS, the rest followed suit, en masse. Quite extraordinary and with costs for staging an event like this reaching astronomical figures, quite understandable.

Despite these setbacks, the TMS proved to be a success in other ways, underscored by the continued and more urgent push toward alternative fuels, bringing with it scores of rabid journalists hanging on the every word of Japans automotive top brass.

One thing that was immediately noticeable was the army of Chinese and Korean visitors to this years event, scores flocking to the stands of each major manufacturer to pick, pry and poke at each design no doubt taking in vital aesthetic and engineering based intel to transfer to their own product lines back home. Japan is going to have to really get a move on if it wants to stay in the race. Another thing that is equally apparent is that China is still playing catch up in this game and needs as much information as it can get. How the Japanese giants will respond to this is unknown but what is clear is that they are market leaders in this field with the technology and resources to back up the products. Japan, remember, is at the forefront on the development of alternative fuels and has been for many years. Making this technology cost effective is proving to be the major stumbling block. For example, it is reported that replacement battery prices for the Toyota “Plug in” Hybrid concept showcased this year at the TMS top out at a jaw dropping 650,000 yen. With a base cost of more than 3 million yen for the vehicle, neither these batteries nor the vehicle itself make sense financially.

It gets more interesting. The milliamps needed to feed the juice to the battery packs are reported to be capable of blacking out an entire street if a mere 5 of these cars were plugged in at the same time, not withstanding charge times up to an entire day. This is why recharging stations are being planned for as normal electricity grids won’t be able to cope.

All the major Japanese makers were there, with each of them sporting a heavily accentuated hybrid / alternative energy theme. I like the idea of hybrid technology and am not against it but until costs can be brought down, the technology will remain somewhat impractical on a global scale. Remember that with some forms of alternative fuels such as bio fuel, it takes energy to make energy, which in turn means that conventional resources such as oil and gas are still crucial in making the shift happen.

On a more hopeful note, Toyota appears to have restarted the small sports car war with what was arguably the star of the show; a fire red FT86. Nissan really should remove the designs for the Silvia from the bin and restart the project because Japan has been sorely missing a fight between small, 2 door RWD sport cars for years now. The fans have waited long enough and Nissans decision to scrap the project was ill advised.

It wasn’t all chrome, steel, aluminium and the combination of elements though. There were plenty of obliging ladies to ogle at, with designs arguably more appealing to the masses of men there than the cars themselves. The Rizla Suzuki stand, Nissan, Toyota and Mazda booths sporting some fine models. I certainly appreciated the way my 10-24mm super wide angle lens made them look leggier! Without these girls to soothe the waves of testosterone prevalent in events like this, who knows how long it would have been before a riot broke out.

There was plenty of fun to be had as well, with Sony bringing along a GT5 stand complete with at least 10 machines to try out – each one locked onto a different car. The FT86 was one of these cars and was a real hoot to take around the track. I tried out the Scuderia 438 on full manual controls and more aggressive competitors and was shocked when I got tagged and spun around by a pissed off AI. I think the level of involvement in this game has gone up another notch but sadly there is still no damage model so we wont be seeing broken bits and pieces of our favorite cars flying around.

While there were noticeable absences this year, I still made the most of the occasion, securing some quality time with the cars there and taking home with me a wide list of future contacts who have agreed to throw me the keys to some of their cars for performance testing so you can be sure of follow ups in the near future.


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