The 42nd Tokyo Motor Show aptly themed "Mobility can Change the World", was notable for two things, the absence of American automobile manufacturers and the focus on zero emission technologies for the automotive industry. Just about every manufacturer had their version of the green vehicle whether car, sports car or even motorcycle.
While this green movement has been around for quite some time, I have never seen it so widespread. Widespread in the sense that quite a few manufacturers were displaying not one, not two, but multiple zero-emission and ultra low-emission vehicles. What makes it more interesting is the fact that the car manufacturers are looking at these technologies as integrated into the social systems with which they interact. A car is no longer simply a means of transport. In the case of Toyota's Fun-Vii, a concept vehicle that projects any number of images which the occupants choose on its interior and exterior, it is even a moving emoticon.
Here are some of the vehicles of note shown by the different manufacturers.
Some interesting launches include the world debut of the Mitsubishi Mirage that we can expect to reach our shores sometime next year. Interesting because it is Mitsubishi's first foray in the sub-compact car segment in almost three decades; at least in the Philippines. Dubbed their global car, it is designed to satisfy the needs of both developed and emerging markets. The main selling point of this vehicle is what Mitsubishi calls world-class environmental performance. The Mirage is powered by a new 1.0-liter 3-cylinder MIVEC*3 engine which uses a regenerative braking system for energy recovery. In conjunction with Mitsubishi Motors' own Auto Stop & Go idle-stop system, the new engine boasts a top-of-class level of fuel efficiency. It is expected to achieve fuel economy of up to 30 kms/l.
Sharing the stage with the Mirage was the world debut of the Mitsubishi eco-SUV, the Concept PX-MiEV II. This plug-in hybrid features the twin motor 4WD system in which two motors drive the front and rear axles independently. This allows the driver greater control while doing away with the propeller shaft, hydraulic system and clutch plate used to connect the front and rear axles. What is most interesting about this vehicle is that it has 3 drive modes: EV mode (using battery only), Series hybrid mode (using the engine generator to recharge the battery when charge is low), and Parallel hybrid mode (when it is driven by both the battery and engine during high speeds). Another interesting aspect to this car, is using the smart grid technology being developed for homes, the stored power in the battery can be used supply the electric power stored in its drive battery to houses or other buildings in order to shift overall power usage from daytime peak hours to night, where power demand is much lower to reduce peak consumption. The system can also operate to ensure EV battery charging takes place at times when power consumption is low.
To call the Q Concept car unusual would be an understatement. This Japanese mangga inspired (at least to me), orange and white Pokemon looking vehicle really stood out from the more subdued models. Designed as a city runabout, the vehicle pack a miserly 600 cc engine which serves more as a generator for the battery which provides the electric motor with power enough for a trip distance of 10 kms! It is quirky though and the EV systems do have some real world applications so while we might not see this vehicle out on the street in the near future, expect to find some of its more useful features (like removable rear seats and the actual EV system) in Suzuki's production vehicles. Also featured was the hybrid version of the ever popular Swift.
Noticeably absent from Honda's booth was the 2012 Civic, as the model has been removed from their Japanese model lineup last year. However, Honda did have some crowd drawers. The EV ster; yes that's really its name, is Honda's take on the small electric sports car. This futuristic sports car uses what Honda calls "Twin Lever Steering," with two joystick-like handles that pivot forward and backwards. This system was designed to allow the driver to be more in tune with the cornering forces when steering. In keeping with the green motoring theme, the EV ster's body is covered in solar panels that generate enough electricity to help power the various accessories and the climate control. It will be interesting to see if this car or any of its design cues make it to production.
While Mazda wasn't spotlighting its EV range during the show, it turned instead to some real world green motoring technology and design cues that we will be seeing in next year's vehicles. Design cues take off from the sharp edged Takei sports coupe and its more muscular 2-door brother the Kodo. First off, the new CX5 that already sports this more angular cladding will feature the latest SKYACTIV technologies. This means it could get the new line of fuel efficient SKYACTIV diesel or gas engines which combined with the new SKYACTIV automatic transmission promise mileage as high as 30 kms/l. And with gas prices going the way they are, this is something our country can use here and now while we catch up with the rest of the world's EV technology.
Toyota featured a long line of low and zero emissions vehicles. Most notably were the Aqua, the FT-EV III and the FCV-R. The Aqua is Toyota's answer for an affordably priced compact-class hybrid vehicle. What's so interesting about it, is that it's planned worldwide launch is in December of this year. Maybe we'll see it actually hit our shores by next year and if they're true to their word then maybe more of us will actually be able to afford one. The FT-EV III is a zero emission electric vehicle in an ultra-compact and lightweight package suitable for short-distance trips. It is slated to be launched next year. Finally the FCV-R is Toyota's next-generation sedan-type fuel-cell concept vehicle fueled by hydrogen. Toyota sees hydrogen as a promising source of CO2 emission-free energy that can produced from a variety of sources and can be easily stored and transported. While this may seem farfetched, Toyota intends to launch this sedan by 2015.
When it came to displaying earth-friendly vehicles, Nissan definitely hit it out of the park with their booth. Their whole line up featured Zero emission electric vehicles in all manner of incarnation from the futuristic Pivo3, to the ubiquitous Leaf, which even came in a Nismo version. They had sportcars, and city cars and even a vision for a smart city in which their cars could discharge electricity to power your home. The Pivo3 is a 3-seater that has a few interesting features like wheels that pivot to give it a turning radius of only 2 meters; smaller than most city side streets. It also has an automated valet parking that, parks itself, charges itself and even responds to your call to pick you up in a designated location. The ESFlow sportcar is reminiscent of the iconic Z albeit in an EV skin. Two high-performance motors are to give it amazing agility.
The F125! is deserving of the exclamation mark that is part of its name. This hydrogen powered vehicle is Mercedes-Benz' vision of an emission-free vehicle. While this vehicle may be in the vicinity of two generations ahead of the game, it was exciting to see what the future could look like. Its wheels looked like Tesla coils waiting to come to life. A front passenger seat that folds completely over to allow the rear passenger to alight without much effort from the lounge like rear seats. Also featured was the Concept A which we may actually see in a short time. While the actual form may change, the new, turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine, a dual clutch transmission and a radar-based collision warning system with adaptive Brake Assist are bound to eventually find themselves into production cars.
BMW had the undeniable star or should I say, movie star of the show. The i8 Concept car was featured in the latest Mission Impossible movie. And like most movie stars it was flashy indeed with its silver skin and neon blue lights. Under this flash lies the heart of an innovative sports car. A plug-in electric drive system is fitted over its front axle while a high-performance 3-cylinder engine producing 220 hp and 300 Nm at the rear. Working in tandem they are able to produce the performance of a sports car but the fuel economy of a small car. This 4-seater (which makes it practical) can even travel up to 35 kms on electric power alone. Fuel consumption for the speedster is expected to be at around the 33 km/l level. Together with this movie star was its little brother, the i3 Concept. However, there's nothing little about the technology in this vehicle. This is designed primarily as an urban vehicle running on a no emission electric motor that produces 170 hp and 250 Nm which allows it to be agile. Its lightweight design and the use of innovative materials including compressed and coated plant fibers allow it to travel long distances on a single charge.
Also in the BMW pavilion was the iconic MINI. Its centerpiece was the new MINI Coupe. The first two-seater in the MINI lineup, the new car achieves the best performance statistics ever recorded by a volume-produced MINI; it is the fastest-accelerating MINI ever and has the highest top speed.
While the Impreza struck me a losing its edge and becoming rather dull, Subaru's showcase the Advanced Tourer Concept was the exact opposite. It reminded me more of a Transformer than anything else. Think station wagon on steroids and HGH combined! It's an angry looking beast, which probably will not see the light of day except for possibly some design cues like the grill, headlights and tail lights. However, the 1.6-liter boxer-hybrid powertrain might actually make it to production some time soon as the internals are said to be close enough to production spec.
Jaguar & Range Rover
While everyone was concentrated on earth-friendly vehicles, Jaguar and Range Rover were notable for bucking the trend. Instead, Jaguar featured its fastest and most powerful production car, the XKR-S. This beast features the upgraded 5.0-Liter Supercharged AJ-V8 Gen III R Engine. Needless to say while it's probably more efficient than the previous engine, I wouldn't exactly call it an earth-friendly vehicle. Neither is the featured vehicle, the All-Aluminum Supercharged XJ SUPERSPORT. This vehicle is at the pinnacle of the Jaguar XJ range and while it gets style and performance points, I don't see it fitting the green mold.
As for the all-new Range Rover Evoque, I'm not sure whether I like the styling. They've given it a more aggressive look but they've also chopped the roofline. Somehow it looks like a cross between a Ford Ranger and a Mini Countryman on steroids. Powering the Evoque is the new Si4 gasoline engine is a light weight all-aluminum turbocharged 2.0 liter engine. The new engine does promise reduced consumption and emissions. So I suppose it's a greener vehicle than its predecessor.
Who says that earth-friendly cars have to be dull boxes with even more lethargic engines? Certainly not any of the manufacturers who lent their presence to the 42nd Tokyo Motor Show. If this is the shape of things to come in our clean and green (to steal a line) future, then it is an exciting future indeed.