The TMS wasn't as serious an auto show as before, and here's why
A couple of weeks ago, many of us in the automotive media from all over the world arrived in Japan for the Tokyo Motor Show.
The anticipation was very high. TMS, after all, is the premier automotive trade show in Asia. It's the prime launch pad for Japan's automobiles for the world, the home event for companies such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and many more, ranking up there in the big five international auto shows: Geneva in Switzerland, Frankfurt in Germany, Detroit in the USA, Paris in France, and then Tokyo.
But during the first day, there was a bit of confusion. A big part of that was the venue: Tokyo Big Sight.
The Tokyo Motor Show has always been impressive, and massive given how it can occupy the many halls and buildings that make up the Tokyo Big Sight. To give you an idea of scale, our own World Trade Center Manila exhibition hall which hosts the Manila International Auto Show and Philippine International Motor Show is probably only about one eighth of the size.
But this year, the show has been affected by the preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics as the biggest hall, the East Hall, has been closed down to be renovated for next year's games, leaving only the smaller West, North and South Halls. To compensate, they used the large Aomi Hall, but that necessitated a bus ride to the other side of Odaiba. It was like having one event but one half of it is in WTC Manila while the other is at the SMX Convention Center in MOA.
The organizers were doing their best to manage the unusual arrangement; the 2020 Olympics, after all, takes top billing compared to a motor show. But it proved to be tricky for a global event on the scale of TMS, and that was already with the Japanese way of getting everything organized. The shuttle buses were inadequate, and the hour allotted to get from Ariake to Aomi for the Toyota presentation proved to be insufficient. Manufacturers such as Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Lexus were at the Ariake area, but Toyota, Subaru, Hino were in Aomi. All in all, it was the best possible arrangement with a complex situation.
But there was a palpably odd feeling circulating amongst those in attendance. It's hard to put a finger on it, but the feeling hovered around the question:
Where are the automobiles?
Let's try to qualify that a bit. The Tokyo Motor Show has been the launch pad for many motor vehicles of different types. A lot of hatchbacks, sedans, sports cars, SUVs, vans and even trucks have premiered at TMS. And we're not just talking about vehicles you can buy when you walk into showrooms in a few months or even a year, as TMS has also premiered automobiles in various stages of development like futuristic concepts, fully functional prototypes, and even tuned, upgraded, or updated versions of existing production models. But for some reason, there was quite a lack of them.
It may not be entirely accurate to say that there was a shortage of automobiles; each booth (save for 1) did have quite a few on display for us to admire, take photos or videos of and write about. But typically, we're looking for the wow factor; the next big thing, so to speak. And in that light, many of us were disappointed because there were so few things at TMS that qualifies as something that really stole the show and captured our collective imaginations.
Mitsubishi's looked promising with the kei car spec Super Height K Wagon concept as well as the adventurous Mi-TECH (Mitsubishi Intelligent Technology) buggy in that shade of blue, but we were hoping for more. We would have wanted a next generation Lancer or to have seen if they'd developed the Engelberg Tourer concept into something more, like maybe a next generation Pajero.
We liked Nissan's booth with the Ariya concept and the IMk. No doubt that both were stunning and beautiful concepts, but we had hoped for a better peek at the production models or prototypes of the IMQ (Q presumably for Qashqai) or the IMX (X presumably for the next gen X-Trail). Many of us were even wishing for a new GT-R concept especially since the premiere of the R35 GT-R concept was already 18 years ago at the 2001 TMS.
Honda was the only major Japanese manufacturer that really debuted a production car in the form of the Honda Fit, a model that we know as the Jazz. Many of our readers were critical of the design of the vehicle, but maybe they can make a few changes for the model that we will get in South East Asia. We also saw the production version of the Honda e electric car that they first debuted in concept form two years ago, as well as a lot of new bikes and upgraded ones.
The Lexus area was quite nice too, particularly with the very futuristic LF 30 concept. Lexus says they made it for their 30th birthday, and that it has 536 horsepower from its pure electric drive system. Perhaps most notably, it has gullwing doors.
Amongst all the major Japanese auto manufacturers at TMS, one particularly caught our eye: Toyota. Now in the run up to the show, Toyota had been teasing us with the things they will have to display. The new hydrogen powered Mirai, for example, is one we were particularly excited at seeing given that it no longer looks like a Prius offshoot; now it's reminiscent of the Stinger (yeah, from Kia). Toyota also revealed the new Yaris hatchback a few days prior online; that too, we were excited about.
When we did arrive at the Toyota booth, however, we didn't see any of them. In fact, Toyota didn't have any production or prototype cars that can see production at their actual booth. Instead what we saw were ideas of the future and how vehicles can be used for more than just getting around. They had the e-Racer; a futuristic peek at what racing cars of the future will look like, but it's meant to be in the virtual video game space only. There was also the e-Palette, a vehicle that Toyota will use to move athletes (specifically paralympic athletes) around in 2020, they also envisioned it to be able to function as an autonomous delivery vehicle, a mobile laboratory, or even a mobile store.
Perhaps the most oddball display of all was the Toyota e-Broom. No, it's not a Nimbus 2000; instead it's a broom with an electrically-driven wheel. They even demonstrated it with a guy wearing a futuristic suit with rollerblades. And at that point, we just thought: what the hell was going on?
Toyota did say they were going to “Play The Future”. Yeah, some of the ideas were neat and very playful, but the thing is that we just didn't expect it to go that way. As for the Mirai and the other cars we wanted to see, we had to go over to a different building, Megaweb, just to see and shoot them.
There was, however, a realization. The car manufacturers weren't trolling us. We were literally seeing a massive paradigm shift with the Tokyo Motor Show as well as the automobile industry.
TMS is organized by JAMA, or the Japan Automobile Manufacturer's Association which is also led by Toyota's Akio Toyoda. Judging by what we saw, they worked to re-orient the show to not be as serious a major auto expo as before. Generally speaking, a major motor show is intended to cater to auto executives, industry personnel, and journalists. It's a serious event where carmakers spend months preparing for to put their best foot forward for the cameras and the media outlets.
This year's show was more like a theme park. Toyota had a big open air park where people of all ages can try out some interesting bits of future tech, and you can even try out some of the stuff at their booth in Aomi.
Aomi was also the site of the big partnership that JAMA had with KidZania. Nissan and Mitsubishi had booths where kids can learn about car design and mold concept cars out of clay. Toyota showed kids how to be engineers, programmers, and mechanics. Subaru showed kids how to be mechanics too. Honda had racing simulators, among others. Of course, there was also the big Tomica booth.
The results were staggering for the show. For years, the attendance figures at the biennial (read: every other year) Tokyo Motor Show have been declining. In 2013 attendance was at 902,000, but dropped to 813,500 in 2015. In 2017, that dropped even further to 771,200. For this year, the Tokyo Motor Show's attendance surged by 70% to more than 1.3 million.
We were able to catch up with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation CEO Takao Kato during his recent visit to the Philippines, and he said that the role of the motor show is changing.
“As you know very well, for automotive field a lot of new technology will be introduced or be understood such as connected, autonomous, EV, shared brain, and more,” said Kato. “The automotive maker is focusing on showing the future concepts or future direction. That is the new role of the motor show, and the meaning of the motor show is changing.”
And then the nature of the 2019 TMS started to make more sense. If the future of the automobile -the things that our generation love to drive- is to be secured, then events such as the Tokyo Motor Show will have to attract a different generation to attend.
That's an idea that most of us didn't really grasp as we were walking around the show itself. TMS wasn't for us who went there to cover it. TMS was for the kids; the ones who don't have driver's licenses yet.
And if they are to understand and appreciate technologies like hybrids, electric drive, level 4 (or higher) vehicle autonomy, 5G (or 6G by that time?) and other ideas that many in our generation are still coming to grips with, by the time they do start driving, they will step into it all and drive the future with a full understanding of how it got there.
Well, except maybe for the damn broom.