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46th Tokyo Motor Show focuses on electric and autonomous cars

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Renault’s Lutecia

Emerging technology is changing our life style as well as our understanding of how we see the surroundings, including the utilities that we use and take for granted. But few of us can fathom correctly or even bother about how rapid and far reaching those changes are. We take any change for granted when it arrives at our door steps, not thinking about the long process that had taken for reaching the point.

This year’s Tokyo Motor Show, the 46th edition that ended on November 4, had reflected in style numerous new vehicles that are on way in near future. The biennial event running for twelve days at Tokyo’s Big Sight exhibition arena displayed a wide variety of automobiles ranging from autonomous cars to space age futuristic models. At the same time the demand for driving enthusiasts was also not forgotten. The result had been a show that not only attracted renewed public attention, but also displayed in a user-friendly way vehicles that are on way to make our life easier and comfortable.

Japanese automobile industry is not in a good shape since the unfolding of Nissan saga earlier this year. Overseas sales of most of the manufacturers except Toyota is plummeting and companies are posting operating losses and also closing down overseas production facilities. Moreover, as half of the Motor Show’s traditional Big Sight main venue is going through reconstruction for next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, organizers of the motor show event had to split the venue into two; part in the Big Sight and part in Aomi Exhibition Center, which is more than a kilometer away from the main arena. Also, international participation reached a record low as among major global brands only Mercedes-Benz, Smart, Renault and Alpine were present. So the odds for this year’s Motor Show were daunting.

However, despite such drawbacks, the biennial event turned out to be a successful one as it not only could reverse the flow of declining audience over the last decade, but also could exceed the attendance target set for this year. The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), the organizer of the show, earlier set an ambitious target of 1 million visitor-goal and many at the time were doubtful about the possibility of reaching the target. But to the surprise of such doubtful critics, when the 12-day show wrapped up on November 4, the Motor Show could attract more than 1.3 million visitors, representing a 70 percent surge over the last show in 2017. What made is possible is primarily the innovative idea of creating an event which unlike traditional motor shows resembled more of a theme park with side shows allowing the audience to enjoy some of those side-events in free admission areas.

Motorcar industries everywhere are showing keen interest on adopting emerging technologies to make riding safer and more enjoyable. The 46th Tokyo Motor Show has shown clearly how the trend is being embraced by the industry in full scale. Most of the manufacturers participating at the show have introduced a range of electric vehicles. Artificial intelligence (AI) too had a bigger presence than earlier motor shows.  In the past, Tokyo Motor Show used to be a colorful display of high performance sports cars, environment-friendly models and attractive compact versions. However, almost all manufacturers this year featured some form of electric or plug-in-hybrid concept fitted with autonomous driving technology.

Toyota’s Lexus showed the electric concept model LF-30. The futuristic designed model comes with a new electric platform that the company is planning to use on Lexus and Toyota EVs from 2022. Suzuki unveiled three concepts, all with electric components and innovative designs. Mazda joined the show with company’s first electric model, the MX-30. The concept with a smaller battery will offer a humble 130 miles of range, which Mazda has chosen specifically for achieving better emissions throughout the entire life cycle of the car.  Nissan unveiled the electric Ariya concept while Honda launched the battery-driven Honda e and the hybrid version of Fit.

The 46th Tokyo Motor Show not only focused on futuristic, cutting-edge models including self-driving cars; also on display were unconventional mobility devices as well as motorbikes fitted with new technology. There were also test driving corners as well as virtual racing tracks. Children too had their due shares in riding as well as enjoying the display of all varieties of mini models.

One of the aims of the organizers was to revive the past glory of Tokyo Motor Show. Tokyo Motor Show, which once enjoyed the reputation of being Asia’s top and one of the five biggest auto exhibitions along with the Frankfurt, Geneva, Detroit and Paris shows, has recently lost its position to the Chinese expos in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. As a result, overseas participation too is showing a declining trend, making overall attendance much smaller. 192 carmakers and motorcar related organizations from eight countries participated in this year’s Motor Show, down from a peak of 361 in 1995. Missing among big names this year are US giants General Motors, Ford; as well as European heavy weights BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Volvo and Peugeot.

The trend is in line with the global sales of Japanese motorcars. While overseas sales of most of the Japanese automakers are showing a declining trend, domestic sales still remains robust. So, the focus on attracting more Japanese visitors to the motor show probably fits well with the trend.

The increasing focus of manufacturers on electric cars along with incorporation of AI concept shows clearly the pace of advancement in automobile sector. As the idea of getting rid of harmful fossil fuel is gaining more ground, the world probably can feel a bit easier as emissions from car exhaust has a big share in polluting the environment. However, as long as the price of new variety of eco-friendly and easy to use cars remain out of touch of the majority around the globe, it might still take quite long for our mother earth to dump the machines that had been polluting the air since the advent of automobiles more than 100 years ago. But the signs, no doubt, are encouraging and the 46th Tokyo Motor Show has once again displayed that boldly.

(Tokyo, November 12, 2019)

  • 46th Tokyo Motor Show focuses on electric and autonomous cars
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  • Issue 20
  • Monzurul Huq
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