Tokyo Motor Show 2007

There was a time when the Tokyo Motor Show was the most interesting, frenetic, visceral, downright wild auto show in the world. Oh yes, some would have told you then that the Frankfurt (Germany) auto show had more depth, but no one could have said the Frankfurt show topped Tokyo for sheer color and range. The oddities of the Tokyo show were surely the best in the world. (And I'll quit calling you Shirley.) But how that has changed! The general feeling about this 40th Tokyo Motor Show was that it lacked sparkle and depth. In fact, some were even saying that the Tokyo show could well be on its way to minor league status.

It seems the sluggish Japanese economy was more to blame for the Tokyo Motor Show's low-key nature than the Japanese industry. Apparently, the unofficial but very real protective cocoon that surrounds domestic auto makers in the Japanese market has persuaded non-Japanese manufacturers that other auto shows, most notably in China, might be more fertile ground for their most interesting introductions.  Certainly a wide variety of vehicle manufacturers were in attendance in Tokyo, but the list was far less complete than in Frankfurt a month earlier and what we can expect to see in Detroit in January. In fact, on a press event-versus-event basis the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show might prove significantly more interesting than Tokyo.

So what was the pervading theme in Tokyo? As you might expect, the show featured a wide variety of urban vehicles, some little more than highly stylized motorized wheelchairs, others with more than a passing resemblance to "The Brave Little Toaster."  Both Toyota and Suzuki strutted personal transportation devices, aka wheelchairs. The Toyota i-REAL is the latest in a series of one-person vehicles from the manufacturer that gained a lot of attention and more than a little head-scratching from observers who wondered, "Is this what cars are coming to?" Suzuki's answer to the i-REAL was the Pixie, which was slightly more "car-like" than the i-REAL in that it runs on four wheels, not three, and has a windscreen-cum-roof to protect its lone occupant from the weather. In another bow to the conventional car, Suzuki showed the SSC in conjunction with the Pixie. The SSC is kind of a push-me, pull-me oblong motive device that accepts two Pixies by ramps at each end. The larger, two-person vehicle can then travel at something more like normal road speed with two passengers, each in a Pixie, aboard. 

Going up one notch in size and several notches in actual practicality were the nearly boggling collection of city car concepts -- among them the Honda Puyo, Nissan Pivo 2 and R.D.: B.X (or "Round Box"), Toyota Hi-CT and Mitsubishi i MiEV. Volkswagen even got in the act with its Space Up! mini-minivan concept. Of these, all but the Mitsubishi I MiEV seemed to channel the same sort of industrial design that might go into a Cuisinart appliance. The Puyo featured silicone-infused body panels that made it the most huggable of the Tokyo Motor Show concept cars. The I MiEV, meanwhile, looked like a cross between George Jetson's car and Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion.

While "sustainable mobility" is a laudable goal, one has to wonder if cars like these will really stoke the buying fires of the consumer-at-large. Certainly the auto industry must keep a weather eye on the environment and, perhaps even more importantly, consumers' views about the environment. But vehicles designed strictly for efficiency are dull, and sadly, this edition of the Tokyo Motor Show was a reflection of that.