CARS & BIKES
economic doom and gloom, the Tokyo Motor Show remains number one on Japan's
motoring calendar. Marish Mackowiak jumped into another hard-revving
automotive feeding frenzy.
Tokyo's 35th Motor Show
gave tire-kickers an unprecedented mix of new hi-performance sports cars and
the latest ideas to save the environment, together with a dazzling array
of concept cars that seem to push ever closer towards automotive reality.
Not just cars
Enthusiasts arriving from
Kaihin Makuhari station could be excused for thinking that this was in
fact a bike show. Suzuki's 650cc Skywave upped the ante in the scooter
stakes with the biggest bike currently in production. Their striking
B-King boasted "boost," "block and beauty," and "brain," the last a
reference to the machine's on-board computer. Yamaha's Sound Simulator
allowed speed freaks to take an XJR 1300 to an indicated 188km/h, without
moving an inch. The continuing strength of the heavyweight cruiser trend
was clear with Yamaha's 1670cc Warrior and Kawasaki's "Mean Streak" Vulcan
1500, while Harley's 1330cc liquid-cooled V-Rod is heading back to a
stylish future with a buffed aluminum finish.
The breathless unveiling
of Nissan's Skyline GT-R was one of the most eagerly awaited new releases.
The GT-R heritage is safe with an up-to-the-minute design that continues a
testosterone-packed grand touring tradition. It features an aggressively
blunt snout, matched by typical Skyline taillights. Parked alongside was
the new Nissan Z, a car that has caused a sensation worldwide with lines
that similarly hark back to past traditions while symbolizing the "Nissan
revival." With Mazda ("zoom zoom") showing off its rival four-door RX-8, a
muscle car dust-up seems inevitable, overshadowing the company's sporty
|The gorgeous Orochi
new V12 330km/h Murcielago replaces the aging Diablo as the
ultimate Italian exoticar, representing a significant event for another
company that eschews frequent model changes. Mercedes' streamlined new SL
convertible was a similarly rare event. Their open top budget alternative
was the Smart Cabrio. The new Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, meanwhile, is an
archetypal iron fist in a velvet glove that combines the traditionally
bold Aston Martin nose with a sloping 911-style rear. However, even a new
age James Bond may not approve of tan leather seats that feature powder
pink inserts. Unable to replace a classic, Honda opted to revamp its
long-lived NSX with the NSX-R. Those who can't wait for production to
begin can go for the hot Civic Type R, available from December.
Honda, many makers seemed to be merely testing the water. Volkswagen's
stunning Giugiaro-designed 12-cylinder W12 Coupe is claimed to be "production-ready,"
despite being very far from any kind of people's car. If released, their
new microbus (read Combi) should complement the Beetle well. Meanwhile,
Ford also wants to gauge demand before marketing their retro Thunderbird ("American
dream car") in Japan.
models available immediately include the Jaguar's "budget" X-type, Audi's
A4 Cabriolet, Maserati's Spyder, the new Mini, the 3 series BMW Compact
and the big 7 series Beemer. Another quirky WiLL model, the VC, is Toyota's
latest niche marketing effort. It fills the "cool" niche in the company's
mood oriented range.
"Emotion in Motion," Subaru's "Driving Emotion," Toyota's "Soul of Toyota"
and Suzuki's cry to "Make it Unique!" likewise suggest that Japanese
makers remain haunted by the outdated stereotype of their cars being
blandly utilitarian. Toyota claim their "pod" concept vehicle can even "detect
and respond to emotional states."
The show's slogan was "Open
the Door! The Automobile's Bright Future." And a cavalcade of aggressively
shaped concept cars proved that it was still possible to dazzle today's
tech-savvy consumers. Drive by wire controls and systems to prevent
straying from designated lanes are just some of the technologies that will
soon become road-going reality. Toyota and Daihatsu joined forces in an
impressively dark pavilion that included the racing car-like FXS. With
phallic styling and a chopped down wraparound windscreen, it was truly a
Batmobile for a new century. Although parked alongside and also
accommodating only two people, Daihatsu's 660cc Copen couldn't have been
more different, combining the cute retro look of Nissan's old Figaro with
the folding hard-top of Mercedes' SLK. Classic car manufacturer Mitsuoka ("a
small factory with a big dream") made a sensational Motor Show debut with
its Orochi supercar, a jaw-dropping contrast to their otherwise
conservative range. Suzuki, producing both cars and bikes, presented the
extreme GSX-R/4, a vehicle that has four wheels but uses an engine
straight out of the Hayabusa 1300. Finally, Lotus' amazing featherweight
two-seat 340R is remarkable for being a production car that's at least as
crazy as most motor show specials.
Lapin was a notable change from the space-age styling of many dream cars.
If it looked like a '50s kitchen appliance, it was because the company
claims they took the same approach "as if designing household items." A
lime green and white color scheme, with a clear plastic steering wheel,
seemed squarely aimed at novelty-minded OLs. Toyota's RSC ("Rugged Sport
Coupe"), on the other hand, was just the thing for jaded salarymen wanting
the latest in ultra sporty off-roaders.
Despite the prominence of
high-performance gas-guzzlers, the automotive industry is nevertheless
trying to ensure its viability in a world threatened by environmental
calamity. Hybrid power, epitomized by Honda's Dualnote, combining 400hp
with 18km/liter economy, has become the most popular means of maintaining
a green image. The real surprise was the dominance of fuel cell
technology, involving the conversion of gasoline or other fuels into
Zen and now
From Isuzu's Zen, a
meditative tatami room on wheels, and Honda's WIC ("What Is Car"), to Opel's
Frogster, Nissan's Nails, Suzuki's Every Landy and Isuzu's marvellously
monickered "Begin Funkybox," the show had the usual assortment of oddly
named cars. Despite a magnificent effort from Mazda's "Secret Hideout,"
the Toyota/Daihatsu group claimed the prize for strange names, with such
inventive creations as the ist, DMT (Dual Mode Traveller), Muse, Blit,
Voxy and the electrifying Voltz. With such an array of surprises, the
future of the car seems set.
Fun colors on Mitsubishi's Lapin