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Despite 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 new Atenza

The gorgeous Orochi

        Lamborghoni's rakish 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.

Like 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.

New 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.

Mazda's "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."     

New concepts
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.

Mitsubishi's 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.

Green machines
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 electric power.

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

399: Autophile
Tokyo's 35th Motor show
397: Roar of the Kannon

Tokyo's biggest bikes

395: The Comfort Zone
Nissanfs latest Skyline.
393: Luxury for less
Second-hand luxury cars
389: Having it both ways
Toyota’s new Estima
387: The best of British
Triumph’s hot new 600cc sports bike
385: Fast family fun 
Subaru's latest edition legacy
383: Power rockets
Find cheap, small transport for Tokyo
381: Practically perfect
Porsche's new Turbo
379: A bug's life
Check out the Type 1 Beetle
377: Puttin' on the Ritz
Fancy cars for over JY 10 million
376: Prime time
Nissan's futuristic Primera
375: All revved up
Ducati's CEO Carlo Di Biagio
374: Retro rocket
BMW's sensational Z-8
373: Sales drive
Get a car that's free forever!
372: How Swede it is
Volvo's new S60 sports sedan
371: Moving on up
The new Honda Civic
370: Two-wheeled oddities
The 28th Tokyo Motorcycle Show
369: Scooting along
Piaggio's Vespa Vintage range
368: Sportslander
Land Rover's new release
367: Snatch
Park your bike safely
366: Lending a helping hand
Developments in "barrier-free" driving
365: Get down
A 'lo-lo' show in Tokyo
364: A Runx for your money
Toyota's Runx
363: It's a gas
Alternative gas power
362: Power lunch
Auto-oriented eats
361: Smart attack
DaimlerChrysler's Smart Coupe
360: SLK320
Covertible for couples with cash
359: New year classics
Classic cars from the past
358: On your bike
Chic cycling accessories
357: Custom crazy
The Tokyo Auto Salon 2001
356: A TRIBUTE to Mazda fans
Mazda's TRIBUTE link
355: Biking the open roads of Izu
Riding your hog in Izu
354: Blast from the past
The low-down on the last of the Mini's
352/3: White Christmas
How about a Porsche 911?
351: History in the hills
The Honda Collection Hall
350: Rest insured
Protect yourself and your car