COMMENT: Inexpensive, reliable and beautiful

Franz W. Rother is Editor-in-Chief of Automobilwoche

Honda was said to be ready for acquisition. Nissan was so deep in crisis that DaimlerChrysler, after looking at the corporation's debts, quickly made a run for it.

It only seemed a question of time before brands such as Daihatsu, Subaru, Isuzu or Mitsubishi would land on the trash heap of automobile history.

Analysts were certain that cars produced by Mazda -- if produced at all -- would soon roll through the world wearing the American parent company Ford's emblem. Even the industry's favorite boy Toyota didn't seem to have much of a future.

How wrong can you be? Four years later the world is upside down. Toyota is aiming to beat Chrysler in its home market, the USA. Nissan, under the direction of Carlos Ghosn and with help from its French partner Renault, has not only paid back all of its debts but has one of the industry's highest returns on investment and now aims for new markets.

Honda's love for innovation and its record profits are exemplary. Mazda leaves its mark on the European markets with a series of pleasurably-styled cars.

And four-wheel-drive specialist Subaru not only celebrates its export success but will in future supply the technology for the resuscitation of the European luxury brand Saab.

There is no doubt: The Japanese are back.

Japan always designed and built reliable autos; research confirms this year after year. And no one could ever beat the Japanese in productivity. What makes them even more dangerous competitors now is that Toyota and Co. have discovered that they can score with European consumers if they offer stylish designs -- as well as high product quality -- at a low price.

Original cars were always exhibited at the Tokyo Motor Show. But a lot of them just looked like toys and -- fortunately -- remained toys.

The show cars that were presented this year are much closer to being built in series, we are assured.

The courageous design offensive will definitely also take the Japanese closer to the top in the German registration statistics.

I dare to doubt that German manufacturers will achieve the same kind of growth on the Japanese market -- currently they have 3.5 percent of the market share.