Tokyo show finds its feet after forgettable 2009

TOKYO -- The beleaguered Tokyo Motor Show staged a comeback of sorts this year.

When its doors closed Dec. 11, the one-time pre-eminent Asia auto exhibition had played host to 842,600 visitors -- a 37 percent surge in attendance from the last show in 2009.

What's more, the figure bounced back to the pre-financial crisis level seen in 2007.

More people attended the 2007 show, but it was seven days longer than this year's 10-day event. In the first 10 days of the 2007 show there were 852,900 visitors.

The trend bodes well for a show that was nearly canceled in 2009 and has been overshadowed by rival events in China. Here are a few reasons for the rebound:

  • Return of the Germans: Like nearly all foreign brands, the big-name German makes stayed home in 2009. But this time BMW, Mercedes, Audi and VW were back in force -- even making global debuts. Some Japanese traveled from the far corners of the country to see their cars.
  • Location, location, location: Organizers moved the event closer to downtown Tokyo, to widespread praise of exhibitors, visitors and the media. They already have decided to forsake the traditional Makuhari Messe on the outskirts of the city for the new digs again in 2013.
  • The economy: Unlike 2009, the global economy isn't imploding. Japan's car market is hardly on fire, but at least people are thinking more about their next set of wheels.
  • Hometown pride. Japan's automakers made a serious effort to generate buzz with news-making unveilings. Toyota debuted two new production cars, a near-production electric vehicle, a new hydrogen fuel cell concept and a far-out futuristic fantasy car.

So don't write off the Tokyo show just yet.

This month's event even drew more attendees than the 715,000 who turned out for the Detroit auto show last January.

To be sure, Tokyo is still a work in progress. Organizers, for example, want to start the 2013 show two weeks earlier so it won't roll over into Tokyo's chilly December.

But at least it's headed in the right direction.

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