TOKYO -- The beleaguered Tokyo auto show, beset by fading importance and falling attendance, has taken a beating in recent years from bigger, brighter shows in China and beyond.
But organizers are now embracing competition in an effort to rebrand the event as the world's top motor show for automotive technology.
Next year's show will kick off under the theme "Compete! And shape the future," the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, which organizes the Tokyo show, said. The idea is the industry -- and its technology -- can only advance in the crucible of creative rivalry.
The same might be said for motor shows. JAMA is still groping for a formula that will reverse the show's exodus of global brands and sagging attendance.
Last year, the big German automakers returned after sitting out in recessionary 2009. But the Americans stayed away again.
Meanwhile, companies that chose to skip the Tokyo event continued to host global concept and production-vehicle debuts in Beijing and Shanghai, in a nod to the growing importance of China, now the largest vehicle market in the world.
That left Tokyo as an increasingly parochial show, with many of its debuts destined never to leave Japan's shores for other markets.
Tokyo, the onetime pre-eminent Asia auto exhibition, played host to 842,600 visitors over the 10 days of last December's show. That was up 37 percent from the previous show in 2009.
But it was down from 1.43 million visitors who attended the pre-financial crisis show in 2007. Granted, that show was seven days longer, at 17 days. But JAMA had to cut back the duration of the show partly because of flagging interest.
Attendance peaked at 2.02 million for the 15-day show in 1991. When the show was 13 days long in the early- to mid-2000s, it routinely drew more than 1 million visitors.
The show is held once every two years. The 2013 exhibition will also be 10 days, from Nov. 22 to Dec. 1. Organizers bumped it up a couple weeks from the 2011 dates to avoid the winter chill.
Smart Mobility City
They also are wrapping the show around a Smart Mobility City project that will highlight the high-tech networking of tomorrow's cars, a field in which Japan's carmakers envision themselves excelling. That includes such things as smart electric grids and interactive information technology systems.
The show will feature speeches and seminars by engineers and other industry experts.
Next year's theme of competition "represents the desire to have visitors experience a future that doesn't yet exist anywhere and is shaped by vying values, such as beauty, technology, and dream," JAMA said.
The official poster shows a street packed with stylized car silhouettes, each emanating rainbow beams from a thumping red heart nestled within.
JAMA said: "Passions that thrive on cars, motorcycles, and their technologies are brought together in a friendly competition to shape the future."
If only the cutthroat automotive industry -- a world of bankruptcies, factory closings, labor unrest and violent market swings -- were really so warm and fuzzy.