The Tokyo Motor Show in 1989 was a massive display of the economic power of the Japanese automobile industry. The automakers set out to display their power to the world, and they succeeded. There were dozens of new production cars that would be on sale within weeks. There were scores of prototypes, including the next generation of cars, trucks and minivans.
The Western world was stunned. It was another example of the clear superiority of the Japanese auto industry. There wasn't a single auto executive from around the world who didn't consider it the biggest wake-up call in history. They said the Japanese were playing unfairly and would have to be stopped.
Now, just 10 short years later, and how the world has changed. This year's show started with another sort of bang. The day before the show opened to the press, Carlos Ghosn, representing Renault's interests at Nissan, announced that Nissan will cut 21,000 jobs, close five plants and sell its interest in most of the hundreds of suppliers in which it has an investment. It was stunning, but it was only the beginning for Japanese auto industry.
Mitsubishi is scouting around for a partner. Some companies think Fuji Heavy Industries, which makes Subaru, would be a fine acquisition. And Ford is in the driver's seat at Mazda.
It's a revolution that didn't really have a lot of outside pre ssure. The bubble just burst. It seems unlikely that any nation or industry that was so invincible just a few short years ago could be facing the problems that they have in Japan.
The strange part is that the Japanese business in North America is, for the most part, pretty good. Toyota and Honda are rolling along, although mighty Toyota is a little concerned about the rising age of its buyers.
Honda, which relies more heavily on markets outside Japan , is still very successful with an intriguing mix of motorcycles and automobiles.
Tokyo was an interesting show, not for what was shown but for the dramatic change in an entire nation and its auto industry. But don't underestimate the Japanese. They are still tough competitors, and they always will be.