TOKYO - Exhibitors at the biennial Tokyo Motor Show typically roll out what is arguably the industry's best and widest collection of concept vehicles, and this year was no different.
Small, green, innovative, radical, quirky ... Japanese automakers again showed their ability to push the envelope in developing new ideas.
Seldom, if ever, though, has a major auto show been so bereft of production debuts. The Japanese industry's only new-product launches were the updated Pajero from Mitsubishi and a mini from Daihatsu, while, from over the sea, Hyundai premiered the new Trajet minivan.
Here's a stand-by-stand rundown of this year's Tokyo Motor Show.
Daihatsu's show slogan, 'We Do Compact,' was backed up by one of the biggest model counts at this year's show. 'Environmental pressures guarantee that small cars are here to stay,' a senior Daihatsu executive stressed.
For openers, the small-car specialist unveiled a slew of Move minicars powered by a spectrum of alternative fuels. The lineup included a fuel-cell vehicle, a hybrid and a CNG vehicle.
Daihatsu said it developed its fuel-cell technology independently, based on a methanol converter.
The hybrid, the aluminum-bodied Move EV-HII, seats four and gets 37 kilometers per liter of fuel. Acceleration performance is said to be equal to that of a gasoline-powered car.
Daihatsu also showed the YRV concept. The five-seat subcompact minivan is 3,765mm long, 1,615mm wide and 1,550mm tall. Power is supplied by a turbocharged, 16-valve, 1.3-liter inline-four with twin camshafts and a direct variable valve timing system.
The AT-7 is a tall-boy rendition of a subcompact multipurpose vehicle. Measuring 3,765mm long, 1,515mm wide and 1,895mm high, the seven-seater is powered by the same engine as the YRV.
The Storia 2CD is a so-called 3-liter car, one designed to drive 100 kilometers on 3 liters of fuel. The Storia 2CD's power source is a two-cycle direct-injection diesel with such exotic enhancements as direct variable valve timing and a common-rail injection system.
Daihatsu also unveiled a collection of new small engines featuring applications of exotic technologies that have been limited to costlier, larger cars.
These include direct variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, which has had at least a few foreign engineers wondering about the economics of applying such expensive technologies to entry-level minicars, whose buyers are extremely price-sensitive.
Because of Daihatsu, you'll also be able to drive Naked through the streets - but only in Japan. The down-to-basics minicar, which evokes the best of Soviet-era car styling, has gone from a concept car at the 1997 Tokyo show to a production car that will debut shortly in three different editions.
Accessibility is among its many virtues: The Naked's doors open almost 90 degrees.
The horizons for Daihatsu's Kopen concept roadster are limited to Japan. Better subtitled as a tribute to the Audi TT roadster, the Kopen undoubtedly would find appeal beyond Japan if something bigger than a 660cc engine could be shoehorned into its engine bay.
The SP-4 is another four-seat mini-sport-utility aimed at the Japanese market. Measuring 3,395mm long, 1,475mm wide and 1,645mm tall, the SP-4 rides on a 2,420mm wheelbase and features a full-time four-wheel-drive system. Power is supplied by a 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine rated at 64 hp.
The EZ-U is a mini-multipurpose vehicle also geared to the Japanese market. It seats four and rides on a 2,460mm wheelbase. Power is supplied by a 660cc twin-cam three-cylinder engine rated at 52 hp.
The Micros-3L is a two-seater weighing just 570 kilos with a fuel consumption of 35 kilometers per liter. It rides on a 1,560mm wheelbase and is just 2,500mm long. The engine is the same as on the EZ-U.
The U.S. automaker introduced the 021C, designed by Marc Newson, as a stylish urban vehicle built around elements of Ford's next-generation small-car platform.
Although shorter overall than Ford's acclaimed city car, the Ka, the 021C rides on a 2,485mm wheelbase. It is constructed from carbon fiber and has rear hinged back doors and swiveling front seats.
Fuji Industries (Subaru)
Fuji Heavy Industries showed the Fleet X wagon, a next-generation model with a lightweight body adopted from aircraft design theories and techniques, as well as composite material technology. It achieved a 30 percent weight reduction in comparison with the current Subaru Legacy.
As a new-generation town car, the Elten Custom featured Subaru's original compact hybrid power system, consisting of a four-cylinder gasoline engine, two electric motors, torque divider, CVT and nickel-hydride batteries.
The Impreza Wrx-type Ra Sti Electra One is a sports car featuring large-diameter high-adhesion tires and a strengthened braking system. The Legacy Touring Wagon was based on Subaru's Legacy GT-B E-tune with a simple yet sturdy shape and aerorails emphasizing the roof line.
The Legacy B4 Blitzen was co-developed with Porsche Design. The Legacy Lancaster was developed with Japanese magazine Lapita as a 'hideout for adults.' The cargo space features a wooden table and chairs with built-in audio system.
The Forester Aero Spec II is based on the vehicle that challenged the 24-hour endurance world speed record at the Indianapolis Speedway in 1996.
The company also showcased its new Pleo brand vehicles, the environmentally friendly Nicot and the Wing Seat Life designed mainly for handicapped people, as well as the Sambar EV.
Though GM unveiled the YGM-1 as a concept vehicle, the sub-B car will go into production in 2001. Developed in conjunction with affiliate Suzuki Motor, it will be GM's first passenger vehicle built in Asia for the Asian market.
'Our goal is to develop a high-quality Asian-based core product portfolio,' said Rudolph Schlais Jr., GM group vice president and president of General Motors Asia Pacific.
The YGM-1 is based on Suzuki's new small-car platform and will be sold as a Chevrolet. It is being described as 'a significant milestone' in the 18-year-old GM-Suzuki strategic alliance.
The YGM-1 is similar to Europe's Opel Agila, which is based on the Suzuki Wagon R and built at GM's plant in Poland and Suzuki's plant in Hungary.
GM is predicting that during the next 10 years, Asia will become the world's second-largest automotive market with sales approaching 20 million vehicles a year. 'If we are to maintain our leadership position as the No. 1 automotive company in the world, we need to capture Asia's future growth,' said Schlais.
GM also showed the Chevrolet Triax, a concept that has a modular chassis configuarable with a gasoline, gasoline-electric hybrid or pure electric powertrain. It was developed with Suzuki.
Perhaps the most radical car at this year's show was the Honda Fuya-jo. The name translates as 'no-night castle' but probably is meant to relate to Tokyo as a city that never sleeps.
The exterior resembles a small train, with high sides and a small glass area at the top. Inside, the tall seats force passengers to perch in a semi-standing position. Although impractical, the model drew a lot of attention. Apparently, the design is meant to let passengers enjoy the freedom of cruising the streets as skateboarders do.
Better styled was the Sprocket, a sports car that can be converted to a four-seater.
For the environment, Honda showed the fuel-cell-powered FCX in a long-wheelbase version.
The Neukom, derived from the German for 'new communication,' featured unusual pillar-less doors and star-shaped seating with swivel seats for greater versatility.
Hyundai Motor Co. took the wraps off the Trajet minivan. A derivative of the XG luxury-car platform, the basic concept was penned at Hyundai's styling center in Mainz-Kastel, Germany.
The seven-seater van went on sale in Korea in the last week of October and will be exported to all markets except North America, where clinics deemed it too small. The domestic version is positioned as a luxury car alongside the Sonata and will come with such options as leather seats, an electronic proximity warning system for parking assistance and a GPS navigation system.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter double-overhead-cam, but an all-aluminum 2.7-liter dohc will be available as an option. A diesel option will be added in late 2000.
Isuzu is determined to 'Go Farther' by putting more sport-utilities and cleaner diesels into its future.
The ZXS concept car was tipped as the beginning of a bridge vehicle between the Rodeo and the Trooper. It shares the Rodeo's 2,700 mm wheelbase and is powered by a 3.2-liter, 24-valve dohc V-6. The ZXS is 4,590 mm long, 1,840 mm wide and 1,645 mm tall.
Isuzu dubbed the Kai concept its revolutionary vehicle and hinted at its future evolution. The Kai is powered by Isuzu's new compact 2.5-liter V-6 direct-injection turbodiesel. Output was not revealed, but Isuzu engineers said the engine's compact size would make it suitable for front-wheel-drive cars.
Also shown was a 6.0-liter V-8 turbodiesel employing common-rail high-pressure direct fuel injection. The engine will be installed in full-sized GM pickups, Isuzu says.
The open-top VX-02, based on the VehiCross, was presented as the Off Roadster, a two-seater with off-road capabilities and a roadster personality. It is powered by a 230-hp 3.5-liter dohc V-6.
Since diesel is its lifeblood, Isuzu has shown it is working overtime in the diesel diplomacy department by providing a small glimpse of a new nitrogen oxide catalyst that promises to meet emission targets for the coming decade.
One of the nicest-looking vehicles at this year's show was the RX-Evolv concept on the Mazda stand. Despite its name, though, the Evolv is not a successor to the RX-7, Mazda executives stressed. A four-door, it is powered by a new-generation rotary engine.
Mitsubishi launched the new Pajero, a rare production debut at this year's show. It also showed the SUW Active, a five-door wagon tall enough to provide additional headroom while still able to fit into Japan's automated parking structures.
Reflecting its organizational turmoil, Nissan's stand was subdued. But it showed the XVL, a sedan powered by a 3.0-liter V-6 that is close to production.
Another vehicle, the AXY, aims to address the needs of the elderly by featuring larger door handles and assist grips, and easy entrance and exit.
The Serena Highroof SNOWing, conceptualized expressly for snowboarders, features a rear seat that transforms into a flat bed above a watertight box that can carry four snowboards.
Suzuki had some neat, small and environmentally friendly concept cars. The EV-Sport is powered by a battery but backed by a 400cc gasoline engine for use in emergencies. The Pu3-commuter, a two-seat city car, is designed to use any of three power units - normal gasoline, electric or hybrid.
The automaker showed what it claims is the world's first hybrid four-wheel-drive vehicle, the HV-M4. It is powered by a 2.4-liter gasoline engine and two electric motors driving through a continuously variable transmission.
The Opa mid-sized car is powered by a newly developed 2.0-liter gasoline engine, the Beams D-4, also mated to a CVT. Toyota says the CVT improves starting and hill climbing and yields higher fuel efficiency.
Toyota also showed the Open Deck, a futuristic compact pickup. The tall, boxy vehicle features large, center-opening doors that allow it to carry oversized items for outdoor leisure activities. The rear seats also fold down to increase capacity.
Continuing this theme, the Celica Cruising Deck also features a flat rear deck behind its sports car body. This allows for an open-air rumble seat.
Toyota also showed the Origin, described as a commemorative concept, with a retro look based on the Toyota Crown. This will be a limited-edition production car to celebrate the company's 100-millionth vehicle in Japan.
Another concept, dubbed the NCSV, apparently stands for 'Not a Coupe or Sport-utility Vehicle.' Its sharply raked C-pillar provides a coupe profile, with a wagon 'cap' attached at the rear. The sporty model was equipped with personal video monitors attached to each seat.
Completing Toyota's show lineup was the WiLL Vi, the first of a series of products that Toyota is developing especially for the 20-something crowd. Developed with heavy input from focus groups, the result is a somewhat disconnected look.
On a more practical note, the Lexus Sport Coupe looks close to production. A 2+2, the new Lexus drops its hard top in just 20 seconds. Even with the roof folded down, the trunk still has enough room to hold two golf bags.