TOKYO -- Design takes center stage at this year's Tokyo Motor Show.
In past years, Japanese carmakers showed off hybrid and fuel cell powerplants. Before that they explored new segments when the Japanese market shifted from sedans toward minivans and sport wagons.
This year, though, exterior and interior styling will be more important than what is under the hood. The Toyota brand, for instance, will show a new exterior styling direction.
As for interiors, show goers will see cars that attempt to create the ambience of a living room. In fact, this show might be dubbed "automakers meet ottomans."
Ottomans, the common term in Japan for leg rests similar to those found on airlines' business-class seats, are all the rage at this show. Toyota, Mazda, Nissan and Suzuki, among others, showcase them.
The designs will include the usual array of sporty cars and kooky Japanese creativity. What would Tokyo be without one car that took its inspiration from a beach sandal, and another designed expressly for dog owners?
But there is a serious side to this year's designs. Several carmakers will show styling that foreshadows a new direction for the entire brand, not just a single good-looking model.
After showing the Lexus "L-Finesse" design theme at the 2003 Tokyo show, Toyota will display examples of the Toyota brand's "Vibrant Clarity" design theme this year.
Mitsubishi will show off a signature design, building on hints seen on the Concept Sportback at September's Frankfurt show. Honda and Daihatsu also will exhibit cars that suggest a new design direction.
Non-Japanese carmakers will have a bigger presence than at any Tokyo show in recent memory. Approximately one out of every four world premieres in Tokyo will be by a non-Japanese carmaker. Concept-showing foreigners include Ford, Chrysler, Audi, Volkswagen and even Ferrari.
Although styling is the star of the show, alternative powertrains have not been forgotten. When media days begin Wednesday, Oct. 19, carmakers will display a variety of cars powered by fuel cells or hybrid powertrains.
Details on some of those powerplants will be skimpy. Carmakers are keeping information on the alternative-power front close to the vest.
Mazda, for example, will show off the latest in its series of cars using hydrogen-powered rotary engines. Two models will have a hybrid system that has batteries along with tanks for both gasoline and hydrogen. One is a minivan concept that is far from road-ready, but the other is an RX-8 that Mazda will begin leasing to select customers next year.
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