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Tokyo retreats

Show time: The Tokyo motor show opens this week, without American, European or Korean car-makers.

Scaled-down Tokyo motor show still offers 20 world debuts

General News logo19 Oct 2009

THIS week’s running of Japan’s largest motor show will relinquish its international status after the withdrawal of all mainstream automotive brands from Europe, the US and Korea.

That hasn’t stopped Tokyo motor show organisers heralding no fewer than 20 world passenger car debuts, but the fact is the 2009 show will be the smallest in history, with the only significant reveals to come from domestic Japanese car-makers.

Open to the press from Wednesday (October 21) and the public from Friday (October 23), the 2009 event will span just 21,594 square metres across the west, centre and east halls of Tokyo’s Makuhari Messe exhibition centre in Chiba City, which has a total floor area of 54,000 square metres.

That is 49 per cent down on the previous exhibition held in 2007, when all four halls and a total of 44,587 square metres were occupied.

While the popular commercial vehicle and coach-building exhibition held previously has been cancelled, the event has also been shortened from the usual 17 days to just 13, making it the shortest Tokyo show since the 37th running in 2003.

 center imageFrom top: Lexus LF-A concept, Nissan Leaf EV, Honda CR-Z and Mitsubishi PX-MiEV.

To bolster family attendance numbers as a result, show organiser – the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association – has also extended free admission to children up to junior high school ages.

A varied and extensive number of exhibitors is the most crucial ingredient for any successful motor show, however, and the 41st Tokyo motor show will host just 122 companies from 10 countries – down by 120 on the number that showed their wares in 2007.

The Big Three US brands were the first to announce their absence from this year’s show, with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler now joined on the no-show list by all the major European car-makers.

That includes Germany’s Volkswagen/Audi/Skoda, BMW/Mini/Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz/Smart/Maybach, Jaguar Land Rover and Porsche, along with France’s Renault, Peugeot and Citroen, while Sweden’s Volvo and Saab will also stay home.

In the absence of Italians like Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini, the only European (and indeed non-Japanese) makers present this week will be niche brands in Alpina-BMW, Lotus and Caterham.

Hyundai/Kia is the latest car-maker to withdraw from Tokyo, joining fellow Korean no-show SsangYong and Malaysia’s Proton.

The Asian automotive powerhouse advised JAMA only two weeks ago that it would not attend, citing the GFC.

“Hyundai Motor Co will not be an official exhibitor at the 2009 Tokyo motor show because of the global economic downturn, which has forced a more careful allocation of resources,” it said.

“This decision is also in line with other leading automakers who have cancelled their participation at this year’s Tokyo show.”

Had Hyundai’s withdrawal been announced earlier, JAMA may well have decided to cancel this year’s event for the first time since it was inaugurated in 1954. Industry reports speculating that would occur have circulated since January, when all Japanese makers and some German brands had indicated their intention to exhibit.

One Japanese industry analyst described the success of China’s 2009 Shanghai show, where Porsche chose to give its all-new Panamera GT its global premiere, as adding “insult to injury” to the smallest Tokyo motor show in 55 years. Shanghai hosted 77 different manufacturers and more than a dozen world debuts.

But this year’s Tokyo show is not alone in being a shadow of its former self, with the organiser of Italy’s increasingly high-profile Bologna show recently being forced to confirm it will carry on with this year’s event in December, despite the withdrawal of hometown brands Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Fiat pulled out of its home show on September 22, with all remaining major manufacturers following suit by October 2, guaranteeing the 2009 event will not attract the nearly million visitors it did in 2008.

Despite now offering free exhibition space, this year’s Bologna show has been truncated from nine to five days and will predominantly feature motorsport exhibits including a Ferrari Formula One car.

At this stage the 2009 Los Angeles motor show appears set to open from December 4, when Ford will stage a domestic debut for its new Fiesta.

But this year’s LA show is likely to follow in the footsteps of the 2009 Detroit show, at which GM made no traditional fanfare before filing for bankruptcy, and April’s New York show, which was less than half its previous size and hosted a distinct lack of world debuts.

Last month’s Frankfurt motor show was not attended by brands including Nissan, Mitsubishi and Honda, while the 2010 British motor show was cancelled earlier in 2009 for the first (non-war) year since its inception in 1903.

JAMA has announced a number of new initiatives to attract fans to the 2009 Tokyo show, the theme of which is “Fun driving for us, eco driving for earth”, including a 3km public road course around the venue.

Organisers expect about 2100 members of the public to test drive (and in some cases co-drive) many of the latest models from Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Subaru, while about 1300 riders expected to sample 26 of the newest two-wheeled wares from Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Adiva, Harley-Davidson and Kymco.

While the 2007 Tokyo show presented show-stopping debuts like Nissan’s new-generation GT-R super-coupe, Subaru’s latest Impreza WRX STi, Honda’s CR-Z hybrid sportscar, Mitusbishi’s Lancer Evo X and the Audi A1 Metroproject Quattro concept, this week’s running won’t be without its local stars.

As we’ve previously reported, with the exception of the long-awaited near-production LF-A supercar, which Lexus has confirmed will debut this week, all Japanese car-makers have now previewed their Tokyo show wares.

Barring major new model surprises, Toyota’s FT-86 coupe concept appears well placed to claim the best-in-show prize. Powered by a flat-four engine and based on a Subaru platform, the rear drive ‘Toyobaru’ will make its long-awaited world premiere on Wednesday.

Although its ground-breaking new all-electric vehicle was revealed to selected media in Japan months ago, Nissan will give its Leaf EV its public debut, as well as showcasing the Land Glider concept – a tandem two-seater electric vehicle that tilts into corners.

Over at Honda, a near-production version of the 1.5-litre CR-Z hybrid coupe, plus a three-row hybrid wagon concept dubbed the Skydeck will debut.

Mitsubishi’s PX-MiEV has also been revealed already, but the brand’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle is expected to be upstaged by a production version of the cX-Concept, a sub-Outlander mini-SUV that will go on sale in Australia next year.

Suzuki will be relatively laid-back this year when it shows a next-generation Alto concept and a plug-in Swift, while Subaru’s Hybrid Tourer Concept should impress with its Toyota-based twin-motor hybrid system – unless it is upstaged by the domestic brand’s own version of the Toyobaru coupe.

No longer on sale in Australia, Toyota’s Daihatsu brand will debut a non-hybrid mini-car concept dubbed the e:S, proving that conventional engine technology and lightweight construction can still deliver major efficiency gains.

Finally, while Mazda will host a major Technology Forum at its Yokohama R&D centre to launch the hydrogen versions of its domestic-market Premacy people-mover and RX-8 sportscar, its Tokyo show stand will host the debut of a high-tech new range of ‘SKY’ petrol and diesel engines, plus the appearance of the next Mazda2-previewing Kiyora concept.

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