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Tokyo show: Fun of the fair

Dual purpose: Honda's V6 IMA Mid Dual Note combines performance with environmental friendliness.

The Tokyo motor show kisses design conservatism goodbye to make way for stylish fun

Honda logo30 Oct 2001


AMID all the fuss and fanfare at last week's opening of the 35th Tokyo motor show, one thing was sure: the car-making conservatism of the 1980-90s has gone and the future of motoring will be stylish, economical and fun.

This year Tokyo, the most relevant new car show for Australian automotive consumers, was as entertaining as ever.

But aside from the many wacky concepts and zany corporate maxims, two significant new road-ready sports cars stood out from a crowd of clever, economical and significant new concepts.

Despite being two of at least three Japanese car-makers attempting to reinvent themselves as creators of the sportiest of oriental offerings, Mazda and Nissan each attracted their fair share of attention with hotly anticipated final production versions of the RX-8 and 350Z respectively.

Honda, meantime, mixed performance with economy by revealing the fuel-efficient V8 Dual Note concept, while Toyota showed a raft of enviro-friendly vehicles and its president Fujio Cho flagged the need for manufacturers to work together on alternative fuel projects such as hydrogen power.

BMW's Mini Cooper S and the Suzuki-based, Holden-designed Chevrolet Cruze were other production car highlights.

Mitsubishi provided a taste of its small car future with its funky new CZ2 concept and Volkswagen wowed crowds with a road-going version of the 440kW W12 concept coupe that recently set three new world speed records.

The surprise of the show was undoubtedly Nissan's all-new GT-R concept. Striking in its wedge-shaped brutality, the latest "Godzilla" promises to continue the performance legend - and we could even see it here.

Chrysler Jeep

THE Jeep Willys concept first seen at Detroit was updated for Tokyo with a removable hard-top, carbon-fibre roof and even bigger 22-inch wheels, and called the Willys2.

Otherwise it appeared fundamentally unchanged with the same seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches, 1.6-litre supercharged engine, independent front and multi-link solid axle rear suspension and vital measurements.

While the Willys2 is regarded purely as a concept, Chrysler Group chief designer Trevor Creed told journalists in Tokyo that Jeep was serious about adding an affordable new model that would be priced below both Wrangler and Liberty. He would not offer a timetable, but insiders say it could hit the market by mid-decade.


CITROEN announced the launch of a factory-operated importer in Japan which will be up and running by April 1, 2002. The Citroen C3 small car also made its Japanese debut at the Tokyo motor show.


THE small and micro-car specialist had a huge display of new and concept cars at its home show, with none of them immediately relevant to Australia. They included: Copen: Daihatsu speak for compact open. This is a two-seater with an electrically opening hard top and powered by a 660cc, four-cylinder, DOHC 16-valve turbo engine.

U4B: Translates to Urban 4x4 Buggy - a full-time four-wheel drive vehicle designed for four adults, adaptable to off-road and in-town.

FF Ultra Space: A new generation wagon front-wheel drive minicar designed to offer the comfort of a sedan with the space of a cab wagon.

Muse: A four-seater designed for city driving, its six large square windows are designed to provide excellent visibility.

Move FCV-K-II: Described as the world's first fuel cell mini car.

UFE (Ultra Fuel Economy): A light concept hybrid vehicle designed to seat four people.

Atrai Hybrid-IV: A four-seater hybrid minicar with high fuel-efficiency and signifi-cantly cleaner emissions.


THE concept of a powerful, sports hybrid car has been long overdue and it was always logical that Honda, with its technological, engineering and sporting prowess, would be the first to achieve the challenging task of marrying performance and environmental friendliness.

The V6 IMA Mid Dual Note is a mid-engine, four-seater coupe claimed to output 400hp (294kW) and yet consume a mere 5.6L/100km. A 3.5-litre I-VTEC V6 and an additional electric motor/generator drive the rear wheels, while two electric motors drive the front wheels.

The interior is unique with gauges that display speed, engine rpm and other information three-dimensionally. It also notifies the driver of incoming telephone and e-mail messages, while the centre display incorporates night vision, which uses an infrared camera to detect pedestrians.

Other concepts included the Bulldog which comes equipped with two electric motorcycles, which serve as rear seat backs when their seats are folded down. Then there's the S-U-U three-row, seven-seat minivan which is aimed at married couples who have or will have a baby.

Honda also showed the w-i-c ("what is a car?") minicar, which it said was the study for a planned production model.

But last and far from least among the new concepts was the Unibox, a six-wheeler with see-through modular panels and a truss frame to create a roomy interior. Honda says its uses are multiple, perhaps even as a cafe.

In a slightly more prosaic fashion, Honda showed the new generation CR-V, both the hybrid and Type R Civics and an NSX Type R, the latter's exotic standard dress toughened up with some carbon-fibre panels and new 17-inch wheels, among other things.


IT may not have been a show-stopper in Tokyo, but in Australian retail terms the Hyundai TB concept car was one of the most significant cars on display.

Remove the cladding, change the grille and downsize the wheels and you are looking at Hyundai's eagerly awaited replacement for the Excel, the small car that was a big hit here in the late 1990s.

The production version will be unveiled at Geneva next March and should go on sale here in the third quarter of 2002, probably with the choice of 1.5 and 1.3-litre engines, and three and five-door body styles.

The concept is called TB ("Think Big" or "Think Basic", depending on who you talked to), but that won't translate into production form.

Instead, the car is expected to be called Trevi in Australia.


WHAT appears to be the replacement for the Rodeo got its first public airing at Tokyo in the form of a crew-cab concept being co-developed by Isuzu with General Motors.

Details were scarce but the one-tonne pick-up truck is expected to have global sales volumes of around 500,000 units a year. Isuzu CEO Yoshinori Ida told the media: "We expect this to be the highest-volume product in our 30-year collaborative history." The new Rodeo is expected here in the last quarter of 2002.

It was only a matter of time before SUV madness made its way into a heavy-duty commercial vehicle - but Isuzu's Z-E-N is a long way from being just another American-inspired four-wheel drive.

There is a real commitment here to winning Japanese favour. The side windows and doors, for example, are designed to look like a Japanese paper fan, while the tailgate operation resembles the movement of a traditional Japanese sliding door.

Another concept is the Begin Funkybox, which is meant to be a mobile centre for hobbies and amusement with extensive use of glass in the side and door panels.

The concept can be turned into an artist's studio, a gallery for displaying works of art or a mobile centre for outdoor activities.


CONCEPTS could be swept aside for the most part at Mazda's stand as it revealed the final production versions of its 626 replacement and the RX-8 coupe.

Both cars fulfil the promises made in recent times about a return to its sportscar heritage, the Mazda 6 (as the mid-size range will be known) emerging as a radical departure from the current car and the rotary-engined RX-8 maintaining its handsome looks and accommodation for four adults despite a substantial front-end overhaul.

The 6 will arrive as a sedan, hatch and wagon - and with one engine, a 122kW 2.3-litre four-cylinder with sequential valve timing - around September, 2002, about six months ahead of the 184kW, twin-rotor RX-8.

Also on show was a high-performance MX-5 MPS, powered by a normally aspirated 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine with four independently actuated throttle valves and high-lift camshafts.

Maximum power increases to 147kW at 7000rpm (up 41kW) and torque to 196Nm at 6000rpm (up 31Nm). As for the revamped look, the front end has new headlamps and a new nose that allows a larger air-intake area.

New front and rear fenders with enlarged wheel arches match the hyper MX-5's lower, wider and altogether more aggressive appearance - track has been widened 50mm at the front and 60mm at the rear.

Finally, the Secret Hideout achieved its goal of sparking a fair degree of interest with its name and the tall, square two-box wagon shape.

Some of the design features inside and out are believed to point the way to the next instalment in Mazda's massive new-product program, the 121 replacement. Any bets on this car being called the Mazda 1?


THE F400 Carving was an unexpected European addition to the plethora of Asian offerings.

A Lotus Elise-like sports car in styling terms, its really unique feature is a steering system that varies the camber angle on the outer wheels between 0 and 20 degrees, depending on the road situation.

Used in conjunction with newly-developed tyres, Benz says it provides 30 per cent more lateral stability than a conventional system with a fixed camber setting and standard tyres.

Benz's Smart subsidiary launched not only with the Coupe and Cabrio, but also with a Japan-only model called the Smart k.


THE hot-rod Mini Cooper S made its world debut in Tokyo with its Australian on-sale debut scheduled for April.

That's just one month after its little brother, the Mini Cooper, returns the legend to Australian shores.

The Cooper S is powered by a supercharged version of the Cooper's 1.6-litre engine good for 120kW, and mated to a six-speed manual transmission. The three-door hatch is expected to cost around $40,000 in Australia.


DESPITE so much uncertainty prevailing in the industry, the major Japanese manufacturers continued to paint an optimistic future with sports-flavoured passenger cars and SUVs leading the charge.

The Mitsubishi stand was no exception with a handful of concepts unveiled by new chief designer Olivier Boulay.

Responsible for the look of the next generation Magna, Mr Boulay showed through his CZ2 and CZ3 Tarmac hatches and SUP off-roader that European integration remains a driving influence.

Powered by a 1.3-litre, 16-valve engine with variable valve timing, the Peugeot 206ish CZ2 will be built off a platform shared with DaimlerChrysler and provides some obvious clues to the next generation of Mitsubishi compacts. Mooted as a possible replacement for the Mirage, it is expected here in 2004.

The CZ3 Tarmac spin-off immediately strikes a chord with its rally car styling cues inside and out, 1.5-litre intercooled turbo engine and the Lancer Evo VII's all-wheel drive system with active yaw control and active centre differential.

For its part, the radical-shaped hybrid-powered SUP concept is an interesting mix of in-car entertainment and off-road adventure sports.

Features include a louvred sunroof, waterproof seats, water tank with shower head and detachable door pockets and seatback backpacks.

Even more off the wall is the low, wide, ultra-long-wheelbase Space Liner with a stress-relieving interior (power-swivel front seats, sofa-design rear seats, that sort of thing) and power from an ultra-clean high-efficiency fuel cell system.


THE final production version of the Z-car held much interest for Australian observers.

And now for the wait - it will be another 12 months before the beautiful coupe makes it to these parts in 350Z guise, powered by a powerful 3.5-litre V6.

Speaking of waiting, the chances are looking better that the GT-R sportscar could return here.

Unveiling the first concept of the next generation GT-R, Nissan HQ confirmed that this would be an export-oriented car.

The new Micra was also there, or at least a near-finished version known as mm.

Based on a new small-car platform to be shared with Renault, the Nissan mini - complete with bubbling oval headlights mounted high on the wheel arches - shows the fresh (er, somewhat French) design direction the Japanese manufacturer is now taking.

There is no firm decision on the car's arrival here - Micra has not been sold in Australia since 1997 - but if given the go-ahead, which is unlikely, it would arrive in around 12 months.

From there, the concepts started taking a turn for the weird. There was the Crossbow luxury four-wheel drive (signs of the next generation Patrol), the IT-focused Ideo, the Kino six-seater mini-MPV and the radical Nails urban ute.

The first sighting of Nissan's forthcoming mini, dubbed Moco and to be built by Suzuki, was also made.


A RARE Rolls-Royce Park Ward saloon was a star at Tokyo. It is one of just 40 that will be made before the venerable marque is handed over by VW to BMW at the end of 2002.

Essentially a Silver Seraph extended by 250mm with personalised interior, the Tokyo show Park Ward featured TV and DVD entertainment with cordless, infrared headphones, a 333mm (13.1-inch) centrally mounted drop down LCD monitor, and MiniDisc and CD audio systems.


THE er ... distinctive WX-01 all-wheel drive seven-seater was the prime feature for Subaru and its parent Fuji Heavy Industries.

Powered by the same 3.0-litre flat six engine already used in the Outback H6, Fuji described the WX-01 as being its vision of the ideal grand touring car of the future.

It seats seven in a 2-3-2 formation inside an aerodynamically tapered body and has newly developed torque distribution mechanisms in the front and rear differential gears.

New composites are used for some structural components and parts.

The WX-01 is the first in-the-metal evidence of Subaru and GM's plans to bring a mid-size, all-wheel drive people-mover cum crossover vehicle to market by 2005.

But insiders say the styling of WX-01 will bear little relationship to the production version, which is codenamed SG/X.

FHI also showed an all-wheel drive version of the normally front-wheel drive Traviq - Subaru's rebadged version of the Holden Zafira - as well as styling exercises based on the Liberty wagon and Impreza hatchback.


SUZUKI and General Motors took the wraps off the production version of the Cruze, a compact recreational off-roader about to start production at the Japanese micro-car specialist's Kosai plant.

It will be sold in Japan as a Suzuki and a Chevrolet, but will be badged as a Holden in Australia.

Holden has strong ties with the car, having been responsible for both the Cruze title and its redesign from the Suzuki Ignis upon which it is based. It will be on sale here around March, 2002, and be available with a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission.

Mechanical highlights include an active torque control-type four-wheel drive system and a new generation 1.5-litre engine outputting 81kW at 6000rpm and 143Nm at 4000rpm.

Another General Motors-backed venture on the Suzuki stand was the Covie electric mini-car concept featuring GM's "home fuel cell generating system", which generates power by separating hydrogen from natural gas supplied to individual households.

It is an odd-looking car, to say the least, with room for two adults and maximising the meagre luggage space with special outdoor attachments for a golf bag. Long-distance trips are not recommended.

The remaining show cars did little to reinforce Suzuki's claims that it is breaking free of the mini-car mould.

The best of the rest were the green, square, downright unconventional Lapin hatch and the spacious five-door MRwagon.


NO fewer than 17 concept vehicles were on the Toyota stand, ranging from the weird to the quite wonderful.

Bridging both classifications was the ultra-intelligent Pod, a "car with feelings" which can detect driver emotions via biometric data such as pulse and perspiration rate and then communicate responses like "Relax, man" to the driver.

It can also exchange information with other vehicles using wireless data communication - eg. "Let me pass" - and will warn other road users of the mood within by changing the colour of its "face" lights: orange for happy (driver fuels up), blue for upset (a tear when an accident occurs) and red for angry (brake too hard or swerve).

There was much more to see, including a couple of more production-oriented SUV-related cars - "Ist" (pronounced "east"), a five-door hatch based on the Echo platform and combining a rugged overblown exterior with a wagonesque interior and "Voltz", a Corolla-based wagon with some clever ideas in the luggage compartment and, on the outside, the requisite chunky bumpers and wheel arch flares.

The Japanese giant also showed two different types of fuel cell hybrid vehicle: the zero-emissions hydrogen-powered FCHV-4 and a shorter-term solution, FCHV-5, which features a clean hydrocarbon fuel reformer that can be used in conventional internal combustion engines.

Other concepts of interest included the FXS two-seater V8-powered roadster, the DMT two-seater panel van and the Echo-based WiLL VC - a compact five-door hatch pitched at couples and small families .


A LITTLE over a week after releasing the first official images of its range-topping D1 sedan, Volkswagen has shown a further application of its 6.0-litre W12 engine.

This time, in 440kW form, it is mid-mounted in the Italdesign-penned W12 Coupe, which appears to be inching closer to production.

One of the big reasons for its Tokyo appearance was to celebrate the car setting a new world speed record at the Nardo speed bowl in Italy.

VW wowed the crowd with a spectacular video of the event and had the record-breaker on the stand complete with mashed bugs.

For the record, the W12 Coupe covered 7085.7km in 24 hours at an average speed of 295.24km/h, and in the process also beat the 5000km and 5000-mile world records, plus the 12-hour speed record.

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