The Tokyo Motor Show always produces a tidal wave of extravagance and exaggeration, but this year’s seems to suggest a change of mood that may have been around for some time. Some of the Tokyo stands were still mind-boggling, but this 2003 edition marks a change of emphasis away from looks in the direction of technology and innovation.

Robert Cumberford explores the present and near future of the research being conducted by Japan’s motor manufacturers and focuses on the hybrid piston-electric engines, that seem to be the Japanese industry’s next Big Idea.

While, on the styling front, the Japanese are still far too imitative, on the technology side, they are increasingly ahead of the game. So, while the Europeans and Americans are still struggling to find ways of applying ideas like fuel cell and electric power to mass production models, in Japan, the cars of the future are already on the market.

For anyone whose primary interest is the exterior appearance of a car, this year’s Tokyo Show has little to offer. But for those more concerned with what’s going on under the skin, in a transitional period like this one, the event was a revelation.

The auto industry is destined for dramatic change over the next few years and the Japanese have already built themselves a solid position, based on serious research and some audacious engineering solutions, which are already on the market and will be even better in the near future.

Japan is a fierce competitor with ambitions that could well mean the end for several long-established brands. You go to the Tokyo Show for fun and every time you leave the country with warning lights flashing inside your head: they’re so good at what they do, the Japanese motor manufacturers, and so totally committed.

The article continues in Auto & Design no. 143

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