Toyota Counts on Tokyo Olympics to Spur Japan Economic Recovery
TOKYO: The Tokyo Motor Show kicks off Wednesday with Japanese automakers showcasing their latest electronic technology and green cars aimed at the growing low-emissions sector.
The biennial event, held from November 20 to December 1, features domestic makers of passenger cars, commercial vehicles and trucks alongside most of their European competitors.
A total of 177 exhibitors, including parts suppliers, from a dozen countries will be part of the event's 43rd edition.
But US-based automakers, which have not attended since before the global financial crisis, are staying away again, as are South Korean producers, with the exception of Hyundai.
Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, will be among the major firms at the show, after recovering from a series of crises in recent years including the global meltdown, Japan's quake-tsunami disaster and the recall of millions of vehicles. The recalls badly dented Toyota's reputation for safety and quality.
A policy blitz under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has helped stoke optimism over the economy as the yen slumped, boosting the profits of major exporters including Toyota.
However, Japan's number-two automaker Nissan, part-owned by France's Renault, has chopped its earnings outlook with its bid to tap emerging markets yet to reap big rewards.
A recent management shuffle also stoked questions about confidence in the leadership of long-time Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn.
The big European firms will have a close eye on boosting their presence in the world's third-largest car market after China and the United States.
However, foreign brands hold a miniscule share -- just 4.5 percent -- of a market that saw more than 5.0 million vehicles sold in Japan last year.
That puny presence has long stoked anger among US and some European automakers, which say they have been effectively shut out of Japan through tariffs and other barriers. The simmering issue is a key obstacle in ongoing free-trade negotiations.
Luxury German brands including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche, which have seen significant success in Japan, will be among this year's attendees along with Audi, Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot-Citroen, Britain's Land Rover and Sweden's Volvo.
The show will focus heavily on high-tech offerings and environmental technologies as firms look to tap the burgeoning green-vehicle sector, seen as the next evolution of the global automotive industry.
"Cars without a driver, electronic driving assistance, radar, fuel consumption controls -- the link between cars and electronics is coming together more and more," said auto expert Tatsuya Mizuno, head of Tokyo's Mizuno Credit Advisory.
"The competition among electronics firms in the automobile market is increasing, just like their influence on the industry itself. This is going to mean changes in the way cars are built and even their design."
A pioneer of hybrid vehicles, Toyota is set unveil its latest fuel-cell concept car with an expected commercial rollout two years away.
The four-seater sedan has a range of 500 kilometres (310 miles) -- longer than previous versions -- and can be recharged in just three minutes through hydrogen gas tanks stored inside the vehicle.
Fuel cell vehicles are considered the holy grail of green cars because they emit nothing but water vapour from the tailpipe and can operate on renewable hydrogen gas.
Toyota's concept vehicle seeks to jump two key hurdles that analysts say have hindered consumer buying of so-called green cars, including electric vehicles -- range and re-fuelling infrastructure.
Relatively high prices have also dented demand. However, purchases of low-emission vehicles are forecast to grow, with further technological advances in the field seen as crucial due to toughening emissions standards.
"Fuel-cell cars are actually pretty expensive, but if manufacturers can cut those costs they have more potential (than electric vehicles) because they don't produce any carbon emissions," Mizuno said, noting that polluting fossil fuels are often burned to create electricity.
Apart from Toyota, other automakers are also eyeing a widespread commercial offering including rival Honda, which already has a fuel-cell car, the FCX Clarity, available on a small scale in limited markets.