The 39th Tokyo Motor Show is all revved up and ready to go

by Paul Thompson

Trade days over, denizens of the auto industry turn their attention to entertaining and informing the general public at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show glitz-fest at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe from Saturday, Oct. 22 to Sunday, Nov. 6.

On show will be the usual eclectic mix of new production cars, some making their world or Japanese debuts, quirky concept vehicles, auto components and accessories as well as motorbikes. A retrospective exhibit will offer comparisons with models of yesteryear dating back to the 1950s, when cars had chokes and window winders.

Under the slogan “Driving Tomorrow!” from Tokyo, the organizers are hoping to attract 1.5 million visitors, this time spread over two weekends in an attempt to even out attendance and make the experience that much more inviting. In recent years, the event has not only emphasized the shifting trends of the wares on display but given much more consideration to what is needed to cater for families on day visits, be they potential buyers, casual or even reluctant observers.

For men comes the chance to load up with brochures — handed out with alacrity by the ubiquitous campaign girls (some things never change) — detailing the green credentials of this hybrid Hyundai or that affordable Ford, or to go green with envy as they cast an eye over a ferocious Ferrari.

The big names will be pulling out all the stops in their attempts to outdo the opposition, even though high public awareness of hybrids — Toyota’s market-leading Prius was launched as long ago as 1997 — and zero-emission vehicles leaves little room for maneuver. Order of the day is to further refine the art of fuel-cell technology and other not immediately obvious, under-the-skin features such as electronic drive-by-wire controls — ably demonstrated by hot favorite for star of the show, Nissan’s egg-shaped Pivo city car concept. At the same time, exterior design and the use of eco-friendly materials in construction are taking on greater importance in raising brand awareness and emphasizing brand differentiation. In this respect, Mazda’s sleek Senku concept will be certain to turn a few heads as it makes its first appearance on the world stage.

Makers have also been desperately searching for new niche markets and appealing to lifestyle groups, so dog owners (Honda W.O.W.); the young fashion conscious (Nissan’s Adidas-inspired, wearable Note concept); sports car aficionados (Nissan GT-R, Mitsubishi Concept-X); and those who virtually live in their cars (Chrysler’s Japanese-designed Akino) will all find something of more than passing interest. All manufacturers will again be keen to showcase their “welfare” vehicles adapted for disabled drivers.

The latest clutch of gleaming SUVs, a vehicle category as much derided as desired, will be emphasizing their improved fuel efficiency in the face of surging global gasoline prices.

Despite the absence of a Korean heartthrob on the Kia stand, women visitors have been made to feel that much more involved since it dawned on makers some time ago that women too, if not drivers in their own right, can have a say in the decision-making process of car acquisition.

If the thought of keeping recalcitrant children happy for long periods in the bright glare and raucous cacophony of an exhibition center seems too daunting, fear not as a free baby-sitting service for children aged 3 to 6 is available. This and child-care facilities have been strategically placed next to a stand occupied by toy car manufacturer Tomica, itself celebrating 35 years in the business and mimicking the host event with its own nostalgia corner. Here too the drivers of tomorrow can test out the latest radio-controlled models, before moving on to serried ranks of PlayStation2s and the debuting Tourist Trophy motorcycle game at the Sony Entertainment stand.

On both weekends, children of elementary school age can enjoy their first experience of riding a motorcycle, under expert supervision. On many stands in the main exhibition halls, the emphasis will be on “hands-on” experience, of particular appeal for those contemplating buying a new car or one of the vast array of gizmos that no family can do without for reduced-stress journeys — from navigation systems to rear-seat entertainment consoles.

For a tranquil oasis not too far from the madding crowd, families can adjourn to a rest zone outside the exhibition, from where they will be able to take rides in cars and buses that demonstrate cutting-edge propulsion technologies that are eerily quiet for the uninitiated.

Ironically for a motor show, the most convenient way to reach the site is by train. Traveling on the JR Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station to Kaihin Makuhari Station (23 minutes by “Wakashio” or “Sazanami” limited express) will put you within a five-minute walk of the exhibition.

Alternatively, an express bus service will run between Yokohama City Air Terminal (YCAT) direct to the venue (1,500 yen for adults/750 yen for children) and special shuttle buses will be operating from Makuharihongo Station (shared by JR Sobu and Keisei Chiba lines) and JR Inage Station.

The show is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays (from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and the Nov. 3 national holiday). Admission tickets, including tax, are 1,200 yen for adults and 600 yen for students of junior high and high-school age. (Advance tickets from JR East, major convenience stores and other ticket agencies ending Oct. 21, or on-site after 3 p.m. on weekdays, cost 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for junior high and high-school students. Note that today (Oct. 21) is the last day for such discount tickets). Admission is free for elementary school age children and under.

For more detailed access information and daily reports visit www.tokyo-motorshow.com/eng/index/html or motorshow.goo.ne.jp.