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Driverless systems are scene-stealers at Tokyo Motor Show

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Staff Writer

The road ahead for the auto industry is on view at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show, where driverless technology and greater energy-efficiency are themes this year.

The biennial event at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center in the city’s Koto Ward includes leading-edge automation technology that automakers say will be available in their production cars five or so years from now.

The organizer said about 400 cars and motorcycles are on display, with 75 appearing in public for the first time. The show is open to the public from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8. Reporters had a preview of the expo on Wednesday, when carmaker chiefs laid out some of their plans.

Yokohama-based Nissan Corp. introduced a silver self-driving IDS Concept electric vehicle, which can be driven in either manual or automatic mode. Journalists witnessed the vehicle’s steering wheel disappearing and being replaced with a monitor screen, which the driver uses to control the car by voice or gesture.

“Nissan’s forthcoming technology will revolutionize the relationship between the car and the driver — and future mobility,” Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn told reporters.

He said Nissan will market cars capable of autonomous driving on freeways next year in Japan, while improvements in the technology should make driverless transport possible on regular roads by 2020.

“By combining our EV (electric vehicle) and autonomous drive technologies, Nissan is moving closer to a zero-emission, zero-fatality future for car transportation,” Ghosn said.

Most car accidents are caused by human error. Carmakers believe autonomous driving technologies will reduce the number of incidents.

Honda Motor Co. also touched its vision for self-driving technologies.

“When we can realize automated driving, our vehicles’ ability to avoid dangerous situations and assist the driver will be further increased,” Honda President Takahiro Hachigo told reporters.

Tokyo-based Honda plans to improve its Honda Sensing driving support system and will increase the number of models that offer such technologies, he said.

Hachigo said Honda aims to come up with self-driving systems suitable for freeway driving by 2020.

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., which makes the Subaru brand, said it, too, aims to have cars equipped with driverless freeway technology by 2020.

The trend is also powering change among auto parts suppliers.

Aichi-based Denso Corp., Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and Germany-based Robert Bosch GmbH are all showing components for autonomous driving, such as radars, cameras and other sensors — all essential if a vehicle is to know what is going on around it.

Meanwhile, automakers are continuing to push energy-efficient cars.

Honda unveiled its first commercial hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle (FCV), a car that will debut in March. FCVs are considered green cars because they do not produce carbon dioxide while driving.

They carry fuel cell stacks that combine hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity. However, the manufacture of hydrogen is not itself a green process as it generates carbon dioxide.

The world’s biggest carmaker, Toyota Motor Corp., released its first FCV last December. It is displaying a second model at this show: the concept FCV Plus.

Toyota is also displaying its latest Prius, which goes on sale in December, and which can run for up to 40 km on a liter of fuel.

Foreign manufacturers are also promoting environmentally friendly cars, such as BMW’s plug-in hybrid model X5 xDrive40e.

Volkswagen is represented, despite suffering global fallout from revelations that some of its diesel vehicles dodged emissions tests in some markets.

Sven Stein, representative director of Volkswagen Group Japan, apologized for the incident. He said it has damaged trust in the marque among Japanese consumers.

“I can assure you that, together with Volkswagen group headquarters, we will do everything we can to restore that trust,” he said, adding that products in Japan were unaffected.

Meanwhile, visitors to the Tokyo Motor Show are guaranteed a range of vehicles — from sports coupes to luxury limousines, and two-wheeled fun with a group of motorbikes.