Tokyo Motor Show greener, but also leaner

by and

Automakers showcased their eco-friendly hybrids, electric vehicles and other green technologies as the Tokyo Motor Show got under way Wednesday in the city of Chiba, but what with the global economic slump, many manufacturers were conspicuous no-shows.

The 41st Tokyo Motor Show, which opened to the media ahead of the official start Saturday, features 261 cars and motorcycles, including 39 making their world debut at the Makuhari Messe convention center. The show runs until Nov. 4.

But this year, the global economic downturn has taken a toll on the biennial event, and many big-name European and U.S. carmakers are absent.

Of the 109 auto, motorcycle and auto parts makers taking part, only Lotus and Caterham Cars of Britain and Alpina of Germany came from overseas. The total is less than half the number of participants at the 2007 show.

Still, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, sponsor of the event, expects about 1 million people to visit.

“The race to zero emissions has begun,” Nissan Motor Co. President and CEO Carlos Ghosn told a news conference at the Nissan booth.

“The world is eager to address concerns about global carbon dioxide emissions, and we are proposing solutions to meet the environmental challenge,” he said.

Nissan is featuring the Leaf, its electric vehicle to be launched in 2010, and the Land Glider, a cocoon-shaped electric concept car that leans into curves like a motorcycle.

At the Toyota Motor Corp. booth, President Akio Toyoda said: “Today I will introduce to you vehicles created in response to a future era and that even anticipate that era. But more than that, I will introduce to you vehicles that people will want to drive or simply want outright.”

Toyota also unveiled its LF-Ch concept car, the first five-door hatchback hybrid from luxury make Lexus. Other environmentally friendly Toyota cars include the FT-EV II, a tiny four-seat electric vehicle, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid concept car and the FCHV advanced fuel-cell vehicle.

The world’s No. 1 automaker is also showcasing a reduced-emissions concept sports car, the FT-86, and the Lexus LFA sports car, to be launched globally in 2010.

Honda Motor Co.’s stable includes two new hybrid concept cars — the four-seater CR-Z Concept and the six-seater Skydeck — sporty variants of the Insight, which is Honda’s first hybrid.

“We believe that Honda should prioritize the more widespread use of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles at this stage in the advancement of electromotive technologies,” Honda President and CEO Takanobu Ito said.

“We can contribute to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by making hybrid vehicles with excellent environmental performance available to more people,” he said.

Mitsubishi Motor Corp. President Osamu Masuko meanwhile spoke of the company’s plan to go electric.