DE­SIGN OF THE TIMES

Gig­gle at the names, mar­vel at the tech but don’t for­get the styling from Ja­pan’s auto expo

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - NEWS - PAUL GOVER & RICHARD BLACK­BURN

T he un­der­cur­rent was elec­tric but the em­pha­sis was more about fu­ture de­sign di­rec­tion than tech­ni­cal de­tails at this year’s Tokyo mo­tor show. Elec­tric or fuel-cell ve­hi­cles adorned most stands but the wrap­per was more in­struc­tive than the con­tents.

Honda, Subaru and Lexus showed off sports cars and Nis­san, Suzuki and Mit­subishi pre­viewed SUVs.

Toy­ota’s six-seater was a pointer to the ex­tra cabin space freed up by elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. Mazda’s hatch con­cept had the most rel­e­vance for Aus­tralian buy­ers, as it is widely re­garded as a nod to the next Mazda3.

“We all know that de­sign is the main driver for a lot of peo­ple to buy a ve­hi­cle. It can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated,” says Mazda Aus­tralia mar­ket­ing head Alas­tair Doak of Tokyo ’17.

“We’re mak­ing a real state­ment about Mazda’s fu­ture de­sign di­rec­tion.”

TOY­OTA

Con­cept car talk is cheap but Toy­ota is claim­ing its fuel-cell pow­ered Fine-Com­fort Ride con­cept will crack 100km/h in a sports car-like 5.4 secs while still de­liv­er­ing 1000km of range.

The party trick is you can drive it fac­ing back­wards, as the six-seater con­cept will do the driv­ing for you when you swivel your seat to face your pas­sen­gers.

There are no dates for a pro­duc­tion-ready ver­sion but the con­cept shows Toy­ota re­mains com­mit­ted to hy­dro­gen-pow­ered cars as a long-term so­lu­tion to the world’s en­ergy needs.

Don’t get too ex­cited about a pro­duc­tion ver­sion — Toy­ota says the cur­rent car builds on a con­cept ini­tially dis­played al­most 15 years ago in De­troit.

The maker also showed the lat­est in ve­hi­cle ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence with a con­cept car that can read drivers’ emo­tions and take steps to ei­ther calm them or wake them up.

The Con­cept-i mon­i­tors fa­cial ex­pres­sions, voice tone and body lan­guage and Toy­ota claims it can tell whether a driver is happy, neu­tral, ir­ri­tated, con­fused or tired.

It then uses sen­sory in­puts, in­clud­ing scents, sounds, lights and mas­sage to change the driver’s mood.

MAZDA

De­sign is the top pri­or­ity again for Mazda, which is avoid­ing the ob­vi­ous op­por­tu­nity to present a born-again RX sports car.

In­stead, its two show cars are the Kai Con­cept and the Vi­sion Coupe.

The swoopy Vi­sion is the looker but it’s more of a dream ma­chine than a fu­ture pro­duc­tion model.

That job falls to the Kai, which is a com­pact hatchback that prob­a­bly pre­views the de­sign di­rec­tion of the next Mazda3. Kai means “pioneer” and the car’s taut de­sign pushes the bound­aries for a hatchback while im­prov­ing the ver­sa­til­ity of the cabin pack­age.

The Kai also comes with the lat­est ver­sion of the maker’s Sky­Ac­tiv tech­nol­ogy. This in­cludes an en­gine us­ing diesel prin­ci­ples that Mazda be­lieves can rev­o­lu­tionise the ef­fi­ciency and emis­sions of petrol ex­am­ples.

MIT­SUBISHI

The fu­ture for Mit­subishi is all about SUVs and utes, so it’s no sur­prise that its Tokyo hero is the e-Evolution Con­cept.

There is a ten­u­ous link to the Lancer Evo rally rocket in the name but the show car is an elec­tric cross­over for the SUV world.

The sty­ing is ag­gres­sive, with giant wheels and a low roof that make it more car-like than many SUVs but there is no prom­ise of any pro­duc­tion fu­ture.

There are three elec­tric mo­tors in the ve­hi­cle, with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in con­trol. and the big dif­fer­ence is that there are twin mo­tors at the rear and a sin­gle one at the front. Other elec­tric speed ma­chines have two front mo­tors to im­prove trac­tion and bal­ance. Mit­subishi says its set-up gives “crisp and nim­ble han­dling” in all road con­di­tions.

NIS­SAN

Squint a just a lit­tle and it’s easy to see how the next Qashqai could be re­flected in the Nis­san IMx cross­over con­cept.

The elec­tric IMx also pro­vides a pointer to the style di­rec­tion of Nis­san’s next-gen­er­a­tion SUVs, from X-Trail to Pa­trol.

Its spe­cial trick at the show is Canto, a syn­thetic sound that an­nounces the ar­rival of the IMx and will be used as a pedes­trian warn­ing on all fu­ture Nis­san EVs.

The IMx claims all-elec­tric driv­ing range of 600km and packs 320kW to power all-wheel drive. And it is planned to be fully au­ton­o­mous.

Nis­san says the IMx is about “chang­ing the way peo­ple and cars com­mu­ni­cate”.

Nis­san also fo­cuses on the present in the form of a Nismo-tweaked Leaf EV, al­though it is not con­firmed for Aus­tralia.

It also used the show to an­nounce it will join the For­mula E mo­tor­sport cham­pi­onship next year, when new rules will al­low more in­no­va­tion by car brands. Ri­vals in­clude Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi and Jaguar.

SUBARU

All the world sees the VIziv Per­for­mance Con­cept as a clear and present pointer to the

next WRX. Subaru says this isn’t so but the size and shape of the lat­est mem­ber of the VIziv crew is to­tally on-tar­get for a WRX.

This VIziv con­cept is the first with a four­door sedan body and Subaru says “this nextgen­er­a­tion sports sedan en­cap­su­lates driv­ing en­joy­ment”.

Pre­dictably, it is wired for all sorts of fu­ture tech­nolo­gies — in­clud­ing the start of au­ton­o­mous driv­ing — with a new it­er­a­tion of Subaru’s Eye­Sight driver as­sis­tance pack­age.

Less pre­dictably, it has a con­ven­tional boxer four-cylin­der en­gine, not an elec­tric mo­tor, and all-wheel drive.

HONDA

Un­de­terred by the fail­ure of its CR-Z hy­brid sports coupe, Honda un­veiled an elec­tric sports car that prom­ises to build on the re­cent hype sur­round­ing the new Civic Type-R.

The Honda Sports EV is pow­ered by a “highly re­spon­sive elec­tric power unit” and uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to “cre­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tion that unites the car and driver”. Com­pact and with a low cen­tre of grav­ity, the EV hints at Honda’s “next gen­er­a­tion of sports car de­sign”.

Honda’s stand com­bined sexy with cute, in the form of the tiny two-seat com­muter EV, the NeuV. The au­ton­o­mous city car can pick up on its driver’s stress lev­els by analysing fa­cial ex­pres­sions and voice tones and pro­vide sug­ges­tions for cop­ing. It can also work as a loan car, with its owner’s per­mis­sion, when it’s not be­ing used.

LEXUS

Lexus is not back­ing away from its con­tro­ver­sial de­sign lan­guage, un­veil­ing a con­cept limou­sine that is ev­ery bit as bold as the cur­rent look.

The LS+, which Lexus says points to its fu­ture de­sign lan­guage, is dom­i­nated by a sil­ver honeycomb “spin­dle” grille with shut­ters to im­prove aero­dy­namic per­for­mance or as­sist cool­ing.

Lexus claims the LS+ can en­ter a free­way, cruise in traf­fic, over­take cars and change lanes au­tonomously. The brand pre­dicts the tech­nol­ogy will be avail­able on a pro­duc­tion car by 2020.

It is also work­ing on tech­nol­ogy to en­able au­ton­o­mous driv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas.

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