The fu­ture’s less tense

Driv­ers take a back seat in cars that drive them­selves


THERE were no DeLore­ans or fly­ing cars but this year’s Tokyo mo­tor show had a dis­tinct “Back to the Fu­ture” feel about it.

Toy­ota ex­ec­u­tive vi­cepres­i­dent Nobuy­ori Ko­daira even paid homage to the sci-fi flick in an open­ing night speech: “Just as the Back to the Fu­ture movies dreamt of a fu­ture 30 years down the track, we hope not only to pass on to you new ideas about fu­ture mo­bil­ity ... but also to dream up to­gether a new vi­sion of the 30 years to come.”

Mazda looked back with a modern take on the ro­taryengined RX-8, Toy­ota un­veiled a spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to its first sports car, the Toy­ota 800, and Lexus re­vealed a hy­dro­gen­pow­ered coupe.

Mit­subishi looked for­ward to a time where cars do their own valet park­ing and Nis­san tried to counter young peo­ple’s grow­ing in­dif­fer­ence by try­ing to turn the car into a gi­ant iPad.

Hy­dro­gen-pow­ered Toy­ota and Honda cars are inch­ing closer to full-scale pro­duc­tion.

The driver took a back seat at the show — most con­cept cars in­volved au­to­mated driv­ing.

Here are the high­lights:


Lexus vied with Mazda for star of the show with its all-wheeldrive hy­dro­gen-pow­ered four­door coupe, the LF-FC.

Its high-out­put fuel cell pow­ers the rear wheels and sends cur­rent to two in-wheel mo­tors in the front.

The LF-FC brings a fresh take on Lexus’s de­sign phi­los­o­phy, with an up­dated ver­sion of the sig­na­ture grille and L-shaped day­time run­ning lights.

In­side, the front seats ap­pear to float, while the driver can op­er­ate con­trols with­out touch­ing them — an ad­vanced hu­man-ma­chine in­ter­face re­sponds to by mak­ing hand ges­tures over a holo­gram on the cen­tre con­sole.


Mazda’s famed ro­tary en­gine is back — at least in con­cept form.

Fifty years af­ter Mazda took the wraps off its first ro­tary-pow­ered Cosmo pro­to­type, Mazda stole the show with the RX-vi­sion con­cept, a sleek sports car with a Wankel en­gine.

Mazda boss Masamichi Ko­gai says the ro­tary en­gine is still some way off but the brand is “ad­dress­ing the three key is­sues with ro­tary en­gines — fuel econ­omy, emis­sions per­for­mance and re­li­a­bil­ity”.

Its ar­rival might co­in­cide with 40th an­niver­sary of RX7 in 2018 but is more likely to be in 2020, Mazda’s 100th an­niver­sary (and eight years af­ter the brand dumped its RX8 sports car).

The rear-drive con­cept rides on the same 2700mm wheel­base as the Mazda3.

Ko­gai says the fo­cus is on en­gi­neer­ing goals rather than meet­ing a pro­duc­tion dead­line.


The eX is a com­pact SUV pow­ered by next-gen­er­a­tion bat­ter­ies and elec­tric mo­tors. The com­pany claims the new tech­nol­ogy will stretch the car’s range to 400km.

An ad­vanced head-up dis­play gives nav­i­ga­tion in­struc­tions and re­lays in­for­ma­tion from other cars on the road, warn­ing of po­ten­tial dan­gers. The car can de­tect changes in the road sur­face.

Smart valet park­ing al­lows a driver to drop off the car in a des­ig­nated area. If it needs charg­ing it will drive it­self to a wire­less charg­ing bay. The driver calls the car back to the valet area with a phone app.


Nis­san has been talk­ing about young peo­ple fall­ing out of love with the car for years. Its lat­est cre­ation, the Teatro for Dayz, is de­signed to woo younger buy­ers back to cars by turn­ing them into gi­ant smart­phones.

In the same way smart­phones are no longer pri­mar­ily used for mak­ing calls, the Teatro is less about get­ting from A to B and more about hang­ing out.

Nis­san prod­uct plan­ning gen­eral man­ager Hidemi Sasaki says young peo­ple look “be­yond the car’s ba­sic role of trans­porta­tion ... They want a car to be a ver­sa­tile tool for cre­ativ­ity.” The Teatro’s in­te­rior is an elec­tronic “blank can­vas”, al­low­ing oc­cu­pants to share dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ences with friends as the car charges their phones.


Subaru’s con­cept pointed to the styling of the next Im­preza, due in the first quar­ter of 2017. The car has a sleeker, sportier look, with a more ta­pered pro­file, hexag­o­nal grille and “hawk­eye” head­lights.

The com­pany also showed its Viziv com­pact SUV con­cept, an au­ton­o­mous driver.

By link­ing cam­eras with radars and telem­at­ics, the car gives a more com­plete pic­ture of the road ahead. By “talk­ing” to other cars it can an­tic­i­pate dan­ger­ous weather, traf­fic snarls and ac­ci­dents.

The Viziv com­bines the 1.6-litre turbo from the Levorg wagon with an elec­tric mo­tor driv­ing the rear wheels.


Could this be­come the world’s most af­ford­able sports car?

Toy­ota’s S-FR con­cept harks back to the Toy­ota 800 of the 1960s and is part of a promised tril­ogy with the 86 and a Supra re­place­ment. The near pro­duc­tion-ready light­weight sports car will be priced be­low the Toy­ota 86 and Mazda MX-5.

The rear-drive two-door is pow­ered by a mod­est 1.5-litre en­gine linked to a six-speed man­ual and will tip the scales at less than a tonne — a proven recipe for cheap driv­ing thrills.

Toy­ota says the car aims to “make a whole new gen­er­a­tion fall in love with driv­ing”.

Other cars on the stand in­clude a new hy­dro­gen­pow­ered con­cept dubbed the FCV-plus and the slightly kooky Kikai, which looks like a stripped-down hot rod.

with Mal­colm Flynn


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