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