Tokyo auto show hits & misses

TOKYO — The auto show here is typically quirky and innovative. But like other once-global events, the Tokyo show is largely a regional one these days. But the biennial expo still serves the world’s third-largest auto market, and most of the big brands here are big players in North America, too.

Automotive News Asia Editor Hans Greimel and Chief Content Officer Jamie Butters took a look around and liked much of what they saw — but not everything.

Butters: This is a very weird car — and I kind of love it. It has a really retro look to it, and yet it’s super modern, with its matte finish and clean lines. Clearly electrified as you can see by the front and the pulsating lights emanating from the wheels’ center. The back pops out and it looks more like a wagon, which makes it sort of two cars in one, which is interesting, even if it isn’t feasible.

Greimel: I love the proportions. It’s not the typical Suzuki style of squat with long overhangs and awkward looking. This really looks planted and sporty. I love the retro feel of its boxiness, but it also has a new kind of clean techno feel, especially up front with the LED lights and the screenlike grille that looks a little like a robot’s face.

Butters: MISS. I have to call it a miss, just because it seems so likely to miss the U.S. market. There’s no doubt that it’s a solid car, but it’s unlikely to sell in America, whether they bring it to market or not.

Greimel: HIT. It is kind of irrelevant for the U.S., I suppose. But globally, it underpins a lot of other cars, including the HR-V. I really think this is the best Fit yet, in terms of styling. The nose especially gives it more of a masculine feel. It has a new grille that I think is going to express the new design language coming out in other Honda cars — that kind of overbite look of the nose with a slim grille coming underneath it. So I’m positive about this. I think it looks clean and technical — everything that Honda aspires toward.

Butters: In contrast with the Fit, I’m not sure it really maximizes the space inside, but it’s very sharp. It looks athletic, with its big tires. That copper trim on the wheels and over the windows makes it pop in a way that most cars don’t. Maybe not a profoundly unique exterior, but it looks like a battery-electric vehicle that people would want to drive and that would look good in anybody’s driveway.

Greimel: I predict it will be a hit. The crossover EV should have been Nissan’s play all along. About the interior, with its touch controls on a wood grain — I think they really hit the technical sweet spot here. It’s a big step forward for Nissan to make this look something like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. And if they can pull it off in production, which I think they can, it’s going to be a watershed for the brand.

Greimel: I think it looks, at first glance, too aggressive and ugly, and the front reminds me too much of a first-generation Mirai, which I think is one of the worst cars out there. But overall, as a concept car, this is right on the money because it really stretches the imagination. The back looks a little bit too pointed. But, hey, it’s actually trying something new, and I give it credit for that. And on top of it all, it’s still sexy. And I love the color — very futuristic and clean and technical.

Butters: Everything is designed around these four giant wheels, each with their own electric motor. You can really see those are the power sources. And then it has these incredible, giant doors that open the whole side to reveal a roomy and luxurious four-seater to enjoy while it drives itself. It’s really what a show car should be: It makes me hopeful for the future and a world of innovation.

Greimel: Mazda’s biggest strength has always been design, but here I think they missed the mark. It doesn’t really have the sexiness that we see in the gasoline-powered cars. The rear looks a bit weak and tails off into kind of a bulbous end, with a gaudy silver inlay with Mazda printed across it on the C-pillar. It has doors like on the old RX-8 — with that half rear door to let you climb into a small back seat. The windows back there have huge margins around them, and that windowpane is like a small airplane window. Sitting back there would be almost like sitting in a diving bell.

Butters: If I didn’t already know this was an electric vehicle, I would assume that it’s not, because it has that huge hood that indicates there’s an engine under it. After looking at EVs that really reimagine what you can do — especially by getting rid of all that wasted space in the front, what’s going on there?

Greimel: MISS. The interesting thing about this concept is that it can run on anything — from gasoline and diesel to kerosene and alcohol. And it uses that to generate electricity to power the wheels. The idea is that, because it’s so versatile that way, it could be used in the Outback or on safari when you’re away from high-octane premium gasoline. But as a rugged outdoor car, it’s completely impractical: There’s no place to store your gear, no protection from the elements. I don’t hate it, but it’s a miss.

Butters: HIT. When I was a boy, home sick from school, this would have been my favorite toy car to drive over the blanket on my lap. It’s got the big wheels, no roof, no doors. It’s totally impractical and very funky — even if it’s kind of silly.

Greimel: I can’t say enough good things about this sleek and sexy hydrogen-powered sedan. The second generation is everything the first generation should have been but failed to deliver. It is beautiful, sporty and luxurious — finally exuding an aura befitting its place at the pinnacle of Toyota’s technology pyramid. It rides on the same platform as the Lexus LS, and, for my money, it looks a lot better.

Butters: The jump from the first Mirai to this is like going from a Prius to a Tesla Model S — it’s just a different class of vehicle. The lesson from Tesla is that when you have an expensive powertrain to pay for, you should put it in a big, beautiful car that someone would want to pay $ 100,000 for to help absorb the cost. Elon Musk dismisses hydrogen, but this is a winner.

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Section Page News – Automotive News

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