Car buyers in the United States never got the Mazda Bongo Friendee, Honda Life Dunk or even the Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard. From a culture as different as Japan's, some things do indeed get lost in translation. The Mazda Premacy is a straighter example - we know it better as the Mazda5.
The 2011 Tokyo Auto Show has several things on display that won't make it across the Pacific. But as an indication of where the Japanese car industry is going - and, by inference, where the mainstream car industry is going - this biennial event foretells not just what our next vehicle purchase may be, but also the one after that. And if anyone thinks that by choosing a BMW the Japan influence is moot, don't be so sure. The German company not only premiered its ActiveHybrid 5 Series in Tokyo (and we all know who made hybrids popular), it also has plans to collaborate with Toyota on lithium-ion battery technology.
That's just the tip of a giant silicon laced iceberg. The land of the rising sun-visor has created technologies and components that go into virtually every motorized machine around the world, from engine management chips to high-performance tires. The 2011 show saw plenty of wild concept cars - mostly electric vehicles - that can drive, park and recharge themselves, then come running at the summons from a smartphone.
Many major Japanese manufacturers are working on a "car as gadget" approach. One Toyota concept's whole exterior is a changeable electronic display; Honda's micro-sized concept commuter vehicle has an electric two-wheeler slotted into it. At some point, probably sooner than we think, some of these ideas and systems will start to show up in road-going cars.
That's what we can look forward to further down the line, but Tokyo demonstrates at least two good reasons to consider a new car even sooner. One is the swoopy 2013 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ rear-drive coupe. This joint project is powered by one of Subaru's famed flat-four engines and looks like bringing some genuine driving fun into a youth-oriented segment that has been dominated by toaster look-a-likes for quite some time. It goes on sale in the United States this spring. The other is still a concept, but if Mazda can bring its Takeri mid-size sedan design study to American streets with as few changes as possible, then it could well have a hit on its hands badged as a new generation of Mazda6.
That's the thing with names. Regardless of how great the car might be, would anyone with a good grasp of English really buy something called the Daihatsu Naked? Probably not.
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