Car News:  2011 Tokyo Auto Show

2011 Tokyo Auto Show Preview

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author photo by Colin Ryan November 2011

Just as the Detroit Auto Show is the biggie for America's domestic car companies and Frankfurt is the equivalent for Germany's automotive powerhouses, the Tokyo show is the major venue for the Japanese side of the industry.

The Tokyo Auto Show takes place once every two years. This year's event is the forty-second, and runs from December 2 to December 11. And it's likely more important than ever.

After the intense earthquake (shifting Japan's main island, Honshu, eight feet further east) and subsequent tsunami that struck the country earlier this year and decimated its manufacturing sector, Japan's automakers will want to show the world that they are back on their feet.

It's far from business as usual. Honda and Toyota have both suffered from lower sales because of production problems. A situation made worse by a strong Yen compared to the US dollar. So the Japanese car scene needs a kick-start, and the 2011 Tokyo show could do the trick.

Historically, Tokyo has favored technology over muscle or luxury. It will do so again this year, with cars like the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid that drives autonomously and will be taking show-goers for test rides as they sit in the back seat. It uses something called the Automatic Vehicle Operation System (AVOS); it can park itself and make its way to its owner when instructed.

Toyota also plans to make a splash with its Aqua concept, a hybrid subcompact and a foretaste of the US-bound Prius C. Of the cars the company is introducing at Tokyo, only one - the rear-drive sport coupe made in collaboration with Subaru and likely offered as the Scion FR-S in the States - has a conventional drivetrain. The rest consist of two electric vehicles (one of them based on the iQ micro car) and a hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle.

Honda is following a similar route. Reported to be occupying the largest amount of exhibition space, the company is unveiling its Small Sports EV concept, along with a five-door plug-in hybrid - the AC-X - and another electric car called the Micro Commuter Concept. There's also the launch of a new production car called the N Box. Wonder what kind of shape that will be.

The Pivo3 electric vehicle concept from Nissan is a lot like the Micro Commuter looks-wise, but this one has four-wheel steering so tight maneuvers become much easier. The Pivo3 has a self-park function (in certain parking lots) and, like the autonomous Prius, is also able to obey the summons from a smartphone.

The fuel-saving Skyactiv technology has found its way into Mazda dealers' showrooms, so the emphasis here is more on style. The Takeri mid-size sedan concept that points to how the next generation of Mazda6 might look.

Mitsubishi is also bringing a plug-in hybrid concept, while Suzuki has its own electric micro-commuting concept. If all this makes the 2011 Tokyo show sound like rehab for gasoline addicts, there's a heartening whiff of fossil fuel coming from the Subaru stand in the form of its 320-horsepower S206 Impreza limited edition. Unfortunately it's for the Japanese market only. At least Subaru will also be showing its Advanced Tourer Concept, which is supposedly a teaser for the next-generation Legacy.

Perhaps the ideal compromise of performance and prudence could be from an outsider: the BMW ActiveHybrid 5, making its world premiere in Tokyo as a production car. In addition to the typical BMW inline six-cylinder engine, this version of the 5 Series sedan also has an eight-speed auto transmission, plus an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack, resulting in a 10-percent improvement in consumption and emissions over a standard 5 Series.

AutoTrader.com will be reporting on the relevant, informative and downright intriguing aspects from this year's Tokyo Auto Show.

See more Tokyo Auto Show news.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Tokyo Auto Show Preview - Autotrader