Electric cars take on hybrids
Chiba - Futuristic concept cars, ultra-efficient hybrids, zero-emission electric vehicles and even a hydrogen-powered scooter jostled for the limelight as the Tokyo Motor Show kicked off on Wednesday.
From a super-skinny Nissan electric car that leans when going around bends, to a lightweight Toyota sports car and a Daihatsu vehicle with a design based on a basket, Japanese makers showed off their visions of the future.
While hybrids are still a big feature, electric cars are competing for attention at this year's show as technological breakthroughs in rechargeable batteries bring mass-produced zero emission cars closer to reality.
Despite the success of the hybrid, car makers are still hedging their bets on green technology, with biofuels, clean diesel and fuel cells also seen as potential alternative power sources.
With foreign makers almost entirely absent, the show is dominated by the Japanese makers, which are pinning their hopes on growing interest in fuel-efficient automobiles to rescue them from a brutal industry slump.
Sports car and Land Glider
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, is displaying a new version of its electric concept car - the FT-EV II - along with a new lightweight, sporty concept car inspired by the iconic Corolla AE86 coupe of the 1980s.
With a low centre of gravity and a special two-litre boxer engine developed by partner Subaru, the rear-wheel drive FT-86 is said to handle like a race car but with less damage to the environment.
"Everyone thinks sports cars won't sell but there is a huge demand, particularly among middle-aged men who have fond memories of the Corolla 86 and who would like to drive it once again," Toyota engineer Tetsuya Tada said.
Nissan showed off an electric concept car that leans to the side when going around bends.
Nissan Motor Co CEO Carlos Ghosn poses with the automaker's Land Glider electric vehicle at the 41st Tokyo Motor Show. (Itsuo Inouye, AP)
The "Land Glider", just 1.1 metres wide, seats two people - one in the front and one in the back. Inspired by motorbikes and glider aircraft, it has tilting wheels that enable it to lean by up to 17 degrees.
"Although you are driving on the road, you feel as if you are flying," Nissan's Ryusuke Hayashi, who is overseeing the project, said at a preview.
'The time is now for zero emissions'
Nissan will put its electric car, the Leaf, on display to the public for the first time at the show, which opens to general visitors in Makuhari Messe, east of Tokyo, on Saturday. The mid-sized car will go on sale in late 2010.
"Leaf will make waves in our industry as the world's first affordable zero-emission car," Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn said at the show.
"The time is now for zero emissions. Sustainable mobility is within our reach. We stand on the threshold of a new era in the automotive industry."
While Nissan lags behind its bigger rivals in hybrids, it is one step ahead in electric cars. Toyota has said it aims to launch an electric car by 2012.
From Honda comes the EV-N, a cute new electric concept car that can store a one-wheel personal mobility device inside its door.
Fuel cells, which run on hydrogen and emit only water, also make an appearance as Honda and Suzuki put on display cars powered by the technology. There is even a fuel-cell scooter and a fuel-cell wheelchair from Suzuki.