Scandal-stricken Japanese auto industry looks to the future at Tokyo Motor Show

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Toyota is presenting a concept electric vehicle called the Fine-Comfort Ride, which would be powered by hydrogen.

Japan’s flagship automakers will showcase their futuristic visions of the post-fossil era at the Tokyo Motor Show which begins on Wednesday. If only the industry, reeling from a series of scandals, could forget the here and now.

Japan‘s once impregnable reputation for quality vehicles has taken a hit. Nissan Motor Co. just announced plans to halt local auto production and is under regulatory review after admitting to using unauthorized safety inspectors. Auto industry supplier Kobe Steel Inc. has confessed to forging data on aluminum and other materials dating back decades. Takata Corp., whose airbag explosion was the subject of the industry’s biggest recall, filed for bankruptcy in June.

Even the auto show has had its tragedies. Nissan chairman Hiroto Saikawa stepped down as chairman of the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association two weeks ago to deal with the deepening crisis at his company, forcing the chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. Akio Toyoda to suddenly step in as the supervisor of the biennial event. Japanese automakers aim to use the show as a showcase for their latest technology, from hydrogen concept cars to their latest redesigned electric vehicles with longer runs.

“Recent scandals have cast cold water on this year’s show and the impact is very negative,” said automotive analyst Ken Miyao of consultancy Carnorama. “The Tokyo show is a big consumer-focused event and I won’t be surprised if some domestic consumers shy away from it this year.”

Tesla killer

Nissan – which holds the title of world leader in electric vehicle sales – is keeping its flagship product a secret for the show, except to say that the vehicle “embodies the future of Nissan’s intelligent mobility.” It is the language of Nissan for technologies such as electrification, autonomous driving and beyond.

Nissan’s motorsport division, NISMO, is also beefing up the all-electric 2018 Leaf for the salon, offering improved aerodynamics and suspension and adding racing red flourishes inside and out. It retains the 400-kilometer (248.5-mile) range of the base model, which launched last month to compete with the mass-market Model 3 from Tesla Inc. Elon Musk’s car has nearly 50 percent more. more battery life than the Leaf, but comes with a higher sticker price.

Toyota, a long-time champion of hydrogen power, will showcase a fuel cell concept that delivers 50% more range than its current hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan in a technological push that challenges a growing wave of battery-powered vehicles .

By putting motors in the wheels and pushing those wheels to the extreme corners of the vehicle, Toyota maximized the size of the cabin so that it could accommodate six people in three rows, although it was the same length as the new Camry. The concept car is dubbed the Fine-Comfort Ride, and in automated driving mode, the seats can swivel facing each other, making it a rolling meeting room.

Segway-type device

Japan’s largest automaker is also showcasing its on-board driving assistant, nicknamed Yui. Based on deep learning artificial intelligence technology, Yui will serve as a co-pilot and navigator who, over time, will read a driver’s emotions and anticipate their desires. Whether you’re driving a car or spinning along the sidewalk on the Segway-type device Toyota debuts at the show.

Honda Motor Co. is almost as mysterious as Nissan about its flagship that will be unveiled at the show. The Honda Sports EV Concept set to debut this week is a battery-powered sports car, built on the same dedicated EV platform as the Honda Urban EV Concept unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show last month, which is expected to be sold in Europe in 2019. Like Toyota. concept cars, Honda includes an AI-powered concierge in its models.

Honda doesn’t want visitors to forget that it makes motorcycles either, with the world premiere of the Honda Riding Assist-e. The name suggests that it will be the EV brother of the Honda Riding Assist shown at CES this year, which can come on its own when the driver calls. This bike is actually a cousin of the humanoid robot Asimo, using the same self-balancing technology.

chinese threat

Some analysts see these innovations as confirmation that Japanese automakers are still pioneers in automotive technology. “If you look at some of the core electric vehicle technologies such as battery materials, Japan still has a remarkable presence,” said Mitsuo Shimizu, strategist at Japan Asia Securities Group. “I don’t think the Japanese auto industry is lost. It remains very competitive.”

That said, it is undeniable that Japanese automakers face increased competition from China in the electric vehicle market. As part of the Made in China 2025 initiative and other medium-term plans, Beijing wants the country to become a dominant player in artificial intelligence and self-driving cars by 2030, and aims to be the world leader. of manufacturing quality by 2049.

“Compared to the Shanghai or Frankfurt shows this year, where Chinese and German automakers presented a wide range of electric vehicle exhibitions, I think Japan is lagging behind in terms of electric vehicle competitiveness,” Miyao said. “I am concerned that the Japanese auto sector may fall behind its foreign rivals in the long term.”


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