2019 Tokyo Motor Show Hits, Misses, & Revelations

Like Detroit and Frankfurt, Tokyo is losing its luster.

After six years and four shows of rebuilding the once mighty spectacle of the '80s, '90s, and early '00s into a respectably interesting regional event highlighting its domestic brands, Tokyo has taken a turn south. True, this is happening everywhere, but in Tokyo's case, you can blame the International Olympic Committee, which has chosen Japan's capital for its huge 2020 summer sporting event.

Tokyo Big Sight has been split in half for the 2019 show, with Toyota and Subaru sharing space with big rig manufacturers at a site that's a 10-minute bus ride from the base venue. There's now an outdoor space featuring camper/outlander conversions and electric scooter rides next to the new building, which also has interactive booths for youth, including a nifty Tamiya table of toys and models for budding enthusiasts. But the bus ride connecting the two won't help draw crowds.

Even those buses were disappointing. Toyota provided a hydrogen fuel cell bus or two for the shuttle, but it was always the one ahead that got filled up before we could climb aboard, or it was the one behind, leaving us to take a big, smelly diesel rig. Doesn't Toyota have the resources to fill the bus lot with fuel cell models?

As for blaming the big international sporting event, the east half of the Big Sight, which in the past was filled with cars and trucks and would have accommodated Toyota, Subaru, Hino, Isuzu, et. al., again this year, is being used during the Motor Show for organizers to plan the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Why not? After all, it was the '64 Olympics that built Tokyo and prompted such industrial designs as the Shinkansen (bullet train) and the Toyota Crown taxicab and Century limousine. The '20 Olympics could be just what the city, and the country needs to call attention to itself after a quarter-century of economic malaise. The 2017 Tokyo Motor Show was a relative success in part because Toyota used it to premier replacements for the Crown taxicab and Century limousine, replacements you can now spot on the city's streets. This year, just three Japanese automakers had North American representatives at the Tokyo Motor Show, and only two of us from the Automobile Magazine staff attended. So here's hoping the Tokyo Motor Show will recover once again.

HIT: Suzuki stand

Ah, Suzuki, how we've missed you. OK, maybe not. It's been several years since Suzuki sold anything with four wheels in America, but it's still making cars, many of them funky-looking boxes with 660cc engines and super awesome names like Hustler, Gear, and Hanare. Suzuki is calling the four-door Hustler a concept, but with several iterations on its stand, its "playful minicar" is headed for production in the coming months. Hanare, which is Japanese for "detached cottage" is an automated vehicle with a look reminiscent of a Volkswagen Multivan, though from the side you can't tell whether it's coming or going. Gear is high-riding Kei car box with sliding minivan doors. Our favorite though was the Waku SP0, a cute little coupe with a style reminiscent of the Honda E EV. Oh, and we can't forget the Jimny, the modern-day Samurai we wish we could have in the U.S. Suzuki's stand embodies what we love about the Tokyo show: quirky, fun, and wild cars and concepts. —Mike Floyd

HIT: Suzuki Waco SPO

For me, the star of Suzuki's stand is not the kei-size Hustler "concept," but instead the Waku SPO. For me, it recalls the Nissan Pulsar NX of 30 years ago, a two-door with a removable rear roof that turned the sporty coupe into a useful hatchback. Problem was, the intended youthful customers tended to be apartment dwellers, so they had no place to store the Pulsar's removable hatch top. The Waco SPO solves that with a power folding top, from behind the C-pillar that turns the hatchback into a car that looks vaguely like a Lancia Zagato targa coupe. While the power top is in operation, the spokes on the flush chrome wheels—like many concepts at this show, the SPO is a full EV—light up sequentially from the center spoke to the outer rim. The SPO also has two freestlye doors—because modern customers apparently refuse to fold a front seatback forward in order to crawl into a back seat—and they slide, minivan-style instead. —Todd Lassa

MISS: Honda Fit

I've been a big fan of the Honda Fit for years. It's light on its feet, has a ton of space for its size, and is fun to toss around. I also really dig its exterior style—or at least I did. The latest generation Fit, which is available in five different styles, left me cold. Its folds and creases are gone in favor of a bland, rounded out look that's likely more aerodynamic, but now it fits in instead of standing out. I'm sure the new Fit will continue to be a well-built and affordable subcompact. It just will do it with less pizazz. —MF

HIT: Honda Fit

I find it refreshing that Honda got out of its design rut with its fourth generation Fit, and even with a two-motor hybrid system designed mostly to run on the electric motor, it's said to retain the sort of interior capaciousness that set apart the first three generations. The rear load floor remains low and flat, even with the two-motor hybrid's battery pack placed just under the floor, behind the rear seat. Honda has split the Fit into five trim levels; Basic, Home, Ness, Luxe, and Crosstar, the latter of which rides 1.8 inches taller than the others, with fender cladding, but only FWD like the others. The Base on the show floor was the only Fit without the two-motor hybrid system, which Honda calls e:HEV, though like the others it will come only with a CVT when it hits the home market next February. It's all moot though, as word is Honda won't sell the new Fit in North America. After all, it isn't a CUV. —TL

At least it looked like a nice, small EV when l couldn't get within 50 feet of the gullwinged two-door crossover. And its "introduction" of a solid-state battery, which Toyota says won't be ready before the middle of the next decade, takes a jab at Elon Musk, who dismisses such future technology because his Teslas won't have it. But when I got up close and personal, the LF-30 appeared oversized and overbaked, like too many Lexi these days. Hell, the thing weighs nearly 5,300 pounds and with so many intriguing little kei cars lurking about, I would have hoped for a more elegant presentation. —TL

MISSING: 2021 Toyota Mirai

This car was supposed to show up at Toyota's all-concept display in the new, temporary hall, but was nowhere to be found. After seeing the Lexus LF-30 press conference, I became even more convinced that this RWD car's design should have gone to Toyota's luxury division. Imagine a line of these cars with, say, EV, hydrogen fuel cell and solid state EV power versions. —TL

REVELATION: GR 86? Signs point to Yes!

I had a chance to speak with Toyota executive vice president Shigeki Tomoyama, who oversees Gazoo Racing division. He let us in on the status of the GR badged supercar it intends to sell worldwide. While he wasn't specific, he rattled off the coming car's astonishing stats: A V-6 turbo hybrid with 1,000 horsepower and all-wheel drive. He mentioned the World Endurance Championship as where the race car version of the machine will compete. Asked if the car would come to the U.S., he said that given it's the biggest market for supercars, it absolutely will. The GR division has been steadily growing around the world, and he says it will have 17 different models available by next year (the aforementioned GR Copen is one of them), with the GR super sports car being the halo. You may have noticed the GR badge on the new Supra, which was the first toe it has dipped into the U.S. market. When we asked Tomoyama whether the next-generation Toyota 86 will be badged a GR, he politely dodged the question, but said that "we were on the right track." There is an issue with expanding the entire GR portfolio in the U.S., namely an already established high performance parts brand in Toyota Racing Development (TRD). Outside of the U.S., there is only GR, no TRD. But dedicated, high-performance vehicles like the Supra will continue to be badged GR globally. —MF

MISS: Mitsubishi Mi-Tech concept

A two-seat open off-roader with a plug-in electric vehicle powertrain. So far, so good. Except, it's unnecessarily huge, like the Lexus LF-30 concept, and appears to have taken its front-end styling cues from the new Chevy Silverado HD. —TL

MISS: Mazda MX-30's freestyle doors

It was a feature we didn't know we missed until Mazda brought it back on its first-ever, all-electric powered MX-30. Last seen on the Mazda RX-8, the freestyle door is in essence a smaller, coach opening rear door devoid of traditional handles. We weren't sold on them yet, and we're not now, but you never know, consumers may warm to them. At the press conference Mazda said the car will be available in Europe starting next year. If it does come to the U.S. don't expect until late 2020 at the earliest. —MF

MISS: Mazda MX-30

Maybe the freestyle doors would look better if the show car wasn't painted white, but I think the whole thing looks too gawky. More troublesome is its name, putting the crossover into the same automotive category as the MX-5 Miata. And the cheated "fast" roofline, which slopes off on the side rather than the top, looks like it creates a cavernous back seat with poor outward visibility, and a big driver's blind spot. I'm hoping we'll get a different version when production of a Mazda EV CUV begins in Alabama next year, but I don't see how the company has capital for two designs for different continents. —MF

HIT: Daihatsu Daihatsu

Say it fast. Say it slow. Say it like you're Fozzie Bear saying waka waka, but substitute Waku Waku instead. For some reason, there were several Daihatsus on the stand with this very strange, very hilarious naming convention. Ico Ico, Tsumu Tsumu, Wai Wai. Why ask Wai, just enjoy the names names. —MF

MISS: Nissan Ariva concept

I like the silver/blue paint job with the copper wheels and accents. It appears that Nissan has, at least, learned a color palette aesthetic from its partnership with Renault. Otherwise, it's just another coupe-like CUV concept. At Tokyo this year, we either get boring and unoriginal in this category, or too big and/or busy, like the Lexus and Mazda. Perhaps this is a sign for automakers to learn that there is no art in CUV coupe design. —MF

HIT: Daihatsu GR Copen

As was the case with the Suzuki booth, we were all over the Daihatsu stand, and with car like this cute little roadster, it's easy to understand why. Thanks to the team at Gazoo Racing, the same outfit that did some major work on the new Supra, it's even better. Sweet Recaro seats help spice up the interior, and you can shift it yourself with a five-speed manual if you'd like. Its 660cc turbocharged and intercooled engine is good for about 64 horsepower, and there's a front limited slip diff. Yeah, I dig it. —MF

HIT: Nissan IMK concept

Perhaps automakers should apply the old shibboleth of "necessity is the mother of invention" to CUV coupes. It has, to kei-size minivans, which are the anonymous boxes that deliver things and people all over Tokyo. Nissan did a nice job of making this box stand out, with a well-lit Tokyo-by-night grille, clear Plexiglas headrest posts and some sort of shiny copper post-modern shag-like carpeting on the interior floor. —TL

What's that you say, an old Chevy at a Japanese auto show? Yeah we hear you, but dig the engraving work on this bad boy. It's a special process using a thick paint called IZ Metal, which is spread on the car then hand-engraved. It's a fantastic looking effect, one that would blow some minds if you were to roll up in it to a low rider car show in East L.A. The Impala was the centerpiece of the Tokyo Auto Salon booth at the show and rightly so. It's a true work of automotive art. —MF

REVELATION: The Open Future outdoor display is '20s mobility

I was prepared to be disappointed in the Tokyo Motor Show's interactive outdoor display next to the Toyota/Subaru/truck hall. For one thing, some of the events touted by the show, including concerts and drift competitions, won't take place until public days. But it strikes me that the display is a peek into the 2020s. Just outside of the inflatable gate are the sort of EV commuter vehicles we'll take to work in the city, from scooters to three-wheelers. Inside, parked near food trucks of the sort that are starting to replace diners around the world are the van life/outlander vehicle/tiny houses on wheels we'll take to getaway weekends in the country. —TL

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