Special Coverage

2011 Tokyo
Motor Show

TOKYO – The 2011 Tokyo Motor Show opens here for press preview days promising a full slate of vehicle debuts and an overall sunnier look and feel compared with its somber tone two years ago, during the global economic crisis.

Most vehicles on display at the show’s new location, known as the "Big Sight" convention hall, have debuted elsewhere.

However, there are a handful of world unveilings, including the production versions of Subaru’s and Toyota's jointly developed rear-wheel-drive sports cars, the BRZ and FT-86.

Honda makes news on the first press day with plans to introduce direct injection to its future 4-cyl. and 6-cyl. engines and continuously variable transmissions to most of its models in lieu of step-gear automatics.

German auto makers, which hold a small share of Japanese new-car market, also draw attention. Volkswagen stages a world premiere of its Passat Alltrack tall wagon and unexpectedly unwrapped the Cross Coupe concept wearing a new SUV design language, possibly hinting at the next Tiguan cross/utility vehicle.

BMW reveals its ActiveHybrid 5, a 340-hp concept car that foreshadows a production model due next spring. The auto maker claims the inline 6-cyl.-powered car can travel up to 37 mph (60 km/h) on electricity only.

A common theme among auto makers here is the resiliency of the Japanese people following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which crippled production across the industry but most notably resulted in reduced builds by Toyota and Honda.

"We need a strong Japanese auto industry and efficient Japanese suppliers," says Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda gives a passionate presentation at the Toyota stand in the face of a strengthening yen that is hurting profitability, vowing the auto maker will "never give up" on its home country.

In addition to Winterkorn, other top management of the German brands in attendance include Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler and Smart chief Annette Winkler.

The Tokyo show long has been known for the wackiest concept cars in the industry, but many of this year’s models have production intentions, such as Nissan's NV350 commercial van concept and the BMW ActiveHybrid 5.

Fuel efficiency is the overriding theme, with a variety of electric vehicles, hybrids and plug-in models on display.

However, Toyota’s CEO surprises his audience while showing off the new FT-86 sports car by saying, "Personally, I love the smell of gasoline and I hope this kind of vehicle never disappears."

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com