If Toyota Motor Corp.'s new fleet of concept vehicles is any indication, the trend toward market fragmentation is headed for extremes in Japan.

Toyota will unveil seven concept vehicles Oct. 19 at the 2005 Tokyo auto show. They range from a hybrid minivan to a single-seat vehicle designed to blend in with pedestrian traffic.

Toyota's Lexus luxury brand, which is making its debut in Japan, will show three concepts.

Though listed as a concept vehicle, Toyota's Estima Hybrid is much further along the development curve and could hit dealer showrooms as early as next spring. The new model, like the current one, will be available only in Japan.

It will feature Toyota's latest hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) technology, which is expected to get 42.3 mpg (18L/100 km).

Toyota Estima Hybrid


Toyota bB compact wagon


Toyota FSC


Toyota RAV4 SUV concept


Toyota Fine-X


Lexus GS 450h

The new Estima also boasts electric 4-wheel drive and the brand's trademark Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system, which uses sensors to align driver inputs with vehicle behavior. (See related story: Toyota Expands VDIM Applications; More Improvements to Come)

Toyota expects the new Estima Hybrid to account for 5% of Estima sales when the 7-seater eventually goes on the market, although the auto maker declines to announce any sales targets. When the current model was introduced in June 2001, Toyota set a monthly sales target of 1,000 units.

Price prevents Toyota from introducing the vehicle in the U.S. any time soon. At ¥3.35 million to ¥3.83 million ($30,450 to $34,800), the current model is deemed too expensive to compete in the American market.

At the other end of Toyota's concept vehicle spectrum is the I-Swing, a single-seater that runs on three wheels – or two when riding on crowded sidewalks.

In 2-wheeled mode, the I-Swing takes up about as much space as a pedestrian, the auto maker says. And it can crawl along at a walker's pace, allowing the driver to carry on conversations with pedestrians on either side.

But the I-Swing requires some dexterity to operate. Not unlike a skier, the I-Swing driver supplements joystick and pedal inputs with leans to the left or right.

Another production-ready concept is the bB compact wagon. Based on the Passo platform, it is geared toward the youth market, with features such as a nine-speaker digital audio system and an interior inspired by a nightclub atmosphere, compete with flashing lights.

Available in front- and 4WD versions, the production model is expected to debut next year with a sticker in the range of ¥1.3 million to ¥1.4 million ($11,000 to $12,000). Toyota does not confirm plans to build the bB.

Also in the people-mover vein is the FSC. A cross between a minivan and sedan, Toyota calls it a “design study.”

The FSC features a flexible rear compartment that turns into an enclosed trunk with the press of a button. It also can be transformed into a flat load floor or a third-row bench seat for small children.

Toyota also takes the wraps off a RAV4 SUV concept, a racer designed for the F1 circuit and the Fine-X, a 4-seat fuel-cell vehicle the auto maker says is as friendly to the environment as it is to its occupants.

The vehicle's “welcome seats” glide in and out to accommodate access and egress, while it makes use of plant-based materials that render production “carbon neutral,” Toyota claims.

Even if the vehicle were thermo-recycled, the carbon dioxide generated by incineration would be completely mitigated by the respiration of plants grown to produce the material that went into the Fine-X.

In addition to the LF-A supercar, GS 450h HEV, Lexus promises to show its “Flagship Sedan Concept Car.”

The LF-A and a GS 430h debuted in Detroit at the 2005 North American International Auto Show. (See related story: Lexus Gets Hybrid GS; Exotic Concept Shown)

– with Roger Schreffler

emayne@primediabusiness.com