Eco cars, AI technology grab spotlight at Tokyo Motor Show

TOKYO – The Tokyo Motor Show opened to the press Wednesday with automakers showcasing eco-friendly cars amid tighter emissions regulations across the globe while highlighting interactions between drivers and vehicles with key artificial intelligence technologies.

The 45th motor show, which will be open to the public from Saturday through Nov 5 at Tokyo Big Sight, will give visitors a first look at more than 70 new vehicles being launched at the biennial event.

A total of 153 companies and organizations from 10 countries are putting their products and services on display, as carmakers are rushing to develop next-generation vehicles to meet stricter emissions standards.

But U.S. giants General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co are skipping the event for the fifth consecutive time, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Britain’s Jaguar Land Rover Ltd will not attend either. Overseas automakers have increasingly shifted their attention to China, which has emerged as the world’s largest car market.

The British and French governments have said they will ban sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040. China is also tightening regulations to encourage the uptake of electric cars.

Toyota Motor Corp unveiled its new fuel cell concept car “Fine-Comfort Ride” which it says has a 50% longer range than the Mirai, the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle it put on sale in December 2014. Toyota’s new offering can achieve a range of 1,000 kilometers, the company says.

Despite being a pioneer in hybrid technology, Toyota has been slow to embrace electric vehicles, but with the market rapidly expanding the company is moving to boost its efforts in EV production through a capital tie-up with Mazda Motor Corp.

“We have no doubt that EVs will be one of the key solutions in the near future…That doesn’t mean we are moving away from fuel cells,” Toyota Executive Vice President Didier Leroy said at a press briefing as he introduced the company’s new fuel cell concept cars.

Through its FCVs, the carmaker is demonstrating its “firm commitment to realize a hydrogen society,” Leroy said.

Japan’s largest carmaker by volume also introduced three “Concept-i” vehicles with autonomous driving and AI technologies. The company said it plans to start road testing the vehicles in Japan around 2020.

Concept-i vehicles’ AI technology allows the car to switch to autonomous control if it detects the driver becoming stressed through an analysis of facial expressions and behavior.

Nissan Motor Co unveiled its Leaf Nismo Concept car, a variant of its new Leaf electric vehicle developed in conjunction with the company’s motorsports division. Nissan is the leading EV maker, with the well-established Leaf model currently the best-selling electric car in the world.

The carmaker also announced that it will join the all-electric Formula E championship starting in 2018 as the first Japanese automotive brand.

Nissan comes to the motor show reeling from a scandal that has seen it halt new car shipments into the Japanese market.

The company has admitted it continued a practice of allowing final inspections to be undertaken by unauthorized staff even after the misconduct was revealed. The scandal has led the company to file for a massive domestic recall.

“We sincerely regret any…concern this has caused to customers and all the stakeholders in Japan, especially those who use our vehicles,” Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci said, starting the company’s press briefing with an apology.

Honda Motor Co CEO Takahiro Hachigo announced that the company is planning to launch electric cars in Japan in 2020. “EV models will be sold in Japan…following their introduction in Europe,” Hachigo said at a press briefing.

Japan’s third-largest carmaker is currently aiming to lift sales of hybrid and electric vehicles to two-thirds of its global sales volume by around 2030.

Honda introduced three electric vehicles at the show, including its “Honda Sports EV Concept” car, a small sports car equipped with AI technologies that interact with the driver to make route suggestions.

Honda also hosted a display honoring its iconic Super Cub motorcycle range, whose production topped 100 million units this month.

Connectivity is also one of the show’s features.

Visitors can experience what it is like to drive in connected cars in a futuristic Tokyo in an event that will allow 30 people at a time to use interconnected PlayStation VR headsets and share information about road conditions or locations of gas stations through vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.