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November 26, 2013

Tokyo Motor Show 2013: Green is Gold for Toyota

TOKYO, JAPAN—By the time you read this, I’ll still be somewhere in Japan; perhaps kicking back on a nice cup of hot macha tea while taking in the crisp autumn air or chasing some girls in “cosplay” outfits with a naughty smile pasted on my face. As a people, the Japanese have never failed to amaze me with their ability to combine seemingly opposite ideas and turn them into something uniquely, well, Japanese. Take for instance the very example I pointed out above: amidst the penchant for strict and proper etiquette (tea ceremonies and sumo wrestling matches to name two), you’ve got the colorful world of anime, school girls, and umm, “adult material”. It’s funny and all, but it’s a fact: these two polar opposites make up and perfectly describe Japanese culture.

It’s this very same ability to combine two opposing adjectives and turn them into a cohesive whole that best describes Toyota’s 2013 Tokyo Motor Show exhibit. Though I’m sure you’ll get to read more about my experience on the show, the cars, and the booth babes in the coming weeks, I’d like to focus first on what Toyota has done here at the Tokyo Big Sight. Bannered under the theme, “Fun to Drive Again”, Toyota hasn’t just managed to communicate that “Mr. T” will put your loins on fire, but add to that an environmentally-friendly philosophy practically unmatched by any other automaker in the world. Yes, I said it, in the world. All in all, they underline Toyota’s efforts to contribute to society while creating ever-better cars that exceed expectations. Job well done, it seems.

First up is the FCV Concept, a car that clearly points towards the hydrogen-powered production vehicle that Toyota aims to launch by 2015 (perhaps in time for the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show?). The exterior pays homage to the by-product of hydrogen-powered vehicles: water; thus, the FCV Concept evokes a design of a catamaran flowing through water. The flowing liquid motif aside, the FCV Concept does introduce the next step in hydrogen fuel cell technology: Toyota’s very own small and light-weight fuel cell stack that produces twice the power of existing systems while boasting a range of 500 kilometers and refueling times as little as three minutes.

Second is the FV2, a concept car that looks like it’s the four-wheel version of Jaegers—the giant monster chopping robots from Pacific Rim (or if you’re above 40, you’ll likely understand Daimos better). In any case, the FV2 is an out of this world concept that uses the entire body to steer and maneuver, just because steering wheels are so last century. It moves by having the driver shift his body to intuitively move the car forward and back, left and right. Now, before you think Segway, the FV2 goes beyond that and actually acts as your co-driver on the road. Yes, the FV2 might just seat one, but it communicates with the driver using image and voice recognition as well as heart rate monitoring. The FV2 can even change its exterior body color and display reflecting the mood of the driver—something you’ll certainly want to switch off driving into a love hotel.

Third is the JPN TAXI Concept, which in my opinion, is the most important concept in Toyota’s stand. With Tokyo winning the bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, the JPN TAXI Concept is Toyota’s visionary replacement to Tokyo’s current ho-hum taxi fleet. Created in line with the Japanese government, the JPN TAXI Concept is Japanese hospitality put atop four wheels. Powered by an electric-LPG hybrid engine, the exterior is compact (just 4,350-mm in length), but it boasts of a large interior with electrically operated doors and a low, flat floor for easy ingress and egress. Plus, there are other nifty touches such as optimized air conditioning for rear passenger comfort. Outside, it has improved exterior lighting and signage for clearer visibility negating the need to play “spot the taxi” during rush hour traffic.

Of course, Toyota’s Tokyo Motor Show participation won’t be complete without the mention of Lexus. Indeed, Toyota’s luxury division is still clearly running on adrenaline, coffee, Red Bull or a combination of all three—they’re still on a roll after putting on the sexy spindle grille on their cars. This time, we have the new RC Coupe, Lexus’s first standalone two-door model aside from the P 34-million LFA supercar. Larger than the likes of the BMW 4 Series, the unmistakably Japanese design marks the widest and lowest application of the spindle grille. And under that, it packs either a 3.5-liter V6 (RC 350) or a 2.5-liter gasoline-electric hybrid (RC 300h). Inside, it’s all straight-forward Lexus with an operational/display zone cockpit, contrasting color scheme, a unique lighting package, and the Remote Touch interface.

I’ve always regarded cars not just as a tool, but as a form of expression. It goes right there alongside architecture, the arts, and even cinema. In fact, I’ve always believed that you show me a country’s car; I can tell you how they are as a people. In that regard, the Japanese is indeed a cohesive blend of two opposite ideologies. In theory, it’s not supposed to work, but a colorfully dressed girl in a French Maid outfit in a sea of salary men in their black suits minding their own business proves that it does. It’s the same with their cars: green doesn’t need to be boring, it can be fun. You don’t have to look far and wide to find an example, just look at Toyota.

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