There is no doubting that the car industry is still feeling the crunch, something that was perfectly demonstrated at last fall's Tokyo Motor Show. With European and American manufacturers dropping out of the show to save money we were left to concentrate on what the Japanese carmakers had on offer for. And despite the evident toning down of the exhibition from previous years, with half empty halls and an eerie calmness greeting show goers, there were still enough releases and enticing propositions to feast our eyes on.
Toyota stepped up and gave an optimistic view into the future, which alongside its continuous efforts in advancing hybrid technology, tried hard to reconnect with long lost enthusiasts. The FT-86 embodies what the affordable Japanese sports car stands for, with an honest and back-to-basics formula of a naturally-aspirated engine powering the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual gearbox - too bad it's two years away from a finished version. Performance is rumored to be around the 200 HP mark thanks to a slightly tuned Subaru EJ20, which in stock form develops just under 150 HP. Its compact exterior is sculpted by a fresh and modern design, with no actual visible lineage to the original AE86 of the 80's. But it's the concept of the FT-86 that hints back at the hachiroku, a car that will inject much needed fun into cars, hopefully luring in younger potential buyers around the world, a demographic that especially in Japan, has shown very little interest in cars over the last few years. But it doesn't end there for Toyota as its luxury high-end Lexus brand finally showed the world the much-anticipated LFA, the most exotic Japanese supercar to have ever been created. This car has it all, a lightweight carbon-fiber monocoque chassis, a race-bred high-revving V10 developing 552 HP and a 6-speed sequential transmission, all coupled together with an unmistakably Japanese design. The limited production of only 500 examples makes the LFA an extremely exclusive car, with a price tag to match. The $350K Lexus was easily the talk of the show. And apparently Toyota will lose money on the car even though they'll have no problems selling them...
Honda wasn't far behind Toyota when it came to injecting much needed emotion into cars with the forward-thinking hybrid Honda CR-Z, a modern day interpretation of the legendary CR-X. Honda has decided to do things differently by creating the world's first mass-produced green sports car, mating a torque-boosting electric motor to the 1.8 L 135 HP gasoline engine. A manual gearbox will make sure the car will be fun to drive and thanks to its daring wedge-like exterior, great to look at. The best thing about the CR-Z is that it will hit dealers across Japan early next year.
Nissan, however, made no effort to prove that a successor to the legendary Silvia is under consideration, something that enthusiasts were eagerly anticipating, especially after Toyota's efforts with the FT-86. But it wasn't only the big manufacturers that grabbed our attention at the show. In the quest for a more evident demonstration of the passionate side of motoring, we found what we were looking for at Suzusho, a small Japanese low-volume car builder from Nagoya. It's great to see companies still dedicating their efforts in such driver oriented bespoke vehicles, just what the Supasse-V promises to be. Built on a custom aluminium chassis and powered by a 260 HP Mazda 2.3L turbo engine the little 2-seater will offer supercar performance, thanks to its 850 kg curb weight. The styling is vaguely reminiscent of the Yamaha OX99-11, and it even sports vertical rising doors. It kind of picks up where the Tommy Kaira ZZ-II left off, a car that promised so much but never actually made it to production.
Despite the Tokyo Motor Show being less international this year there is no doubt the Japanese manufacturers did a good job of keeping the flow of innovation going, leaving people with an overall positive feel of things to come.