I had a bit of a moment at the Tokyo Auto Salon. Someone whose opinion I respect didn't like it. It seems this first-timer's expectations far outdistanced the reality he experienced. He was expecting more hardcore parts. My big job at TAS is to remain on an even keel about the experience and not to become too jaded...
The 2004 Turbo Magazine Tokyo Auto Salon Tour was my seventh time there, and a few years back I caught myself nodding and walking past a row of bitchin' GT-Rs. I had to stop and recalibrate. I believe I wrote about this incident in a "Leading Edge" or TAS report. The dilemma now is, have I made the show out to be more than it is? No, the cars on display still outclass most U.S. show cars, there are still many ultra-high-performance machines on the Messe floor, and the hardcore tuning parts are present, but in lesser amounts.
To understand the tuning scene in Japan, look to the next layer-the OEMs. Automakers have scrapped many of their hard-hitting sports cars and the tuning market has suffered dearly for it. The Supra, RX-7, Skyline GT-R and Silvia S-15 are all in the grave. In fact, today more than ever, the United States and Japanese domestic markets are on a level playing field. While the land of the Rising Sun lost its supercars, we gained ground by finally getting a turbocharged Impreza and landing the Mitsubishi EVO VIII. In fact, in STi trim, we get the 300-hp, 2.5-liter EJ25; the JDMs have to make do with a 276-hp rated, 2.0-liter EJ20 engine. Ha!
The new-age performance car in America is akin to a boosted compact, like Mazdaspeed's Proteg or the Neon SRT-4, not a performance-conceived supercar. In Japan, the market is leaning toward the RVs, which are minivans and microvans like the Suzuki Step Wagon R.
The new Honda Odyssey is a hot commodity and there are similar offerings from the other manufacturers. Since I first saw Top Fuel's turbocharged Honda SM-X in 1999, I've lusted after one. The SM-X is a micro van powered by a stout B20 engine. The van looks wild with a slammed suspension and 18-inch wheels. Even its bench seating and column mounted gear selector were cool. The Scion xB is the closest thing to an SM-X available in the States and it has been a success in limited distribution so far. Nissan is expect to kick in with its super small Cube. Is the micro the next big thing over here? Could be, but there is one undeniable difference between the USA and JDM scenes.
The American tuning market will always be bigger than the JDM scene; we have a livelier used vehicle market, which allows enthusiasts to buy high performance cars that have seen the road in a substantial way for less money and revive them, making them more than before. Giving someone or something a second chance is a very American thing-just ask Seabiscuit.