This year's Tokyo Auto Salon was smaller and slimmer than years past, but just like the SEMA show, it's fair to expect that shows will shrink in this slow economy. What wasn't expected was that the dominant theme for the TAS show was eco-tuning.
Instead of crazy 1,000hp Supras and Skylines or drift S-chassis crowding the prominent JDM booths, the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight seemed to line the entire showroom floor. Mugen, Tom's, Yokohama, BBS, Toyo, Tommy Kaira and Power Enterprise were just a few of the companies that had modified hybrids on display. Even J's Racing, which has always focused on track-oriented products for Hondas, had a modified Insight in its booth! Is this a sign of the apocalypse?
I hardly think so. The push toward eco-tuning seems to be dictated by the tuners and not the consumers because, frankly, I have yet to see one photo of a modified hybrid stateside or in Japan. No one is buying a hybrid to modify it, but the Japanese tuners think that with the increased sales of these vehicles in Japan, a market will emerge-especially if they back it at such an early stage.
Whether that strategy works out or not remains to be seen, but I can't see much light at the end of the tunnel. From a general standpoint, how many people who buy a Honda Insight are thinking about modifying it? Even then, the small percentage who do will probably throw some wheels and a bodykit on it. There will be an even smaller crowd that will want to increase performance by adding Power Enterprise's new forced induction system. It just doesn't seem like a viable business decision.
Part of me thinks that a lot of JDM companies are jumping on the bandwagon to ensure that they don't tarnish their imagine. It's already looked down upon to own a modified "heavy polluting" car in Japan, and there's a very large push toward being eco-friendly (even more so than over here)-the end result is this year's TAS filled with modified eco-cars.
Sadly, that means less time and development will be spent on true enthusiast platforms like the new 370Z. But maybe I'm wrong, and while the TAS looks to be going green, behind the scenes tuners are still working feverishly at producing parts for high-performance vehicles.
The bright side to all of this is that while we used to rely very heavily on the JDM market to support our scene, it's time to back our very own USDM companies to produce the products and services that we need to forge ahead.