Japan's auto giant Mazda
Energy-saving electric cars with advanced green technology were vying for attention as the Tokyo Motor Show opened Wednesday, with robots and computers becoming ever more part
of the vehicles on display.
Companies are showcasing concept cars with "transformable" bodies and automotive computers linked to smart phones, while showing off energy-efficient vehicles with electric, fuel cell and hybrid engines.
On display are the compact, fuel-efficient cars with which Japanese carmakers hope to shake up moribund domestic sales as the sector tries to pick itself up from March's quake-tsunami and the ongoing global economic downturn.
"2011 has been an unprecedented year of challenges -- the March earthquake and tsunami, the highly uncompetitive yen, the flooding in Thailand (which forced production shutdowns for Japanese automakers)," said Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn.
"The Tokyo Motor Show this year, more than any previous year, demonstrates the resilience and tenacity of Japan and the strength of its people."
Japan's second-largest automaker Nissan, which is part-owned by France's Renault, is showing off several electric concept cars, including the Pivo 3, which can be remotely manoeuvred with a smartphone.
Nissan has already installed automotive telematics in its Leaf electric car, letting drivers remotely control the air-conditioning system and check on the car's battery using a smart phone or personal computer.
Rival Honda, which has long been one of the main players in motor sports, showed off a sports bike and small concept car called the EV-Ster, both with electric engines.
Honda President Takanobu Ito said the automaker planned to install large solar panels at its factories to make its entire operation free of carbon emissions -- from its plants to the products they churn out -- as it looked to "a society of the future where no environmental stress is imposed."
Toyota is also looking to burnish its green credentials when it unveils the "Aqua", a compact hybrid car, and several concept vehicles including an advanced fuel cell car.
The Aqua, to be sold under the name Prius C outside Japan, is being touted as the world's most fuel-efficient car at 35 kilometres per litre of gasoline (82 miles per gallon), beating Toyota's existing Prius model at 32.6 kilometres per litre.
The Japanese auto giant plans to launch the five-seater model in late December in Japan, before a gradual global roll-out.
"The Japanese market is still important for European carmakers that are interested in environmental technologies such as electric and hybrid cars," said Tatsuya Mizuno, a director at Mizuno Credit Advisory in Tokyo and a vehicle industry expert.
This year's motor show will feature 179 exhibitors from a dozen countries and the venue is almost twice as large as the 2009 edition of the biennial event.
Several major foreign manufacturers who skipped the last show are back, including Germany's Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche; French carmakers Renault and Peugeot-Citroen and Britain's Jaguar and Land Rover.
Manufacturers from outside the auto industry are also taking part in the show.
Among them is Kowa Tmsuk, a joint venture by electric optical machinery maker Kowa and robot developer Tmsuk, unveiling a concept electric vehicle called "Kobot", with a body the company says "transforms" via telematics linked to a smart phone.