At the 44th Tokyo Motor Show preview today, carmakers—mostly Japanese—rolled out their visions of future mobility. They are efficient, autonomous, connected, and, of course, completely chill. Here’s our top ten from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Honda Clarity Fuel Cell
Honda chose its home turf to unveil its new Clarity Fuel Cell, the third version of the company’s contribution to the industry’s ongoing attempt to bring hydrogen to the masses. I got a chance to drive the new Clarity earlier this week while visiting Honda’s R&D center north of Tokyo. It was a notably brief excursion, but it proved that the car is a bit more energetic and nimble than its most recent predecessor, and it also happens to be a beautiful car inside and out. But beauty don’t feed the bulldog—the long-awaited hydrogen economy still has a long way to go, at least in terms of the fueling infrastructure. But Honda is deeply invested in the fuel, and feels it’s part of our future for a variety of reasons, including scalability to larger vehicles, a multitude of sustainable hydrogen sourcing options, speed of refueling, and range. It takes three minutes to fuel the Clarity, compared to hours to recharge a battery-electric vehicle, and this model has a range of 434 miles—far greater than any battery EV. The new Clarity deploys a more advanced fuel cell stack that’s 33 percent smaller (allowing the engineers to fit it under the hood instead of between the seats) and also 60 percent more powerful. The car will be available for lease in Japan first, beginning in March, and then in Europe and the U.S. sometime after that.
Toyota has doubled-down on hydrogen recently, as well, with the introduction of its Mirai fuel cell vehicle this year and this striking, grown-up luxury take on the FCV from its upscale label, Lexus. The sleek concept is meant to both hint at the replacement for its flagship LS and also billboard the company’s fuel cell advances. The LF-FC’s system places the fuel-cell stack in the rear of the car, where most of the power is distributed, but two in-wheel electric motors up front will supplement the system, generating all-wheel-drive. The car will also have autonomous capability and gesture control linked to the navigation, entertainment, and communication systems. Though many in the U.S. harp on the apparent futility of hydrogen—and it does face significant headwinds—the commitment to it from both Toyota and Honda is not to be taken lightly, particularly when another production car rolls out at the same time a luxury sedan equipped with the tech.
Toyoda Gosei Flesby
This Japanese plastics, LED, and vehicle-safety tech firm unveiled a pleasantly counterintuitive concept at the Motor Show: the Flesby. The car is entirely shrouded in airbags, which deploy when a collision is detected. This is as much to protect the interior occupants as those on the outside—pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. The demo video showed a distracted Segway driver bouncing harmlessly off the door. For that alone we love this.
Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo: Connected Lounge
When you launch an idea aimed explicitly at “young, urban trendsetters”—that’s pretty much the kiss of death. Nevertheless, Mercedes rolled out this dramatically urban and trendy—a private lounge space that’s fully autonomous, and thus void of conventional seating arrangements. Instead of forward-facing seats, you have an oval sofa, essentially—though a small piece of that can swivel forward if manual driving is required. The vehicle also uses Deep Machine Learning to familiarize itself with its occupants on each journey and customize the experience for them, in terms of likes and preferences, presumably in terms of music, ambient lighting, etc. Wraparound LED screens inside, backlit seats, and three-dimensional holograms for maps, apps, and displays round out your next-gen party bus. It’s pretty much the most far-out thing at the auto show, so props to Mercedes for yanking that one from the home teams.
Subaru VIZIV Future Concept
Subaru’s contribution in Tokyo is a future “SUV-type” concept meant to embody the company’s enjoyment and peace-of-mind based goals. The gist is that it wants to encourage an active lifestyle among its customers, so this effort includes an energetic design treatment suggesting sturdiness on the outside and a robust orange and beige interior palette for a sporty feel. The car will—naturally—also offer autonomous capability developed from its EyeSight safety system to minimize driver stress and fatigue, and a downsized hybrid system to maximize efficiency while retaining power when needed. Being a Subie, it will of course inherit all-wheel-drive, as well.
Mazda revives its vaunted rotary engine with this striking sports-car concept. It’s the only manufacturer to ever mass-produce the unconventional but powerful and efficient engine, which generates power via a single triangular rotor. The company didn’t cough up much intel about the concept, but rotary-engine enthusiasts see it as a sign that Mazda still has a future in sports cars.
Nissan IDS Concept
Nissan’s vision for the future of autonomous driving is also electric, as evidenced by this artificial-intelligence-enhanced concept. Incorporating Nissan Intelligent Drive, the car acts to enhance situational awareness when the driver is in control, and compensate for human error when things go south through a variety of possible interventions—collision avoidance, threat detection, etc. If the driver wants to yield fully to the machine skills, the steering wheel will slide away and be replaced with a tablet, for entertainment, work, or communication.
Suzuki Mighty Deck
This attractive microcar from Suzuki drew us in with its bright yellow finish and minimalist design, but won us over with the cool retractable canvas roof and a weirdly appealing open rear deck. Kei cars—as the wee runabouts are known here in Japan—have little traction in the U.S., at least now. But every Smart car that gets sold brings hope that we can see more such fun ideas in our own cities.
This concept is purely a vision in mobility. It’s all about easy access, copious internal space, and accessibility for disabled passengers. When the car stops, its ride height decreases to ease wheelchair access, and its sliding doors open smartly to reveal a gaping entry. Daihatsu happens to be the oldest Japanese vehicle manufacturer, established in 1907. Leave it to them to create a vehicle that feels fresh and exciting even in pursuit of pure functionality.
Mitsubishi’s all-electric SUV—apparently intended for actual production within five years—will use two 94hp electric motors for all-wheel-drive, and a 45 kWh lithium-ion battery pack placed beneath the seats, to enhance driving performance. It’s got dramatic styling, with a high waistline and plenty of slices and cuts, as well as augmented reality inside, which will overlay information digitally on your windows as you gaze through them. Range is anticipated to be about 240 miles. Tesla Model X, you’ve got company!