The future looks overwhelmingly electric, extremely intelligent and very sleek if this week's Tokyo Motor Show is anything to go by. Featuring the hottest concept cars, self-balancing motorbikes and a host of high-tech innovations that will make Bladerunner fans go weak at the knees, the show gives Japan's auto makers a chance to showcase their vision of what lies ahead.
The Tokyo Motor Show has been forced to reinvent itself as a venue for Japan's auto makers to tout the latest technologies, as rival auto shows in China garner ever more of the spotlight.
A motorsports makeover: Nissan Leaf NISMO Concept
Nissan is souping up the Leaf, which already leads the world in EV sales. After undergoing a total redesign last month to lengthen its driving range and update its driver-assistance features, it's getting a makeover from Nissan's motorsports division, NISMO. That includes a more aerodynamic body shape, tighter suspension, and red trim both inside and out. If a sexed-up Leaf isn't outrageous enough, NISMO gave the same treatment to the Serena minivan.
Eyes on the road: Subaru Viziv Performance Concept
Subaru's centrepiece is this aggressive-looking sports sedan. There's liberal use of LED, including for the recessed headlamps. Viziv stands for vision for innovation, and another key visual feature of this prototype is the gaping air intake grilles. Inside, the car carries a host of semi-autonomous driving features that mark the evolution of the company's EyeSight twin-camera driver-assist technology. Under the hood is Subaru's trademark boxer engine.
AI that follows you: Toyota Concept-i Series
Hydrogen-pioneer Toyota's headliner at this year's show runs on batteries. The centrepiece of the Concept-i trio actually debuted in Las Vegas at the CES tech show in January, but it's joined in Tokyo by the two-seater RIDE runabout and the Segway-like WALK. Artificial intelligence is at the heart of Toyota's vision for the future of mobility, too – but the twist this time is that your personal AI Agent will actually follow you automatically between all three vehicles.
It's alive: Yamaha MOTOROiD
Yamaha says this AI-equipped concept bike "is capable of recognizing its owner and interacting like a living creature." The MOTOROiD runs on an electric motor located in the rear wheel and self-balancing technology, which means goodbye kickstand. If you only had a momentary glimpse, you could be excused for not knowing which end is the front.
The miracle motor: Mazda Kai Concept
This compact hatchback is a look into Mazda's much nearer future. And ironically for a show themed "Beyond the Motor," it has an internal combustion engine. But this is no ordinary engine: it's the company's recently announced sparkless gasoline SKYACTIV-X. Using compression ignition like a diesel car, it offers far superior fuel economy but also stepped-up torque. It's a kind of holy grail of engine technology, which eluded industry giants including General Motors and Daimler for decades.
A mobile meeting room: Nissan IMx
The initials stand for Intelligent Mobility crossover. Still perplexed? Intelligent Mobility is Nissan's catchall phrase for its future technologies in autonomous driving, electrification and cloud connectivity. This car makes a statement with a windshield that sweeps all the way to the rear hatch and doors that open out like a cabinet, with no central pillar. The cabin has also been reinvented for the autonomous era, with a retractable steering wheel and swivelling seats to create a mobile meeting room.
A sign of the times: Daihatsu DN ProCargo
Getting in and out will be a cinch for Japan's rapidly aging population. Daihatsu's concept has a low, fully flat floor, extremely large doors at the side and back, and wide-open interior. Famous for its quirky concepts, this mini-car specialist and wholly owned Toyota subsidiary is getting behind batteries for this business-geared microvan.
Two's company: Honda Sports EV Concept
You'll never drive alone again. Honda's headlining sports car features an AI-powered concierge, a big theme at this year's show. The compact coupe is built on the same EV-specific platform that debuted with the Urban EV Concept at the Frankfurt auto show last month. The auto maker reiterated recently that hydrogen fuel cells remain the ultimate zero-emissions vehicle technology, but all its concepts at this year's show are battery powered.
Man's best friend: Honda Riding Assist-e
Honda's latest version of its own motorcycle-as-pet has a face reminiscent of a robotic terrier. This is the battery-electric evolution of a gasoline-powered model that debuted at CES and took home three awards. Both bikes are actually cousins of Honda's ASIMO humanoid robot, using the same gyroscope-free self-balancing technology.
Third time's a charm: Yamaha Cross Hub Concept
The motorcycle maker is taking another stab at a passenger car prototype, following the two-seat Sports Ride Concept shown at the last Tokyo show in 2015 and tiny two-seat MOTIV.e electric commuter in 2013. Like the sports car, the Cross Hub is powertrain agnostic (it doesn't actually have one), but this time it has space for four people, and it transitions seamlessly into Yamaha's two-wheeler business: It can fit two dirt bikes on a mini flatbed in the back.
The back-seat driver: Mitsubishi Motors e-Evolution Concept
This all-electric crossover SUV is also an AI Personal Assistant, which learns driver habits and gives spoken advice on what needs improvement, taking backseat driving to a whole new dimension. The prototype has three motors running a four-wheel drive system.
Cars with soul: Mazda Vision Coupe
Hiroshima-based Mazda has won kudos for its KODO – or "Soul of Motion" – design language. Even Toyota president Akio Toyoda professes to being a fan. Now Mazda is broadening the vocabulary for a new generation of cars, and its first incarnation takes the form of a sleek, silver coupe. The design exudes a sense of speed inside and out, according to the company – so it's Zoom-Zoom even when standing still.
Home sweet home: Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride Concept
This is the ultimate living room on wheels. In autonomous driving mode, the seats of this fuel cell-powered reimagining of the luxury saloon swivel to the centre and the windows double as infotainment screens. It's a veritable home away from home. To maximize space, engineers have pushed the wheels out to the extreme corners and used in-wheel motors to increase space on the chassis for a cabin that fits six in three rows.
Lasers for headlamps: Lexus LS+ Concept
Toyota's luxury arm has a futuristic vision for its flagship LS sedan as the centrepiece of its motor show offering. The LS+ keeps the brand's signature spindle grille, but flanked by laser-lit headlamps. Side mirrors have been replaced by tiny cameras. Cutting-edge AI is also featured in the car, although its hybrid powertrain is very much based in the here and now.
No blind spots here: Suzuki e-Survivor
This battery-electric dune buggy is Suzuki's vision for what we'll be driving in the year 2117. A liberal use of glass (transparent doors will apparently be de rigeur in the future), wheels with independent power which light up in a rainbow of colours, and no roof. The presence of a steering wheel suggests carbon-based life forms will still be allowed to drive.