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Cato: Top 10 highlights from the Tokyo Motor Show

Excitement and anticipation were in the air at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show, and with good reason. Japanese auto makers are profitable again, after years of struggling with economic woes and natural disasters.

Since the first show here was held almost 60 years ago in 1954, Tokyo has become famous for wild and fanciful concept cars that look into a possible future with wit and an almost child-like amusement at the possible, even if it might be ultimately unattainable.

This year we didn't find as many crazy concepts, but the Japanese car industry has plenty to be happy about in 2013.

Shuji Kajiyama/AP Photo

1. “Monozukuri”

This Japanese word translates into “making things.” This idea of making things, of how important it is to an island nation with no real natural resources, was on full display the night before the first of two press days. At an event in a sprawling ballroom in the Prince Park Tower hotel in Tokyo, the heads of each of the five largest Japanese car companies – Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi – one by one talked about how their industry collectively responded in 2011 to the impact of the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. They re-made damaged companies and communities out of tragedy.
Toru Hanai/Reuters

2. Carlos Ghosn is a rock star

The CEO of both Nissan Motor and Renault of France held court before and amongst 100 or so reporters, taking questions like a talk show host. One by one, he answered questions without notes, just a microphone in hand, stalking his interrogators in every corner of the room. Masterful. He is the most interesting car company executive in the world.
Toru Hanai/Reuters

3. Yamaha TRICITY concept

Commuters might just take to this three-wheel scooter. Yamaha says it will go on sale as a production vehicle in Japan next summer, but it’s unlikely to hit showrooms in Canada. Too bad. The TRICITY is a stable, lightweight city runabout with a small 125cc engine.
Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Photo

4. The Official Tokyo Motor Show Guidebook 2013

For 500 yen or about $5, you can have a comprehensive guide to the top models on display at the Tokyo Motor Show. When I say model, I mean models – not cars, trucks, buses, motorcycle or concept. We’re talking about the young ladies who decorate the various stands at the show – their name, model year, dimensions, biography and where to find them at each exhibit. Political correctness has not overwhelmed this show, not yet – and not at other auto shows in Asia either.
Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Photo

5. Akio Toyoda has earned his stripes

The head of Toyota Motor, son of a CEO and grandson of the company’s founder, Akio Toyoda was considered by many to be too young and under-equipped for the job when he took charge in 2010. At this show, he was everywhere and very much in charge – even when he made a surprise appearance at Honda’s stand.
Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Photo

6. Concept cars

I love the Honda S660 Concept, a teeny, tiny roadster that speaks to anyone who craves an entertaining ride in an open-top car. Nissan’s BladeGlider will never sell as a production model, but this electric-powered, triangular three-seater is daring and worthy of applause. Toyota’s FCV Concept speaks to the company plan to put hydrogen fuel cell cars into play as green transportation. And Mitsubishi’s three concepts – the GC-PHEV, the XR-PHEV and the AR – are all wild and hugely entertaining.
Toru Hanai/Reuters

7. The weather

If you’re going to visit Tokyo, think about a trip in November. The typhoon season in October is over. And the cool winter weather is still weeks away. The sun shone everyday in Tokyo. The sky was so clear, I could see Mt. Fuji in the distance from my hotel room.
Yuya Shino/Reuters

8. Car companies who have said so long to Canada

The Suzuki Hustler is a micro wagon that looks like a lot fun but also practical. The Suzuki X-Lander is curious hybrid with a 1.3-litre engine, yet Suzuki says it’s an efficient off-roader. Too bad Suzuki has pulled out of North America.

9. Brave foreigners

Jaguar showed the coupe version of its F-Type and Porsche Macan unveiled its new compact SUV – simultaneously, in essence – with the Los Angeles Auto Show. Mostly, though, foreign car companies – non-Japanese – don’t put much effort into Tokyo. The Detroit Three weren’t there at all.

10. Shibuya Crossing

This is where Tokyo comes alive, especially at night. New York has Times Square, London Picadilly Circus and Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing. The lights are bright, pedestrians by the thousands can be seen crisscrossing the intersection in search the most fashionable stores, trendy restaurants and night spots. If you’ve watched Lost in Translation or The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, you’ve seen it. Even a trip to the Tokyo Motor Show can’t be only about the cars, right?

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