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Cato: What was missing in Tokyo? The Detroit auto makers

Honda Motor Co. President Takanobu Ito, right, and Senior Managing Officer Sho Minekawa pose for photographers with a sub-compact SUV hybrid model of Honda Vezel at the media preview for the Tokyo Motor Show at Tokyo Big Sight convention hall in Tokyo, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. The biannual exhibition of vehicles in Japan runs for the public from Saturday, Nov. 23 through Dec. 1. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

Among the 76 global product introductions at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show, not a single one involved a model from the Detroit Three auto makers. Not one. General Motors, Ford Motor and the Chrysler Group all stayed away and with good reason: a wide range of barriers to entry have kept them out of Japan in any significant way for decades and decades.

It would, in fact, be interesting to see what real competition from Detroit might do to spur on the Japanese auto industry. Among the world's mainstream brands, however, only Volkswagen had a significant presence at the Tokyo show, though I should mention that Korea's Hyundai also was there.

That left Tokyo mostly to the Japanese car companies, although Porsche did in essence simultaneously introduce with the Los Angeles auto show its upcoming Macan compact SUV to the world. For every Macan from Germany, however, there were about 75 other models strictly from Japan.

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The parochial nature of the Tokyo show has in fact reduced it to more a regional auto show, rather than a global colossus. Auto shows in Beijing, Detroit, Frankfurt, Paris and Geneva – and perhaps even Los Angeles – outshine Tokyo in terms of the breath of the car companies on hand.

That said, the Japanese car companies did a spectacular job of loading up their home country auto show with a dazzling array of new models and concepts. Toyota Motor, for instance, showed a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car that will go on sale in limited numbers by 2015. With a range of 500 km and capable of being refuelled in three minutes, the FCV Concept is hardly mainstream, but it does suggest a lot about Toyota's thinking.

Nissan, meanwhile, showed the very interesting BladeGlider concept, a three-seat electric sports car shaped like a triangle. Nissan product chief Andy Palmer suggested the concept appeal to younger drivers looking for something interesting and unconventional. The single front seat, he said, gives the driver the feeling of being behind the wheel of a Formula One race car. Note that Nissan's Infiniti brand is the main co-sponsor of the Infiniti Red Bull race team led by F1 champion Sebastian Vettel.

At Honda, the S660 sports car concept paid tribute to 360 sports car from the 1962 Tokyo show. The 360, by the way, was on the Honda stand and still looks terrific more than 50 years later. Honda is not likely to build a production version of the S660, but should for image reasons alone.

Honda will, on the other hand, sell the Vezel, a small SUV that is the production version of the Urban Compact Crossover Honda showed in January at the Detroit auto show. The Vezel will go on sale in Japan in December. It will come to Canadian showrooms later next year, said Honda Canada's Maki Inoue, who also pointed out that the Canadian version may have a different name.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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