The future of the automobile may depend on consumers forsaking the conventional idea of a “car” that can carry up to seven. The cars of the future may be more along the lines of “personal mobility vehicles,” with a capacity of one, two or three people. And they may come with fewer than four wheels. Think tricycles. Cars may still be gasoline-powered, but it’s just as – or even more – likely they will be powered by diesel, compressed natural gas, electricity or hydrogen fuel cell…or a combination of fuels.
These are the big takeaways from the 43rd edition of the Tokyo Motor Show, which ended last Sunday. Tokyo is always a big deal in the automotive world, if only because Japan is home to 15 auto manufacturers, six of which are among the world’s top 15.
The three-wheeler is an idea whose time may have come, at least in Japan. Toyota’s FV2 Concept has generated huge buzz with its one seat and its tricycle wheel configuration. It steers by leaning and has exterior panels that change based on the driver’s mood. Toyota also showed off the i-Road one-seater electric that it says will do 28 mph with a 30-mile range. It has two wheels in front and one in back.
The Nissan BladeGlider concept evokes a fighter jet with a wedge-shaped narrow front dual-wheel track and doors that swing up. According to CNET, the electric vehicle “was the sickest set of wheels on the floor…” Nissan’s CEO hinted the BladeGlider may roll into production in the near future.
Honda and Hyundai got major props at the L.A. Auto Show for fuel cell concepts. Now Toyota is jumping in, too, with the FCV concept that the automaker says will go into production in 2015 for wide distribution. Daihatsu’s FC-DECK is a truck concept that runs on a fuel cell and looks more like a Lego than a truck. Demand will be limited without more U.S. hydrogen fueling stations.
Most manufacturers still are staking their green futures on electrics, hybrids and other fuel-sipping petroleum-based technologies.
For example, Volkswagen’s Twin-Up! is a diesel-electric hybrid projected to get 200 mpg. Mazda3’s SKYACTIV-CNG concept uses both gasoline and compressed natural gas. Subaru attracted major attention for its Viziv plug-in hybrid, 1.6-liter turbo-diesel with three electric motors. Honda is betting its Vezel concept hybrid SUV, built on the Fit platform, will be as successful as the original Fit. Engine details are skimpy but Honda promises a Sport Hybrid i-DCD as well as a 1.5-liter gas engine. The Vezel is at least a year away from the U.S. market
For the current gasoline-powered universe, Subaru showed off the Cross Sport Design concept. Motortrend.com enthused, “What Subaru has done is take the obnoxiously fun-to-drive BRZ and sexed it up with increased cargo room and a sleeker profile. Throw in the affordability factor of the BRZ and that sound you hear is our saliva puddling on the floor” There was more salivating over Nissan’s IDx Freeflow and IDx Nismo concepts, reminiscent of the legendary Datsun 510. Nissan isn’t saying if they will resemble the 510 in the way they drive – or if they’ll ever come to market.
There’s still plenty of speed on four wheels in Tokyo in the form of the Lexus LF-NX Turbo concept – the first turbo for Lexus. Nissan’s latest GT-R Nismo sizzles with 600 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. It’s street-legal, but just barely and looks wicked inside and out. Meanwhile, Porsche unveiled its Panamera Turbo S with a longer wheelbase, more space and luxury. Speed? It tops out at 192 mph with a 570-hp engine.
It’s only fitting to finish with Mercedes-Benz’s SLS AMG GT “Final Edition,” allegedly the last Benz gullwing supercar (6.3-liter V-8, 583 hp, zero-60 mph in 3.6 seconds). It’s supposed to be replaced with a twin-turbocharged GT, but it’s being whispered in Tokyo that “final” might not mean “forever.” Stay tuned.