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2015-10-09 08:08

FRUGAL FUTURE? The Toyota Mirai, a four-door hydrogen fuel-cell car, has scored the zero-emissions record for distance covered on a tank of H2. Image: Toyota


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Tokyo, Japan - The 2015 Tokyo auto show (October 30) is set to be packed with futuristic eye-catching vehicles that drive themselves, offer online information in dazzling ways and are so green they are zero-emissions.

Taking part with their latest offerings are 160 companies, including automakers, suppliers and motorcycle manufacturers from around the world, but the biggest stars of the Tokyo show are usually the Japanese.

There will be 42 "world premiere" vehicles, being unveiled for the first time.

Fuel-cell rivalry

Honda is gearing to challenge Toyota's Mirai fuel-cell vehicle, which is already on sale, with its own fuel cell car, whose name is set to be announced at the show.

It's promised for the Japanese market by the end of March 2016, and set for the US market after that.

Fuel cells are hot lately because they have zero emissions, running on the energy created when hydrogen stored in a fuel tank combines with oxygen in the air and only spits out water.

It's a relatively expensive technology. The Mirai went on sale in the US this month for $57 500 and Toyota plans to sell more than 3000 Mirai cars in the US by the end of 2017. Mirai, which means "future," went on sale in Japan in December for 6.7 million yen ($56 000).

The future is here. #toyotamirai

A photo posted by Atkinson Toyota South Dallas (@atkinsontoyotadallas) on

In both places, it qualifies for green rebates. Toyota has received 1500 orders for the Mirai in Japan. The key feature of the new Honda fuel cell is that the fuel stack is smaller and can fit under the hood where the gas engine usually is, instead of in the bottom, under the seats.

This allows more cabin room, making Honda's fuel cell the first model, planned for commercial production, to seat three people in the back. It travels more than 700km on a full tank, beating Mirai's 500km.

Toyota is also planning to show a revamped fuel cell, although that's a concept model without too many details.

Screens everywhere

The Japanese auto industry is worried how young people here are falling out of love with the car, and appear to be more interested in cellphones, literally spending most of their money on mobile services. Nissan's Teatro for Dayz concept car is designed with that challenge in mind.

The entire inside of the car works like a computer screen, where passengers, even drivers, thanks to self-driving technology, can engage in social media, check email and surf the Internet.

Executive design director Satoshi Tai says car design usually accentuates power, quality and speed. These values do not resonate with younger Japanese.

Tai said: "If anything, such car traits just call to mind old-fashioned technology that bears little relevance to their lives."

Tiny robot

Toyota is showing a simplified and smaller version of the Kirobo robot, a talking humanoid designed by Tomotaka Takahashi, which went into space and returned in 2014. Kirobo Mini, at 10cm when seated, fits on a person's palm.

It can't do any heavy lifting, but it's designed to be a mascot-like companion, raising both its arms in a greeting when it detects an approaching smiling face. Toyota has no immediate sales plans but hopes adding a cute robot will make driving more fun.

It only speaks Japanese.

Toyota cooperated on the Kirobo space project, working mainly on its voice recognition capabilities, along with the University of Tokyo, JAXA or Japan's equivalent of NASA and other robotics experts.

Toyota has shown robots in the past, including one that plays the trumpet, another that plays the violin, as well as a robot that works as a guide in a Toyota showroom. Honda's famous walking talking humanoid Asimo is not set to be a major star at its booth in 2015.

Mechanical beauty

Toyota is showing the fantastic toy-like Kikai, which means "machine" in Japanese. The three-seater concept model that shows the parts of a car usually hidden from view, such as the fuel tank, exhaust pipes and the swiftly moving road underneath.

Toyota engineers say the model, with no immediate plans for commercial production, emphasizes the idea of craftsmanship, simplicity and movement in a machine. "Monozukuri," or the concept of "making things," has long been idealized in Japan.

Kikai looks like a cartoonish hodgepodge of parts, defying typical ideas of what a car should look like. Toyota said" "By removing the concealment of sheet metal, the concept expresses the intricate beauty of functional machines and reminds us of the pleasure of tactile contact with the material world."


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