Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Tokyo show focuses on concept cars

COOL Toyota, along with Honda and Nissan, are trying to change the image of cars by emphasizing their Zen-like qualities and seeking inspiration from manga literature

AP , TOKYO

Models steer Toyota Motor Corp's concept car I-Real during an event prior to the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Toyota is getting philosophical and exploring its Japanese roots at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens later this month.

A single-seat vehicle packed with sensors and a car designed to blend harmoniously with nature are among the futuristic-looking "concept," or experimental, models Toyota Motor Corp is readying for the biannual exhibition opening to the public on Oct. 27. Reporters got a sneak peek of several models that will be on display.

The show, which draws automakers from around the world, tends to have more whimsical offerings than the more practical products on display at other shows.

Toyota general manager Tetsuya Kaida said the Japanese automaker wanted to show how it was different from its US and European rivals and found inspiration from Japan's ancient arts that emphasize Zen-like spirituality.

"This is about the Way of the Car, much like tea ceremony and flower arrangement," he said at a recent preview.

Kaida said cars are starting to be seen by some as a nuisance, causing pollution, traffic accidents, noise and global warming.

Instead, cars must become gentler and more friendly, offering value to people's minds and sensibilities, he said.

To tackle such challenges, the automaker should fall back on its Japanese culture, which emphasizes a subdued aesthetic, including harmony with nature, Kaida said.

A toylike green-and-beige model called Rin, which means "upright" and "graceful," has a transparent floor, huge windows and doors that slide open like Japanese shoji screens so its interior appears to blend with its surroundings for what Toyota called a soothing ride. Its beige seating enhances passengers' skin tones, and the seats are designed to improve posture, Toyota said.

"This car is about a beautiful and healthy mind,'' says Satoru Taniguchi, who oversees Rin, a plug-in gas-electric hybrid.

The I-Real, another model, is Japanese in a different way, boasting the nation's robotics technology.

It looks like a roofless plush armchair that scoots about on wheels, with buttons and controls on the arms. It changes positions, straightening up to move slowly among pedestrians or laying back to travel faster at up to 30kph.

Another offbeat model expected to be on display was a plug-in hybrid sport-utility vehicle (SUV), "Hi-CT," which stands for "hi ride city truck," that resembled a bulky cube, and Toyota said it was inspired by the form of a gorilla.

Chiharu Tamura, a Toyota manager, said that was an effort at redefining "Japanese cool" to appeal to youngsters.

Ironically, Europeans did some of the SUV's design.

Tamura said that preconceptions about cars being slinky and symmetrical were obsolete.

"This is a rugged kind of cool," he said. "It's different from other cars."

In addition to Toyota's Rin, Honda's Puyo and Nissan's Pivo 2 seem to be inspired more by the iPod, futuristic space capsules and manga publications.

Honda Motor Co says its white bubble-shaped rubbery-surfaced Puyo, equipped with a panoramic window, is supposed to be a pet. The cabin part of Puyo, a fuel-cell vehicle, rotates so it never has to go into reverse.

Honda compared the aesthetics of Puyo, whose name is based on the Japanese word that describes floating or soft objects, to cute things like a bunny and balloon.

The cabin of Nissan's Pivo 2, an electric vehicle, can rotate on its wheel base so that it can face the opposite direction. The vehicle's tires can also turn 90 degress, allowing it to move sideways into tight spaces.

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