The 44th annual Tokyo Motor Show kicked off for the general public today, but Tech in Asia was on site for a press preview yesterday to scope out some of the domestic automakers’ funky, futuristic concept vehicles. Sure, the supercars were fun – but this list will look at innovation beyond pure horsepower and sharp body angles.
Here are our five favorites, in no particular order:
A power generator on wheels
Hydrogen and electric-powered cars were a centerpiece of each manufacturer’s exhibition area. Toyota turned its hybrid Prius sedan into a household name across the globe, but the world’s largest automaker is also bullish on hydrogen fuel cell technology. It unveiled the hydrogen-powered Mirai last year. More than a mere concept, the Mirai is already being sold to the public.
Of course, the latest Mirai was on display at Toyota’s exhibition space – but its FCV Plus concept was the real head-turner. Several members of the Japanese press who were photographing the concept at the same time as me blurted out exactly what I was thinking: it looks kinda like a submarine.
FCV Plus, like Mirai, is powered by hydrogen fuel cells. But Toyota has bigger ambitions for the concept than being a clean, green mode of transportation – the company wants it to become a power generator on wheels. From the vehicle’s press release:
Clean generation of hydrogen from a wide range of primary energy sources will make local, self-sufficient power generation a global reality, and fuel cell vehicles will take on a new role as power sources within their communities. Toyota’s aim is to add an all-new sense of purpose to the automobile by turning fuel cell vehicles from eco-cars into energy-cars.
Toyota further states that the FCV Plus’ fuel cell stack can be used as a standalone electricity-generating device. The company envisions a future where such vehicles plug into the local infrastructure when not in use to help generate power for entire communities. It might sound crazy, but in developing countries with frequent power outages, Toyota’s concept could make life a lot easier.
OK, so it’s technically also a Toyota, but the Lexus LF-FC concept was – at least in my opinion – the most attractive hydrogen vehicle on display at Tokyo Motor Show. The grille and headlights were a bit overblown (and don’t even get me started on the chromed-out chassis display), but come on, it’s a Lexus concept.
Apart from the aggressive styling and hydrogen power, the LF-FC features a “human-machine interface” that replaces dashboard panels or steering wheel buttons with hand-gesture recognition.
“A small holographic image on the center console indicates where the system can interpret your hand gestures to control the audio system and ventilation,” says a Lexus release.
The sedan’s hydrogen tanks are arranged in a T-formation to promote optimal weight distribution. The hydrogen tanks directly engage the LF-FCs rear wheels, but also provide power for two in-wheel motors at the front, making it all-wheel-drive. An advanced drive system can distribute torque independently between the front and rear wheels depending on driving conditions.
It should come as no surprise that Lexus equipped their concept with autonomous driving technologies. If Tesla is the cool kid on the block for premium electric, the Lexus LF-FC could pave the way for luxury hydrogen – if it ever becomes a reality.
Move over, VW Bus
While the oddly-named Air Triser doesn’t have self-driving capabilities, the interior design would be perfect for a future where we’re all chauffeured around by our cars. Its three rows of seating fold down and slide across the floor to form, essentially, a big U-shaped couch. An entertainment system built into the wall and ceiling of the vehicle’s spacious cabin can play music and display photo and video.
Like a modern spin on the vintage Volkswagen Bus, Suzuki’s Air Triser would be the ultimate camping or festival vehicle – and with minimal impact on the environment.
One of the strangest concepts at this year’s event was Honda’s two-passenger Wander Stand. Despite the name, the electric vehicle has seating (and seatbelts) for a pair of riders, albeit at an increased height over your standard car. The large windshield features an end-to-end heads-up display (HUD) that can show navigation directions, infotainment, and alert a passenger when they receive a text or email. It’s designed to operate autonomously, so hopefully the apparently smartphone-connected alerts are disabled when in “manual” mode.
Wander Stand also features a center-mounted joystick rather than a steering wheel – but Honda says that it will be mostly operated by voice commands. The company hopes to offer the vehicle as a mobility assistant around tourist areas, and the higher seating angle will put passengers at a height similar to if they were walking. An omnidirectional drive system will ensure the vehicle doesn’t get stuck in Tokyo’s narrow back alleys.
This vehicular monstrosity is the Swiss army knife of the truck world.Mitsubishi Fuso’s Super Great V Spider, based on the Super Great V commercial truck platform, features four large hydraulic arms equipped with claws and drills. It makes the truck from Duel look cute and cuddly.
The Spider might not be practical on a real-world construction site, but it’s a great way to show off the truck’s carrying capacity and potential applications apart from long-haul deliveries.