Telematics, Robots Playing a Larger Role at Tokyo Motor Show

Companies are showcasing concept cars with 'transformable' bodies and automotive computers linked to smartphones, while showing off energy-efficient vehicles with electric, fuel-cell and hybrid engines.

Energy-saving electric cars with advanced green technology vie for attention as the Tokyo Motor Show opens Wednesday, with robots and computers becoming ever more part of the vehicles on display.

Companies are showcasing concept cars with "transformable" bodies and automotive computers linked to smartphones, while showing off energy-efficient vehicles with electric, fuel-cell and hybrid engines.

On display Wednesday will be the compact, fuel-efficient cars with which Japanese carmakers are hoping to shake up moribund domestic sales as the industry tries to pick itself up from March's quake-tsunami and the ongoing global economic downturn.

"The Japanese market is still important for European carmakers that are interested in environmental technologies such as electric and hybrid cars," said Tatsuya Mizuno, a director at Mizuno Credit Advisory in Tokyo and a vehicle-industry expert.

Toyota is looking to burnish its green credentials when it unveils the "Aqua", a compact hybrid car, and several concept vehicles including an advanced fuel cell car and a plug-in hybrid.

The "Aqua," to be sold under the name "Prius C" outside Japan, offers fuel efficiency of approximately 82 miles per gallon, making it one of the world's most fuel efficient cars.

The Japanese auto giant plans to launch the five-seater model in late December in Japan, before a gradual global rollout.

Toyota also is showing off a concept model with advanced telematics, which allow communications among vehicles and let drivers share traffic information online.

Automotive telematics enable drivers to access all sorts of digital content online, making a car like a moving personal computer.

Rival Nissan, which is part owned by Renault, is showing off several electric concept cars, including the Pivo 3, which can be remotely maneuvered with a smart phone.

Nissan already has installed automotive telematics in its Leaf electric car, which allow users to remotely control the air-conditioning system and check on the condition of the battery using a smartphone or personal computer.

This year's motor show will feature 176 exhibitors from a dozen countries, and the venue is almost twice as large as the 2009 edition of the biennial event.

Several major foreign manufacturers that skipped the last show are back, including Germany's Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche; French carmakers Renault and Peugeot-Citroen and Britain's Jaguar and Land Rover.

Manufacturers from outside the auto industry also are taking part in the show.

Among them is Kowa Tmsuk, a joint venture by electric optical machinery maker Kowa and robot developer Tmsuk, unveiling a concept electric vehicle called "Kobot," with a body the company says "transforms" via telematics linked to a smartphone.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011


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