Beyond the motor

In late October 2017, two typhoons swept across Japan and drenched the country’s southern prefectures. The buffeting winds and torrential rain of the second storm – Typhoon Saola – hit Tokyo on the 28th of the month, just in time for the 2017 edition of the bi-annual Tokyo Motor Show (TMS) held at the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre.

And yet, even the inclement weather did not dampen the Show’s global appeal. In fact, the 45th TMS drew a staggering crowd of 771,200 visitors across its 10-day run, all eager to view the 380 vehicles displayed by a collective 153 exhibitors from around the world. All 15 brands of Japan’s 14 automobile manufacturers were out in force, as well as 19 brands from 13 foreign manufacturers – including the first ever participation from Swedish truck brand, Scania.

Organisers proclaimed the event a success – even though attendance was down five per cent on the 2015 Show – attributing much of the victory to this year’s all-inclusive theme, ‘Beyond the Motor’. As the name suggests, the Tokyo Motor Show has long focused on the motorised section of the automotive market and has a well-earned reputation for presenting some of the most unique and ambitious concepts and designs for cars, motorbikes and commercial vehicles.

In 2017, however, the theme aimed to tackle transport from a more holistic perspective – for example by adding the Tokyo Connected Lab to the line-up, a three-part initiative featuring an interactive 360° visual projection space called The Future, a virtual-reality exhibit dubbed The Maze and The Meetup, a series of talks on the future of a mobility-defined society.

As such, the Tokyo Connected Lab painted an enticing vision of a city where people and transport solutions are inextricably linked – a theme exhibitors appreciatively picked up on the show stands, too. Toyota, for example, launched the autonomous ‘love i’ car, which is allegedly able to read emotions and change the driver’s feelings by adjusting the atmosphere within the cabin (see breakout box). Toyota also showcased the ‘Flesby II’, featuring an external ‘e-rubber’ material that inflates to cushion impact.

Other manufacturers took a different approach to looking beyond the motor, instead emphasising the electric vehicle boom and removing the engine entirely. From Honda’s new electric sportscar to the Vision One electric truck presented Mitsubishi’s new in-house electric brand, E-Fuso, and Isuzu’s unique ‘honeycomb’ Design Concept FD-S, the trucking market proved especially proactive in the electric mobility space.

Looking even further ‘beyond the motor’, TMS also made space for a commercial vehicle bodies section – an exhibit of Japan’s major trailer manufacturers sequestered to an outdoor space privy to the typhoon’s effects. A single car carrier and a newly launched refuse compacter rigid truck from Hyogo-based OEM, Kyokuto, held space beside fellow Hyogo trailer builder ShinMaywa Industries’ brightly-painted tipper, which stood out against a grey sky. However, the majority of trailers on display were variants of wingliner-style vans, clearly identifying the country’s leading transport task in refrigerated and general freight.
As much of the Japanese Government’s investment in infrastructure is tied up in overseas projects*, demand for trailing equipment is predominantly in the last mile and grocery delivery sector. According to a spokesperson for Kanagawa-based wingliner specialist, Pabco, the preference of using a wingliner over curtain-sided or van model trailers is in the speed and ease of delivery – instead of unbuckling a curtain or being restricted to a rear door opening, a wingliner can reveal the whole side of a trailer at the press of a button in fewer than 30 seconds. While this does require high access for the depots’ roofs, the typical grocery distribution centre in Japan has “space to spare”, said the spokesperson.

One of the newest developments in the wingliner space came from Sizouka-based body builder Yamada Body, which launched the new ‘Z-Flap 9:1’ at the event. According to the OEM, the Z-Flap 9:1 is the latest iteration of its ‘inversion roof wingliner’, which retracts the entire side wall and folds in three places into the roof, leaving a clear space at the top of the trailer for loading cargo with an overhead crane or on uneven terrain. The Z-Flap joins the company’s range of wingliners that each boast a unique opening mechanism.
Meanwhile, local juggernaut Nippon Fruehauf – which first exhibited at the 12th TMS back in 1965 – shared a more standard wing-roof design, with the side wall and roof section fixed at a 90° angle that raises as a whole piece, with a lower section that unclasps with two manual latches. In comparison to the Z-Flap style, the wing-roof raises slightly faster, yet the sidewall obstructs the top of the trailer so cargo can only be loaded from the side. The Nippon Fruehauf wingliner on display was the company’s ‘Next Generation’ model, using an oil-free wing that the company said helps reduce maintenance efficiency.

Despite the Show’s bold motto and Japan’s strong reputation for automotive technology, the trailing equipment market once again took a back seat at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, though – not least signified by the weather-exposed outside location. Though the TMS promised to look ‘beyond the motor’, it seems the gaze of technology advancements hasn’t quite reached the trailer industry.

*Source: Japan Bank for International Cooperation

Fast Fact
The first All-Japan Motor Show was held on 20 April 1954 at Hibiya Park in Tokyo, hosting 254 Japanese companies exhibiting a total of 267 motor vehicles, including 17 passenger cars. The majority of the exhibits were trucks and motorcycles, drawing a crowd of 547,000 visitors over the 10-day event.

Fast Fact
According to Toyota, the ‘love i’ concept car uses biometric sensors throughout the car to detect emotions and analyse them using Artificial Intelligence (AI). “Let’s say, for example, that you’re feeling sad,” the company explained. “The AI will analyse your emotion, make a recommendation and if necessary, take over and drive you safely to your destination.”

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