Subaru unveiled a chunky, jacked-up sports coupé as a celebration of its rallying heritage
The common thought is that Japanese car makers have been slow to develop and launch electric cars and they lag behind car makers in China and Europe in that regard.
There’s truth in that, although it’s not like the Japanese industry has been pumping out purely internal combustion engines while the rest of the world prepares to go electric. Japan’s development of hybrids is based on not only the belief that they have excellent real-world efficiency and run on electric power for a significant portion of their running anyway but also of Japan’s need to greatly consider whole-life emissions of cars due to having to import almost all of its energy.
The returning Tokyo motor show, reborn as the Japan Mobility Show, was the Japanese car industry’s way of showing that it can make electric cars with the best of them. Every major Japanese car maker put electric vehicles at the centre of their show stands but thankfully they were not all homogenised family crossover blobs like so many of the first wave of European EVs and they showed real creativity and variety in shape, size and car type, like Japan has always done so well.
Not only was this the show of the rise of the Japanese electric car but also the show of the returning Japanese sports car.
Any one of a reborn Mazda MX-5, Nissan GT-R or Toyota MR2 would have been enough to steal the show at any other major motor show but that all three were unveiled on the same morning at the same place gave the Japan Mobility Show a real blockbuster feel.
The Mazda Iconic SP concept was a real stunner, elegantly styled and beautifully proportioned. Mazda’s executives said it showed they had all the tools and know-how at their disposal to allow the MX-5 to live on in the electrified era as a rotary range-extended electric model should they wish to do so, and why wouldn’t they?
Be in no doubt either that it previews a new MX-5 rather than an RX sports car: Mazda’s two most senior executives pointedly referenced a future MX-5 in the context of the concept, it was on a show stand celebrating the MX-5 that featured only MX-5s old and new and no other models, Mazda announced a stay of execution for the current MX-5 alongside the new concept to buy more time for the new car’s creation, and even for a concept it has the cut lines ready to be made into a convertible. The rotary powertrain is a coincidental link to the RX, a car Mazda has already tried to revive in recent years with the RX Vision concept, a very different proposal to the small, lithe Iconic SP.
The future GT-R, previewed by the Nissan Hyper Force, lacked any of the grace of the Mazda, but then when was it ever subtle? If its design wasn’t shocking enough, its 1300bhp-plus power output was. It was one of five Nissan ‘Hyper’ concepts at the show as Nissan revealed a family of next-generation EVs, the most relevant of which was a small SUV called Hyper Punk that offered a look at the next Nissan Juke.
Toyota was less forthcoming with information on the FT-Se concept car, although it almost didn’t need to, such was the obvious look at a future ‘mid-engined’ electric car inspired by the MR2 that you could fill in many of the blanks yourself. It looked so well finished and resolved that it could head straight into production. If the bZ4X had us worried about how the ‘old’ Toyota might return to making uninspiring cars by the numbers in the electric era, the FT-Se suggested otherwise.
The FT-Se didn’t look to have too much in common with a brace of new Lexus models, the LF-ZC saloon and LF-ZL large crossover, but underneath they shared a new common architecture that revolutionises the manufacturing process and will allow such wildly different models to be spun off the same underpinnings. The LF-ZC in particular showed a rarely seen elegance to a Lexus model that bodes well for its own electric future.
If three new Japanese sports cars weren’t enough, then a famous old sports coupé was revived, too. The Honda Prelude made a comeback at the show, a little anonymous looking but smart enough. It certainly looked more resolved than the Subaru Sport Mobility Concept, a raised sports coupé that appeared a little phoned in. Look up to the roof of the Subaru stand and you’d have seen the firm's real talking point: a flying car concept. Yes, one of those.
The electric cars on Mercedes' small stand looked a bit old hat compared with their Japanese counterparts, but at least Mercedes turned up. The only other international presence came from BMW, Renault and BYD, the rapidly growing Chinese car maker with its eyes clearly on another major international market it can disrupt.
As for the show itself, it was in the same venue as the old Tokyo motor show but did have a subtly different feel and was the first show with the word ‘mobility’ in its title that actuality felt like a welcoming, interesting and accessible mobility show highlighting wildly different vehicles types rather than a glorified trade show with stands populated by people who like to stand behind roped-off areas and have a fish bowl for business cards and mints with their company name stamped onto them.
In the show’s east halls were the car makers and in the west were the mobility providers, but here they were packed with all kinds of concepts, including upright mobility scooters, assistance robots, shops on wheels, rescue vehicles, toilets on wheels and even lunar exploration devices. You could easily spend a couple of hours here.
After the world’s automotive media moves on elsewhere, it’s time for the paying public. At its historic peak, the Tokyo motor show attracted 2.6 million visitors, and its lowest was 600,000. At its last running, in 2019, it was 1.3m. Toyota’s Jun Nagata is on the organising committee and he hoped to attract 300 companies to display at the show but ended up with close to 500.
Off the back of the strength of new cars and exhibitors, not only does Nagata hope to beat that 2019 attendance figure for 2023 but he also wants the show to become an annual fixture. Those turning up for this year will experience the best motor show anywhere in the world since Covid.
What's on display at the Tokyo motor show?
The BMW X2 has become a larger, more rakish coupé-SUV in its second generation, also gaining the option of an electric powertrain. It has made its public debut in performance-focused petrol M35i specification, outputting 296bhp and 295lb ft.
The me:Mo is an electric city car designed to evolve with its owner, offering interior and exterior customisation to suit “changes in the customer’s stage of life”. For example, it was shown at Tokyo with a child-friendly interior set-up, featuring a sandbox, toy bin and quirky multi-coloured bodywork.
Slightly shorter than the Smart Forfour, the Ospano is a electric convertible designed to make driving feel like "taking a walk", prioritising "relaxed enjoyment" for its two occupants.
A small electric van aimed at business in big cities, the Uniform is said to offer a variety of bodystyles and a rear power socket for running external devices.
Daihatsu Vision Copen
Could the Copen be about to break free from Japan's kei car regulations? The Vision Copen certainly suggests so, having grown to a similar size to the Mazda MX-5 and packing a 1.3-litre petrol engine – almost double the displacement of the current car's turbocharged 660cc three-pot.
A pint-sized two-seater built for those who are unable to walk long distances, and who live in urban areas where public transport is scarce. It is also a demonstration of Honda’s sustainability goals, having been finished using acrylic resin rather than paint, so it can be more easily recycled.
The Honda Prelude has returned as a hybrid sports coupé demonstrating the brand’s commitment to the “joy of driving”. Little has been said about the sleek new model, but company president and CEO Toshihiro Mibe said “we are diligently progressing with development” and urged the public to “keep your expectations high”.
This electric supermini has been developed to showcase the Japanese firm’s sustainability goals. It's made entirely from a recyclable acrylic resin to promote the concept of ‘resource circulation’.
Our first look at an Audi A4 and BMW i4 rival coming in 2026, the LF-ZC is claimed to deliver “an exhilarating driving experience” and “twice the range of conventional BEVs”. It sits on a new architecture that will underpin a variety of Lexus and Toyota EVs, using a new Tesla-style ‘gigacasting’ production process that effectively splits the car into three major parts.
The LF-ZL is a large electric SUV designed with a focus on new interior technologies. Inside, it features a driver-focused dashboard with a large infotainment touchscreen for the front passenger. Lexus claims that the LF-ZL previews a future where “mobility, people and society can be seamlessly integrated”, including a driving experience that can be tailored to each individual. There is also an on-board AI that offers services said to be “like talking to an attentive and accommodating personal servant”.
Mazda Iconic SP
As the current-generation Mazda MX-5 approaches its ninth birthday, questions are naturally raised about its future. Here’s the firm’s answer: a 370bhp EV concept with a Wankel rotary range-extender, tipping the scales at just 1450kg. Even better, it ushers in the return of pop-up headlights, which haven’t featured on a Mazda since the RX-7 was axed in 2002.
Mazda MX-5 facelift
New safety legislation has forced Mazda to fix a swathe of driver assistance technology to the MX-5 to keep it on sale. However, it's also taken the opportunity to give the roadster its first visual refresh in nearly nine years, with new lights at the front and rear. Its dynamics are said to have been sharpened, too, with a more responsive throttle and reworked power steering settings.
Nissan Hyper Adventure
Majoring on vehicle-to-everything technology, this electric 4x4 has a high-capacity battery to enable it to supply power to any external device, from a kettle to an electric jetski or even the national grid. When demand is high, it could allow for the sale of electricity in the car’s battery back to the grid, thereby increasing the reliability of energy infrastructure.
Nissan Hyper Force
Nissan has all but confirmed that the GT-R will still have a place in its line-up with the new Hyper Force concept, previewing how the venerable sports car will make the jump to electric power. It packs a whopping 1000kW (1341bhp) output, and is expected to pioneer the use of solid-state batteries in production cars around 2028 or 2029.
Nissan Hyper Punk
This electric crossover hints at the future of the Nissan Juke, with edgy origami-inspired styling and a suite of AI-powered features aimed at younger buyers. Nissan said it has been designed specifically for influencers and online content creators, with on-board cameras that can capture the scenery around the car.
Nissan Hyper Tourer
Previewing a future high-tech luxury minivan to rival the Volvo EM90, the Hyper Tourer is an ultra-luxury people carrier featuring fully autonomous capability, high-density solid-state batteries, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology and a strong focus on aerodynamics.
Inside, it features front seats that swivel 360deg, a floor made out of LEDs, virtual reality headsets for the rear passengers, and AI to monitor the various aspects of the occupants' health, such as their heart rate.
Nissan Hyper Urban
The Hyper Urban is a Qashqai-sized crossover designed to be updatable as technology improves, even featuring a removable instrument panel that can be swapped out for one with the future technologies. Like the Hyper Adventure, Hyper Punk and Hyper Tourer, it also includes grid-balancing V2X technology.
Subaru Sport Mobility Concept
This chunky, jacked-up sports coupé is a celebration of Subaru’s rallying heritage, introducing new design cues that mark a departure from the firm’s current line-up. Subaru suggests its driver would have control of "all four wheels at will", hinting at the use of advanced torque vectoring technology.
Suzuki’s first EV will be an S-Cross-sized crossover that aims to “carry forward the brand’s 4x4 legacy”. Previewed by a concept shown at Auto Expo 2023 in Delhi, India, it featured a 60kWh battery, allowing it to drive a claimed 550km (342 miles) between charges.
Described by Suzuki as “a crossover of fun and practicality”, the boxy eWX concept lays the foundation for the next-generation Wagon R Kei car. It too makes the switch to an electric powertrain, offering a range of 142 miles between charges.
The next generation of Swift is being developed with a particular focus on engaging dynamics and charismatic performance, with the firm saying the Dacia Sandero rival has been conceived with "drive and feel" in mind.
The construction of the supermini is also said to put much more of an emphasis on sustainability.
The first Gazoo Racing-branded electric sports car is promised to be small, low, light and fun. The FT-3e is based on the same common architecture as the Lexus concepts (above) and the FT-Se (below), but emphasises tight packaging and driving feel. It also introduces the new Arene operating software, which will allow the car’s dynamics to change according to the driver’s preference, and evolve with software updates over time.
The FT-3e paves the way for a radical electric coupé-SUV, prioritising a low centre of gravity and a long range. The firm said reducing the height of the battery is a key consideration because this allows for a lower, more aerodynamic design that reduces drag. In today’s Toyota bZ4X, the battery is around 150mm tall, but this will be reduced to 120mm for this model. It has also been designed as a “lifestyle partner”, with on-board software that will allow the driver to vary the car’s dynamic character – prioritising ride comfort over sharp handling, for example – with information about the local area.
Toyota IMV 0
This new concept based on Toyota's adaptable IMV platform previews the breadth of customisation set to become possible with the firm's next-generation Hilux pick-up truck.
It can transform into vehicles as varied as a motorhome, a mountain-rescue ambulance, a street-food stall and an off-roader.
Toyota is featuring several IMV 0-based attractions on its show stand, including a café and a gacha-toy stall.
Toyota Land Cruiser Se
Toyota’s terrain-beating SUV is in line to be radically reinvented for the electric age, as previewed by this concept. Named the Land Cruiser Se, it's a striking three-row 4x4 with a great emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency, and visual cues that bring it into line with Toyota's new-age design language.
It shares its creased haunches, kinked window line and contrasting lower trim with the "lifestyle"-oriented FT-3E SUV concept, and will likely share its energy-dense battery pack for a 621-mile range. We have yet to see further specification details beyond its dimensions, which are 5150mm in length, 1990mm in width and 1705mm in height, with a wheelbase of 3050mm.
Yamaha’s take on the increasingly popular electric tricycle is powered by an electric motor, and features a novel rear-wheel steering system that's intended to provide "unfiltered joy" in urban environments.
The firm said: “Modern mobility is shifting toward automated driving, but that's precisely why Yamaha Motor is going back to basics.