Tokyo Motor Showcase losing its luster
With more international car manufacturers prioritizing rival events in Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing, the Tokyo event is rapidly becoming a domestic-focused, second-tier showcase. Julian Ryall reports.
When the curtain came down on the two thousand fifteen Tokyo Motor Showcase, organizers vowed that the next edition of the biennial event would attract more exhibitors from around the world and thicker crowds to the Tokyo Big Glance exhibition center.
When they announced the dates of this year’s event earlier this week – the display will run from October twenty seven to November five – it was clear that the effort to persuade more foreign manufacturers to display their latest models had fallen brief.
The two thousand fifteen event attracted one hundred sixty carmakers, suppliers and related organizations, but that number for this year’s showcase will come down to 150.
A number of global brands will also be conspicuous by their absence. None of the “Big Three” US automakers – General Motors (GM), Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – will be present, with GM and Ford absent for four consecutive shows. Similarly, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Seat, Kia, Daihatsu and other well-known names from the international auto sector are also skipping Tokyo this year.
The two thousand fifteen event attracted one hundred sixty carmakers, suppliers and related organizations, but that number for this year’s showcase will come down to 150
Analysts say an event that used to be the most significant showcase for fresh vehicles and the companies that built them, ranking alongside similar shows in Detroit, Frankfurt, Geneva and Paris, has in latest years slipped down the pecking order and is now tightly a second-tier event for non-Japanese companies.
Tokyo’s event has been eclipsed by shows in Shanghai and Beijing as the Chinese market for cars has boomed, they say, and it will be difficult for Japan to ever recover its former prestige.
“The two Chinese events have taken over as the premier motor shows in Asia and Tokyo has slipped to a tier-two event as international brands concentrate on the Chinese market and Chinese and South Korean brands make extraordinaire inroads into the international auto market,” said Peter Lyon, author of the car book “Flashing Hazards” and presenter of the “Samurai Wheels” television program for Japanese national broadcaster NHK.
“A lot of European companies are tying up with Chinese firms to get a foot in the market there because it is growing so rapidly.
“I also feel that while Japanese cars are utterly extraordinaire from an engineering perspective, they are a lot less stylish than some of the cars that are coming out of Korea, for example,” he told DW.
Peter Lyon says he feels that Japanese cars are a lot less stylish than some of the cars that are coming out of Korea
“I was recently at the Fresh York International Auto Display and I was very amazed by the models on the Kia stand,” Lyon said. “They show up to have been able to blend the very best of Europe and Asia in their designs and I just feel that Japan’s manufacturers have missed the boat a bit.”
Japan’s car firms clearly have a major stake in the Tokyo showcase and have hinted that they will be unveiling some outstanding fresh models in October as they attempt to claw back their reputation.
Toyota is expected to unveil the successor to the Supra, Nissan will have a fresh Z car on display and Subaru is ready to unveil “something sporty,” Lyon said. Lexus and Mazda will also have fresh offerings, but the limited number of international brands can only serve to reduce the international nature of the Tokyo display.
‘China is channeling so much of its investment into electrical cars and Japanese firms cannot keep up with that,’ said Lyon
“After being stable for a long time, the market here has been shrinking and – given Japan’s contracting population – it is unlikely that it will come back in a big way,” said Martin Schulz, senior economist with the Fujitsu Research Institute.
“Ford pulled out last year and now no US firms have a foot in the market here because they see no point in pushing their vehicles in Japan,” he said. “European companies are still fairly strong, especially at the higher end, but we have to recall that Volvo is now a Chinese brand and Jaguar is Indian.”
But Schulz believes that Japanese car makers are – for the time being – “comparatively relaxed” about the state of their industry.
“European firms have had a major disaster with the scandals over their diesel engines, which has transferred a significant sales edge to companies like Toyota, which have invested strongly in hybrid technology,” he said.
Many European automakers are joining arms with Chinese firms to build up a foothold in China’s fast-growing car market
The US market, meantime, is picking up again after the financial crisis and Japanese manufacturers are benefitting from having built manufacturing plants across the country to meet local request.
Over the longer term, Lyon is worried about Japan’s legendary car makers losing their competitive edge.
“China is channeling so much of its investment into electrical cars and Japanese firms cannot keep up with that,” he said. “I feel that they need to refocus a lot of their budget and efforts away from the engineering – where they are already world leaders – and place more emphasis on the design of their cars.
“That is where they are falling behind the Koreans – and I don’t think they even see it because you so infrequently see Korean cars on the streets here that they do not even register on the Japanese psyche as a competitor. But overseas they are everywhere now and Japan is losing some ground.
“They are battling countries that scarcely had an auto industry a duo of decades ago,” he said. “And now Korean cars are almost comparable in terms of the technology and reliability, but they are cheaper and many suggest more stylish exteriors.
“That means that Japanese companies are facing an uphill battle to challenge.”