Nissan Electric Ariy Tokyo Motor Show 2019

To parody sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, do Japanese automakers dream of electric cars?

The answer is a resounding yes. And it is not science fiction either.

At the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, the theme that pervaded the Big Sight and Aomi exhibition grounds was electrification, autonomous and sustainable motoring, led by the top Japanese automakers.

Despite a smaller turnout than previous years, all the major domestic brands unveiled battery and even hydrogen-powered electric vehicles (EVs), readying themselves for a future that is not quite here but is nevertheless inevitable.

Even Mazda, which traditionally tries to boost the efficiency of its internal combustion engines at the expense of developing a pure EV, unveiled its first battery-electric vehicle – the MX-30 crossover.

Electrification aside, carmakers were also all-in on the new industry buzzword: Case, or Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electrified.

That acronym paints a driver-lite future. But will it be car-lite?

At the show, one of the more interesting Case concepts was the Panasonic Space L. It is more of a living room on wheels than a car. Occupants who do not have to keep an eye on the road enjoy aromatherapy and cool transparent displays.

Nissan, meanwhile, high on the success of its best-selling Leaf electric car, unveiled the electric Ariya concept. With huge wheels and ultra-thin headlights, it looks like a car that could go into production at the drop of a hat.

Even the interior, normally an eye-watering bonanza of holographic accoutrements in a concept car, looks practical and workable – with a two-spoke steering wheel and touch controls on the dash. Honda officially launched the battery-driven Honda e and hybrid versions of the new Jazz/Fit.

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And Mitsubishi unveiled the quad-motor Mi-Tech electric concept buggy.

But it was Toyota which communicated the new course most dramatically. The world’s biggest vehicle maker now refers to itself as a mobility company. This new direction is spearheaded by the autonomous e-Palette shuttle and Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car.

Then, there is the LQ concept, which comes with a digital assistant called Yui. It uses artificial intelligence to learn more about you, the driver, and deliver a “personalised mobility experience”. It taps the human instinct to form bonds, Toyota says with a straight face, creating a relationship between driver and vehicle.

Toyota’s luxury arm Lexus also took the opportunity to unveil its plans for the future.

At the unveiling of the LF-30 concept, the brand will launch its first battery-electric vehicle later this month, followed by its first plug-in hybrid and another battery-powered car built on a dedicated electric platform in the early 2020s. The latter could be the first product to emerge from a Toyota-Subaru EV joint venture.

As for the LF-30, it is an angular and futuristic car with a 500km range from a 110kWh solid-state battery driving four in-wheel motors. It is supposed to be driver-focused, yet will drive itself without hesitation when the need arises.

If you feel the future is bleak for drivers who enjoy driving, cars like the MX-30, Ariya and LF-30 are reassuring. For even if the future of motoring is robotic, it is far from boring.

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This article was originally published in The Straits Times.