Carmakers focus on racing while cute and cosplay flood the floor
Carmakers focus on racing while cute and cosplay flood the floor
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Presented each year in January with a tsunami of customization, psychedelic colors and outrageous cos-play, Tokyo’s Auto Salon (TAS) is the world’s third largest tuning and custom car show behind America’s SEMA and Germany’s Essen.
Now in its 32nd year, TAS appears to be coming under the influence of Abenomics (Prime Minister Abe’s expansive economic policies) as witnessed by a jump in the number of display cars from 802 last year to 840 this year, while customizer and parts supplier stands climbed to 3,880, up from 3,608.
Highlighted by two world premieres and countless domestic launches, TAS 2014 drew a reported 300,000 visitors through the gates of the Makuhari Messe complex some 30kms east of Tokyo.
The big news at this year’s show, and the only Japanese world premiere, was one that actually wasn’t meant to be. On Subaru’s stand, PR types lifted the covers on the all-new WRX STi, albeit in fully-blown Nurburgring 24-hour spec form. According to my PR contact on hand, Subaru wanted to try to remain low key about this reveal, so as not to rain on the parade of Subaru of America as it unveils the road-going WRX STi at the Detroit Auto Show on January 14.
But hey, when you show a car first – anywhere in the world – that’s defined as a ‘world premiere.’ Subaru HQs in Japan had to shine a spotlight on this car because there is a lot riding on it – like the company’s pride. With the previous WRX STi, Subaru won its class twice in the famed Nurburgring endurance race and it expects to achieve that accolade again this year when the all-new STi attacks Nurburgring on June 19-22. From what we are hearing, the body and suspension setup might be new, but the powertrain in basically a carryover from the outgoing STi. Powered by the same EJ20 2.0-liter boxer turbocharged engine with 6-speed manual transmission generating in excess of 350hp (street version expected to get 320hp) the new machine could slice at least 5 seconds off the current lap time.
The other world premiere was the unnecessarily over-named Mercedes A45 AMG 4MATIC Petronas Green Edition. Boasting the same 360hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine as the standard A45 AMG, this new version gets unique aeroparts and green paint work that pays homage to company’s F1 car for 2104. Expected to fetch a sticker price of around $100,000, only 30 will be built. With Japan ranked as one of AMG’s strongest markets, it was no surprise to see the company occupying the third largest stand area (after Toyota and Honda) as it displayed 17 vehicles packing a combined horsepower of 6200.
Following on from last year, Toyota and its racing arm Gazoo Racing, displayed dozens of dressed up 86 (Scion FRS) sports cars in conjunction with Subaru, its sister company in this co-developed coupe. The Gazoo Racing 86 tuned by GRMN is a tuned 86 that has received significant feedback from the company’s 86 race car that won its class in the 2012 Nurburgring 24-hour race. Employing numerous revised parts including a new camshaft and piston profile and new exhaust system, the GRMN 86 gets an extra 30 hp over the stock version.
As you might have realized from the above Subaru and Toyota references, the Nurburgring racetrack plays a big part in Japanese car design and performance settings.
In fact, there is one more reference to the famed circuit that came to light while I was chatting with a senior engineer near the Lexus LFA display. It just took one quick look at the two LFAs sitting on the stand to see that one had a longer wheelbase. According to our source, Toyota will be racing two LFAs at Nurburgring this year, one fitted with the standard wheelbase and stock 4.8-liter V10 engine, while the other LFA will incorporate an approximately 20cm longer wheelbase and V10 engine bored out to 5.3-liters. Putting 2 + 2 together, could I have accidentally stumbled over the powertrain for the Lexus LF-LC concept unveiled at Detroit last year and green-lighted for production in early 2013?
Mazda on the other hand, was focusing its concept car designs on American race cars. Inspired by the Skyactiv diesel-powered Grand Am GX Mazda6 which won its class in the Rolex Sports Car Series of 2013, Mazda Japan created the Axela (Mazda3) Sports with unique decals, Recaro racing seats and Sabelt harnesses, as well as 4-pot Brembo brakes. A diesel-powered Atenza (Mazda6) Concept and CX-5 finished in matt black paintwork were also on display as part of a media push to promote the company’s “Be a racing driver” campaign.
Without doubt, one of the biggest drawcards to TAS each year are the crazy machines found at the NATS (Nihon Automobile College) stand. With over 800 students, this college of mechanics, designers, engineers and body repair experts spends many months each year creating around a dozen wacky vehicles that push the limits of the real world. The star of this year’s stand was undoubtedly “Lightning Natseen,” a coupe that recreates the look of Lightning McQueen from “Cars,” but sits on a Nissan 180SX platform and powertrain. Other notable experiments include the Nascar-inspired Nats Prius HB Silhouette Gr. 72, the Mazda RX-7 based Nats REvoltion and a Nats original, the cartoon-inspired EV-sports Prototype 02.
We’d like to say that the highlight of Honda’s stand was the new hybrid NSX or even the 660cc 3-cylinder turbo powered S660, but that was not the case. Sitting in the middle of Honda’s stand was a 660cc minicar called the N-Wagon (spelt N-Wgn in Japanese) “Macaron Color Collection” incorporating a selection of macarons and flowers on the dashboard and a mint and chocolate combination interior trim. One source told us that this spec would target women and would not come with the ribbon on top. Now if this was a macaron delivery vehicle, we’d understand, but, um, it’s not.
And who could ignore the little coupe sitting on the Daihatsu stand? Posing in brown and orange paint, the 660cc “Kopen future included” incorporated a new livery to the car revealed last November at the Tokyo Motor Show.
In addition to exhibiting their limited production 600hp GT-R Nismo, Nissan unveiled the dressed up X-Trail X-Tremer Package Stretched and Nismo March.
Meanwhile, Toyota (Lexus), Nissan and Honda all displayed their new race cars for this year’s Super GT championships.
Two crucial debuts this year for the Big Three are the Cadillac CTS and the Chevy Corvette C7, two versions – including a Hennessy version of which were on display.
The zaniest creation at the Salon went to the WiZ International College for its “Munsters-inspired” Mazda MX-5-based hotrod, the cutest dress-up prize went to the 660cc Rilakkuma Suzuki Lapin with the teddy bear themed wheel design, the most powerful gong went to the fully reworked Kansai R35 GT1000 Nissan GT-R pumping out 1000hp/7300rpm, and the raunchiest ‘cos-play’ trophy went to the Wald International Black Bison Mercedes G-Class for their bikini clad ladies when it was just 5C outside.