TOKYO - Low-emissions vehicles, automotive electronics and a new crop of minivehicles will star at this year's Tokyo motor show, which opens to the public on October 23.
There will also be the usual contingent of sleek roadsters, wildly impractical styling statements and previews of new models due in the next few months.
But there are good reasons why environment, electronics and minis will define this year's show.
First, Japan's government is finalizing new automotive tax laws that take vehicle emissions into account.
Therefore, expect lots of environmental exhibits, as companies showcase production or near-production versions of the electric and hybrid vehicles they displayed as concept cars at the 1997 Tokyo show.
Secondly, the show cannot help but reflect the market gloom that pervades the Japanese auto industry. Inexpensive minivehicles are just about the only models selling well in Japan.
The third theme, automotive electronics, also has a marketing edge.
Carmakers such as Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. have invested heavily in intelligent transportation systems (ITS).
But Japan's cost-conscious consumers aren't buying. Basic- and intermediate-level navigation systems continue to sell briskly. But signups for the high-end systems, some of which require a subscription fee, are falling short of projections.
Expect, therefore, the carmakers to use the Tokyo show to promote their exotic navigation and information systems. Of the Japanese automakers, Toyota unveils several important new models destined for Europe.
Here is a rundown of some of the cars expected to be unveiled at this year's show:
Daihatsu will show a two-seat open-top minicar. It is a more contemporary version of Suzuki's Cappuccino, with design elements from the Personal Coupe that Daihatsu showed at the 1993 Tokyo Show. As a mini, it will have an engine under 660cc.
Daihatsu's other show cars are likely to be explorations in the so-called RV segment, which increasingly means anything but sedans and coupes. These will include a 1.0-liter microvan and an electric vehicle.
Honda will lead with a study for some minor changes to its NSX supercar, which are due to take effect about a year after the show. Expect a shortened trunk and new body panels.
Honda also will have a not-quite-final styling version of its new flagship Legend, known as the Acura RL in the US market, which has grown notably longer and wider to compete against its luxury-car rivals.
It has been five years since the Odyssey launched Honda on a remarkable rise in profits and Japanese market share. That means it is time for an all-new Odyssey, and Honda will be showing the new Japan-market minivan at the Tokyo show, ahead of its sales launch later this year.
Honda also will show the concept C-MV. In size and shape, it is not that far from the current CR-V, but the C-MV is supposed to offer more in the way of off-road capability than the CR-V.
The VX3 is the latest in a series of dramatic sport-utility concepts from Isuzu, one of which reached production as the VehiCross. Isuzu intends to publicize it not as an off-roader but as an all-terrain sports car.
Isuzu will offer a preview of the next Bighorn/Trooper (which is due out in a year and a half) in the form of a concept.
Since the Geneva show in March, Mazda executives have hinted at a new rotary-engine powered sports car to be shown in Tokyo. In addition, there are rumors that Mazda will show a rotary-powered four-door sedan.
In addition, Mazda will show off its version of the small sport-utility it developed jointly with Ford Motor Co., code-named J14, or a concept very close to the production version.
It also could show a Demio-based microvan, code-named J29, which has sliding rear doors on both sides.
Mitsubishi's financial woes will lead to a much-reduced presence at the Tokyo show. In years past, Mitsubishi revealed two concepts at the Frankfurt show and another four or so in Tokyo. This year, Mitsubishi showed two concepts, the SUW Compact and SUW Advance, in Frankfurt, and has barely anything left for Tokyo.
Nissan may show the next-generation European-market Micra concept. The car's semicircle side windows are a clear tribute to the Volkswagen New Beetle, and but one hint of how Nissan intends to differentiate the Japanese and European versions of its high-volume small car.
Nissan hopes that its Fairlady Z concept will be a highlight of Tokyo. The low-slung two seater has a Porsche-like whale tail immediately aft of the rear window.
Nissan also will show a hybrid-powered version of its Tino small minivan built off the Sunny/Sentra platform.
Expect a concept of Fuji Heavy Industries' vision of the next generation of station wagons, plus a hybrid car. Mainly, though, the display will focus on an Impreza sports wagon, due out in mid-2000.
Suzuki will show its MR-Wagon, a rear-drive 3-cylinder, 660cc 'town' car with a one-box shape. Also featured is a 1.3-liter version of its new Kei, previously available only as a 660cc minicar, and a two-seat concept showing how Suzuki might replace its Cappuccino. Not to ignore its hugely successful Wagon R, Suzuki will show a pickup based on the minivehicle.
Toyota will show concept versions of several coming models for the overseas Lexus lineup. Toyota's stand previews the next Lexus LS400 (here as a Toyota Celsior) - due for launch in Europe next year, and the Lexus SC430 sport coupe, which features a folding metal roof system. The coupe also joins the European Lexus range next year. A big MPV - which shows how the Previa replacement will look - debuts with a hybrid drivetrain.
The hybrid-powered Estima minivan will join the Prius in Toyota's stable of alternative powerplant cars.
Toyota also may show yet another variant off its Vitz/Yaris/Echo platform. A five-door hatchback also will be based on the Vitz platform.
Toyota is also preparing to launch more models from its Corolla platform.
The Corolla itself is due for a full model change in a little more than half a year, and Toyota already is talking in terms of the new version as the NCV, for New Concept Vehicle.