For me, the Tokyo Motor Show has always been a highlight of the motor show calendar. Not only because we usually get to see the most outrageous creations from Japanese manufacturers, but also because Tokyo as a city is probably one of the most inspiring places in the world. A place where the old and the new constantly intersect, an area where the West and the East have historically mixed, and a country that is both local and global.
So, when it was announced that the Tokyo Motor Show would be returning after a 4-year hiatus but would be rebranded as the Japan Mobility Show (JMS), I was curious to see how it had changed and if it was truly embracing the mobility aspect as the name suggests.
Here are my top 5 observations about Japan Mobility that will have an impact on the automotive design community.
1. Japanese OEMs are back and ready to push.
It's been a while (especially since I wasn't at the Shanghai show this year) since I've seen so many concept and show cars in one show environment. Toyota, Honda, Daihatsu, and Nissan in particular came with multiple displays and a massive statement that each of them is confident and ready to push into the market. This may not be surprising, as the Tokyo show has always been a stronghold for local OEMs. However, given the attitude of the West in recent years, it was a welcome surprise to see a renewed push from the Japanese OEMs and to see many refreshing ideas come to life. No other show such as Munich, Los Angeles, Pebble Beach, or Goodwood has had such a positive impact on the design departments. OEMs in Europe and the US take note, the Japanese OEMs have set the standard for the coming months and perhaps years.
2. A traditional car show…maybe not so dead after all
Having recently experienced the Munich show, the Japan Mobility Show felt a bit like a step back into the old traditional motor shows such as Frankfurt. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It was fantastic to have a proper press day to explore, talk and get some very hands-on impressions. The layout, especially for the car displays, was very convenient and only a short walk from one stand to another. It was easy to meet people and compare some of the exhibits. Of course, it all felt a bit old-fashioned, but even on public days, visitors didn't seem to mind. In this case, it felt very Japanese and customer-focused, rather than just aiming for an individual experience.
3. Understanding your market is key for Designers.
Most Japanese manufacturers have always had their own approach to product strategy: a project for a group of customers rather than the general one-size-fits-all approach of many Western OEMs. The right product for the customer was more important than simple brand recognition. The JMS emphasised this even more. Toyota showed a variety of market and customer-specific directions. Without saying so openly, it was clear which models were intended for which markets and customer groups. A common face or design language connecting them all was nowhere to be seen. Nissan's "Hyper" series went in a similar direction. Although we can see some connections, they all stand on their own. They were a little more influenced by trends, but there was still no unifying language. Honda was very similar. We have seen the trend of market-specific products becoming more and more important over the last two years as customer expectations have changed drastically. The JMS was another big confirmation of this trend, and it seems that the Japanese OEMs will be at the forefront of this: local markets and products with a global strategy to connect them.
4. Styling as fully arrived in Commercial Vehicles.
Design has always been important in commercial vehicles, but the styling aspect has not been given much attention in the past. The JMS showed once again that this is now changing massively. Of course, we have seen a lot more emphasis on good styling for commercial vehicles in the last 2 years (see Canoo, Rivian, and VW to name a few), but as the JMS also had quite a few commercial vehicle manufacturers present, we clearly saw a big push. Daihatsu must be a strong contender for best of show in this area with their Kei Car commercial vehicle proposals, Toyota showed us their take on it and companies like FuSo and UD Trucks are on the verge of a push. Expect more from others in this area soon as the trend continues.
5. Let’s not call a spade a spade.
A Nissan GTR that wasn't called a GTR. Honda's new version of the City, including the famous scooter, wasn't called the City. Toyota teased us with a new sports car that wasn't called the Supra. For all the courage of the Japanese OEMs mentioned in point 1, we also saw a strange degree of conservatism. The use of their "crown jewels" such as the GTR in an electric environment has not yet happened, despite the clear similarities. Many other companies have not committed to using heritage names in the electric age. The design direction and language are there, now we just need the marketing and leadership teams to state the obvious - everyone knows the intent anyway. So why not call a spade a spade?
So far, the Japan Mobility Show has had a great comeback. It still showed us the quirkiness that we have always loved about it, and I very much hope that the courage of all the local manufacturers will give a lot of inspiration to other manufacturers for future shows in Paris, Los Angeles, and Munich.