It’s hard to think of any industrial event, automotive or otherwise, anywhere in the world with the same level of zany appeal as the Japan Mobility Show. Formerly known as the Tokyo Motor Show, it has been four years since the previous event but neither the name change nor the COVID-created void have done anything to quell Japan’s quirky presentation of all things automotive.
Weird and wonderful in some ways, brilliant bordering on bizarre in others, sometimes inspiring and occasionally insightful, yet never boring or dull, it is that one time every second year when Japan’s automotive boffins appear to be let loose from strict corporate constraints and free to delight in making the mundane almost magical.
If it’s on wheels and designed to move people or freight, it is the one event that turns tomorrow’s prospects into today’s reality, even if that reality only lasts as long as the show’s 10-day duration.
Over those 10 days though, more than 1.1 million people filed through the turnstiles of the ‘Tokyo Big Sight’ venue for the 2023 event and it’s no idle exaggeration to suggest that a high percentage of patrons decided to attend on the same Saturday as our visit. Wall to wall doesn’t even begin to describe the density of people but gratefully, mixing with levels of respect and courtesy far more gracious than Western ways. The only notable negative was that on a public day, information on the various exhibits was sparse and for the most part, in Japanese.
Trucks, however, are only part of the attraction and nowadays, possibly an increasingly smaller part as corporate connections alter the traditional landscape. Unlike some years where European brands like Volvo and Mercedes-Benz tempted Japanese audiences with largely token alternatives to their home grown brands, there was no continental presentation this year, and for good reason.
Things have changed dramatically since the last event four years ago. Daimler Truck, of course, owns the high profile Fuso brand but it’s common knowledge the German giant is also in detailed discussion with Toyota for a close technical ‘relationship’ with its Hino brand. Indeed, some pundits suspect Hino will ultimately morph into another arm of the Daimler Truck powerhouse, leaving Toyota to concentrate totally on its massively successful passenger car, off-road and light commercial van interests.
Meantime, Volvo has sold UD to Isuzu and for the first time, the two Japanese brands shared the same stand under the newly formed ‘Isuzu Group’ banner.
Volvo, however, continues to supply engine and drivetrain componentry to the heavy-duty models of both brands, including the 13 litre engine which the Swedes have, until recently, refused to supply to any brand other than Mack and Volvo.
Consequently, the Japanese market now sports flagship models of both UD’s Quon and Isuzu’s latest Giga, punched by 530hp versions of Volvo’s versatile D13 engine driving through derivations of the super-slick I-shift automated transmission.
For now though, and much to the frustration of Isuzu Australia, it seems neither the 13 litre Quon nor Isuzu’s equivalent Giga will be making their way Down Under anytime soon, with Volvo Group Australia (VGA) fiercely intent on protecting its Volvo FM range from the intrusion of Japanese rivals. And strangely, that includes the UD Quon which VGA continues to distribute in our neck of the woods.
Such are the seemingly weird ways of corporate contracts.
Yet the Isuzu Group display appeared split on strict lines with Isuzu largely showcased as the technological master in both its heavy and light-duty exhibits, and UD more the fundamental heavy hauler with its GW 530 Quon and alongside, the Quester model designed primarily for third world markets.
That’s not to say, however, that UD was completely outside the technological square, with the brand also featuring a Quon tipper equipped with the latest version of its Fujin self-driving automation system. Still, where automation was the technological theme for a number of leading Japanese brands at the previous event in 2019, this year the biggest agenda across the entire automotive spectrum was the inevitable evolution of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.
Typifying the trends among Japan’s truck makers, Isuzu’s presentation of a Giga eight-wheeler powered by a hydrogen fuel cell developed in conjunction with Honda, and the brand’s new N-series electric vehicle (also shown earlier this year at the Brisbane Truck Show) left no doubt that Isuzu specifically and Japan generally will not be found fumbling for technology as the automotive world gradually works its way to a carbon-free future.
Anyway, the photos will hopefully highlight just a smidgin of Japan’s prospective path to tomorrow, real and imagined.