It's an exciting time for green cars at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, and proof — if any more was needed — that the Japanese auto industry (like the American one, and, somewhat reluctantly, the German one) sees electric cars (and also fuel cells) as the wave of the future. The trend should continue at the Los Angeles show next month.
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I'm totally blown away by the Nissan IDS Concept. Nissan is an electric car pioneer, but it has been fairly quiet about autonomous car development. But remember that CEO Carlos Ghosn said in 2013 that by 2020 the company would have some form of autonomous drive "on multiple vehicles." Now it appears to be on track to actually make that happen. I've always thought that self-driving cars should be on electric platforms, and that’s exactly what the IDS is: a very cool self-driving EV.
Hinting at what we might see in iterations of the Leaf, the lightweight carbon-fiber-bodied IDS sports a 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack and 200-mile range. But what makes it special is what it does on the range. There's no B-pillar, and the doors (rear hinged at the back) open to a wide-open cabin with thin-shell seats that can swivel. Why? Well, the IDS has both manual and self-driving modes, and in the latter the front seats turn toward each other to facilitate no-hands conversation.
Nissan is clearly thinking about how cars would actually change if they were self-driving, and some of the ideas echo those seen in the Mercedes F 014 Luxury in Motion (debuted in Detroit early this year). Those doors open similarly, and the seats swivel. Benz went even further in Japan with its Vision Tokyo, featuring a "chill-out zone" lounge interior
The Vision Tokyo has fantastic presence, but is somewhat more fanciful than the IDS, which features technology that could go on cars tomorrow. Watch the video down below, and watch how pushing the "auto" button causes the steering wheel to fold up and the pedals to recede (and a flat panel taking their place).
The IDS says “Good Morning” through a windshield display. "Driving will be a choice you make," Nissan says. According to Ghosn, "Nissan Intelligent Driving improves a driver’s ability to see, think and react. It compensates for human error, which causes more than 90 percent of all car accidents. As a result, time spent behind the wheel is safer, cleaner, more efficient and more fun,"
That might be car show hype, but in Yokohama Nissan is testing its Piloted Drive 1.0, which the company says will be offered on production cars in Japan by the end of 2016. It's not full autonomy, but, as with the new Tesla software, it offers piloted driving under certain conditions. Lane changes (already possible in the Tesla) is targeted for 2018, and something like real autonomy — a car that can handle both city and rural roads, including intersections — by 2020.
The tests are being carried out with a modified Leaf, with added radar, cameras (including an eight-way model with 360-degree view), a special miniaturized laser scanner, high-speed computer chips and a new human-machine interface. In tests, the Leaf is changing lanes, overtaking slower cars, merging, taking exits, handling interchanges and stopping at traffic signals.
OK, so what else is cool in Tokyo? Subaru’s Viziv Future Concept is a design for a new hybrid system. Subaru has only started to dip its toe in these waters (remember the anemic XV Crosstrek?), preferring to ride the popular wave with its four-wheel-drive models.
Bu the Viziv is different; it's AWD, of course, but a smaller version of its turbo flat four powers the front wheels and the rears gets the electric motor.
Mitsubishi, which is on life support in the U.S. market, is jazzing things up with the eX, a battery prototype that is on a platform of the next Outlander Sport. Among the features are self-parking and wireless charging. Looks to be a rather more capable entry than the current I-MiEV, with twice the range. And will we ever see the Outlander plug-in hybrid on the American market (it is doing well in Europe)?
Also, as expected Honda brought out its fuel-cell car, now definitively named the Clarity, which has a 2016 delivery date in both the U.S. and Japan.
And Toyota, having already brought out its hydrogen Mirai, complemented it with a very forward-looking prototype called the FCV-Plus. Features include electric motors at all four wheels and the ability not only to refuel other cars, but to power homes during blackouts.
There is still a severe shortage of hydrogen stations in Japan as well as the U.S., but Nissan, Honda and Toyota have set up a working group to make sure Tokyo gets good coverage by the time of the Summer Olympics there in 2020.
Meanwhile, BMW said in Tokyo that it would be bringing out its own fuel-cell sedan "sometime after 2020." The company has been working on a hydrogen
compression system, and claims it should be able to better the 435-mile range
of the Toyota Mirai. And Benz's Vision Tokyo is hydrogen-powered, too.
As I said, it was quite a green show.