Article by Brendan McAleer. Photos by Brendan McAleer, Jonathan Yarkony.
Sure, we love the cars of the Tokyo Motor Show, but Japan's mega-opolis of a capital city runs on the wheels of its workhorses. You see them around the city, stout little trucks and heavy haulers, boxy little vans making deliveries, people-movers with small footprints and high roofs.
So never mind the supercar-looking Nissan GranTurismo and Mazda rotary concepts: the real glimpse of Tokyo's future is in its trucks and vans. We wandered around the floor finding the best ones on display.
Daihatsu Nori Ori
If and when the autonomous driving future arrives, urban dwellers in Japan could well end up in something unique like this. A tiny box set up for ease of wheelchair access, the friendly and inviting Nori Ori had big sliding doors and a passenger's seat that disappeared under the dashboard. [Linguistic note about the Nori Ori: Nori means "to board or ride (a vehicle)", Ori means "to lower". –Ed.]
The number of mobility-oriented vehicles on display at the Tokyo Motor Show might have been a surprise to an onlooker not familiar with Japan's aging population. Clearly, manufacturers are looking into a greying future, and trying to bring in a little colour.
Toyota Land Cruiser
For those for whom mobility means something else entirely, the mud-spattered Land Cruiser over at Toyota's display spoke of adventures in Australia's outback. It wore Aussie license plates, and a heaping of dirt.
The current Land Cruiser is a huge beast, yet gets a 2.8L turbodiesel engine that provides excellent grunt and usable efficiency. Too bad we don't quite get one in Canada (the Lexus LX is a fancier version, but missing the diesel).
Here's another cheery little box that makes you wonder why there aren't more microscopic food vans. Complete with a pop-open side and coffee and goodies to go, the Tempo is cute and refreshing.
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Imagine one of these pulling up in front of a downtown office building at about 10:30, offering coffee and fresh pastries and letting you dodge both the lineup and the outrageous prices at Starbucks. Win.
From coffee Arabica to crushing the Arabian desert, the Dakar-prepped Hino500 is a monster of a truck. Totally unstoppable, this race-bred Clydesdale is armoured up for off-road racing of the most grueling kind.
And, if you read the fine print, Hino claims that the 500 is actually only a mid-sized truck. Good grief – you'd hate to see what kind of a beast they consider full size.
Most people associate Isuzu with the cars it produced in the early 1990s – stuff like the Impulse, the Trooper, the Rodeo. Mostly, it's not a brand that has a huge following.
However, Isuzu still exports trucks to Canada, and so seeing one of their classic heavy-haulers on the show floor was great. This TX80 would have helped Japan rebuild after the war, transforming from agrarian society to industrial powerhouse.
Mitsubishi Fuso Super Great V Spider
A nightmarish vehicle that's like a cross between one of those mechanical arm vending machines and Doctor Octopus, the Fuso Spider is a multi-armed heavy lifter. Painted in black with red accents, it's terrifyingly appropriate for Halloween.
The Super Great series of trucks is, as you'd expect, super great, and extends to various long-haul machines. All of them exude a certain menace, and none more so than the Spider.
While it would likely never pass North American crash-test regulations, there's something sad about the fact that we don't get the Jimny here any more. This tiny 4x4 would be just about perfect for getting down a narrow trail leading to your favourite fishing patch.
That's for recreation, but Suzuki also makes a tiny flatbed too. This would be even more practical for the small delivery company, and while it's shown here hauling vegetables around, would be ideal for a landscape company.
Suzuki Air Triser
Rounding out the trio from Suzuki, the Air Triser is basically the VW Microbus reborn. Double sliding doors welcome you into a space that's configurable into a comfortable lounge, and it wouldn't be difficult to see it camperized either.
There are those who'd cry “Copycat!”, but the little Suzuki microbus is a great idea. VW is going to be getting down to basics in the wake of the diesel scandal, so why not pass the torch for wacky fun to a smaller-scale manufacturer?
Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo
Mercedes’ idea of the car of the future? “A chill-out zone in the midst of mega-city traffic mayhem.” Well, you won't need windows, then.
Their Vision Tokyo is another pod-like car with a giant grill and giant wheels, but it does look pretty cool. Inside, the communal interior is filled with touchscreens and holograms, a sort of self-driving limousine experience.
Toyota Alphard Hercule
Looking like something Shredder would use to take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Party Wagon, the Alphard Hercule is a strong contender for weirdest van on display in Tokyo. That takes some doing.
A custom-reworked version of the already slightly weird Alphard minivan, the Hercule gets a convertible folding roof, champagne-dispensing rear seats, and a grille like a cow-catcher crossed with an industrial meat-separator. Scary stuff.