- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

On the local level, no auto show can be as important as the Tampa Auto Show. This show gathers all the different models together all under one roof so that enthusiasts and potential customers can kick the tires and sit in the driver's seat of all the new models.
The Tokyo Motor Show, on the other hand, can seem a world apart, both figuratively and actually. In Tokyo, you see some very interesting and even strange automotive designs, most of which we will never see in North America.
As strange and unusual that they are, many ideas progress into some of the vehicles we will see. Although it may take many years, there are features that blossom in Tokyo that are later harvested here. Believe it or not.
This year was certainly no exception. The strange, odd and unusual were mixed with the practical and realistic.
Honda introduced a quartet of concept cars, one of which looks very promising, the others could be deemed conceptual. The Dualnote is an aerodynamic sports car that had seating for four, but looks more like it is meant for two. It is a sporty four door that combines gasoline and electric in a hybrid vehicle that departs from the norm.
Another Honda vehicle that received a great deal of attention is the Bulldog. This is a concept that combines auto travel with motorbikes. Styling is wide with the stance of a bulldog and combines a feature that may not seem so far off to some. Two electric-powered scooters are stored in the rear of the vehicle. The seats on the bikes are folded forward to form the rear seats for the car.
Japanese auto manufacturers are not the only companies that bring new designs to Tokyo. Mercedes-Benz brought a vehicle that nearly stole the show.
The F400 Carver is a two-seat roadster that not only looks sporty and fast, it has an innovative movable suspension system that is unlike any I have seen. The front wheels tilt with the turn to enhance handling attributes.
Volkswagen departed from their normal operation and introduced a 12- cylinder super car that seemed to be more at home on the Lamborghini display than a VW. The W-12 is a sleek two-seater that looked as though it could take on any Ferrari. Even Jeep introduced a concept that could easily fit on the streets of Japan as well as the back roads of America. The Willys2 is a unique mixture of Jeep ruggedness and modern design.
Mazda, on the other hand, displayed two production vehicles that we will see quickly on the streets of Anytown, USA. The RX-8 is a sport coupe with four doors and four seats that returns Mazda to the rotary engine. This sharp-looking automobile just may change the way we look at the sports car.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Atenza, which will be the Mazda 6 in the USA. This four-door sedan that will take the place of the 626. This automobile also takes Mazda to new design territory. It is much more aggressive in its appearance than any other Mazda sedan.
Nissan introduced a slue of vehicles, but two that caught my eyes were a production car we have been waiting for and a concept that can stay a concept.
The production car is the Z350 (Fairlady in Japan) sports car that brings back the days of the Z-car. This is a modern design for a popular car that brought sports cars to a whole different market.
The concept car in Nissan's own words is "a funky two-seater." This small pickup, called Nails, was just a bit over the top for my tastes, but than that is what concept vehicles are suppose to be. It resembled a foam-rubber toy more than a real vehicle. Auto shows such as Tokyo are venues for vehicles that could be or designs to contemplate. They are excellent sounding boards for the manufacturers enabling them to gauge reactions from the public for ideas before going to production. The Tokyo show is one of the more adventurous, at least for the Western point of view. It sets your mind to wondering.


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