Tokyo Motor Show Media Preview
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Tokyo Motor Show Media Preview

    The Tokyo Motor Show opened on October 25th for a media preview. About 150 automakers and parts manufacturers from Japan and abroad are taking part in the event this year.

    The exhibition comes as zero-emission electric vehicles are becoming a greater focus, and while a series of irregularities at Nissan Motor and Kobe Steel are eroding public trust in Japanese manufacturers.

    Honda Motor is showcasing 3 types of electric concept cars. It says it will roll out a compact EV in 2020 for the Japanese market.

    Toyota Motor is also displaying a concept EV. Hybrids have long been at the core of the automaker's line-up.

    The EV features artificial intelligence capable of reading the driver's facial expressions and grasping changes in his or her voice. If the AI recognizes that the driver is tired, the car automatically switches to self-driving mode.

    Suzuki Motor, Daihatsu Motor and Mitsubishi Motors are also showcasing concept EVs. Japanese automakers are increasingly focusing on EVs amid a global shift towards environmentally-friendly vehicles.

    The motor show comes on the heels of revelations that unqualified workers at Nissan Motor handled final vehicle safety checks at all of its plants in Japan. Kobe Steel was also recently found to have shipped aluminum and other products with falsified data to automakers.

    Nissan's Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci apologized for the issue, saying that the improper inspections have caused tremendous trouble and concern.

    The Tokyo Motor Show will open its doors to the public on October 28th at Tokyo Big Sight. The event runs through November 5th.

    Parts makers gear up for the shift to electric vehicles

    Auto parts makers in Japan are rushing to adjust to the rapid shift to EVs by developing new products.

    Sumitomo Riko's mainstay product is rubber cushions for suppressing engine vibrations. At the motor show, the company showcased a prototype designed to be used on EV motors.

    EVs that run with a motor and battery do not use engine or transmission parts. Amid worries that sales could shrink considerably if production of gasoline vehicles declines, Sumitomo Riko now focuses on developing parts for EVs,.

    Company President Tetsu Matsui says the move to EVs is happening faster than he expected. He says his company needs to be prepared for any coming trends.

    Some parts makers are aiming to expand their businesses by taking advantage of the change.

    Hitachi Automotive Systems supplies motors and batteries for hybrid cars. The parts maker is stepping up the development and sales of these products as they are also applicable to EVs.

    Kimiya Yamaashi, who heads the development section, says his company has an advantage since it has technologies required for EVs. He says he expects the ongoing transition to boost his company's business opportunities.

    Self-driving technology and AI in the spotlight

    A key focus of this year's exhibition is autonomous driving and artificial intelligence technologies.

    Toyota is showcasing a car with AI that can recognize a driver's voice and facial expressions. If it determines that the driver is fatigued, the car switches to self-driving mode.

    Work is also underway to develop AI capable of recommending destinations while the car is in use based on data such as a driver's personality and past driving records.

    Mitsubishi Motors is displaying a system in which a driver can adjust temperatures inside the car simply by giving voice commands to a tablet next to the seat. It can also control windshield wipers.

    One Mitsubishi Motors official says AI is drastically changing the relationship between people and cars. He says they are increasing research and working with several companies overseas to develop state-of-the-art technologies that meet people's needs.

    Toyota Boshoku manufacturers parts for vehicle interiors. The firm is exhibiting a car with flexible seats that make it easier for passengers to eat a meal or get work done. The idea is meant for use in a fully autonomous vehicle. They also showed interior panels that can be changed to different colors with the press of a button.

    Reactions to the Nissan, Kobe Steel scandals

    Top executives at some major manufacturers spoke out about the scandals at Nissan and Kobe Steel.

    Honda President Takahiro Hachigo says the incidents are regrettable. He says the strength of front-line workers gives Japanese manufacturers an edge. He says Honda will place greater emphasis on its front-line jobs.

    Yamaha Motor President and CEO Hiroyuki Yanagi says strict compliance with rules for front-line jobs is a basic principle for manufacturers. He says the latest scandals are regrettable because Japanese firms have adhered to these principles and made improvements to them.

    Auto parts manufacturer Sumitomo Riko was also using Kobe Steel's aluminum products. President Tetsu Masui says Japanese manufacturers in general have succeeded by earning a global reputation for quality and reliability. He says that losing this status would deal a serious blow to the whole industry, so firms must straighten themselves out and cope with the situation.

    Meanwhile, with Nissan bogged down with the scandal over product inspections done by unqualified workers, Senior Vice President Asako Hoshino told reporters that sales for October will be severely impacted. She said the company will seek to regain trust while it deals with its worst-ever vehicle recall.