LEADING Japanese car manufacturers are moving in the same direction – producing electric vehicles, employing autonomous driving technologies, and making the vehicles smart and constantly connected – as they showcase their latest innovations at the 45th Tokyo Motor Show held from now until November 5, 2017.
The biggest player
As the world’s number one automobile company, Toyota sets its eyes on making a reality of the dream of mobility for all.
In the booth opening presentation, Didier Leroy, executive vice president and member of the board of Toyota Motor Corporation said: “There is something about cars, something quite special, something that any form of mobility should continue to inspire, and that is freedom, because when people are free to move, anything is possible.”
He also said that is why cars are fun, and people see cars as something they love, rather than just a machine.
Three Concept-i vehicles are displayed on stage, all of which were designed to be driven in different environments. The Concept-i is meant for general use, while the i-Ride is a smaller version carrying two people and designed for travelling within the city. In contrast, the i-Walk is intended for moving around pedestrian areas.
The Concept-i incorporates AI (artificial intelligence) and connected technologies designed to help your car better understand people and therefore provide a safer driving experience. The emotion recognition and “alertness level estimation” feature of the Concept-i can tell the driver’s mood by analysing facial expressions and body language. If the driver was happy, the computer might give information about topics known to interest the driver. If the driver was sad, it might suggest adjusting the seat so that the driver would feel more comfortable.
For automated driving, Toyota is developing two approaches – a total hands-free “chauffeur” mode in which the car would fully drive itself, and the “guardian” mode in which the person would drive with integrated assistance from the machine.
As to the ongoing debate as to which technologies will ultimately emerge as the most viable – hybrid, plug-in hybrid, fuel-cell, or pure electric – Leroy answered, “Nobody knows the exact ratio of how all these will turn out because it depends largely on each region’s infrastructure, too. So Toyota develops them all.”
Leroy believes that developing an efficient battery is the key to a successful 100 per cent electric vehicle and so his company has partnered with Mazda and Denso to develop a solid-state battery with improved driving range. With more than 200 engineers working on this, Toyota is betting that its battery technology could be commercialised by the early 2020s.
As a worldwide partner with the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Toyota is looking to Tokyo’s 2020 Games hosting as the occasion for launching the Concept-i series and automated cars, among others.
The other players
Nissan’s IMx zero-emission crossover is a concept electric vehicle that is 100 per cent autonomous and with a driving range of over 600 kilometres.
The new Nissan LEAF, launched recently, is capable of single-lane autonomous driving, hands-free automatic parking, and can travel up to 400 kilometres.
Mitsubishi revealed its e-Evolution concept model as its bet for the world’s first completely electric SUV. With three motors, this SUV is supposed to run well in all road conditions with a driving range of 1,200 kilometres.
The Mitsubishi is also 100 per cent autonomous and responsive to voice command. AI and connectivity would push this SUV into the smart-car column as it factors information such as traffic and road conditions into finding the best route to destination. Mitsubishi plans to commercialise it by 2020.
Honda exhibited three concept models on stage – Honda NeuV, Honda Urban EV Concept, and Honda Sports EV Concept, all of which combines EV with AI and a certain level of automated driving technologies.
Honda’s Urban EV Concept model is indicative of the technology and design directions for that company’s future mass-production EV models, and a new model based on this concept will go on sale in Europe and then in Japan in 2020.
Automotive expert Pattanadej Asasappakij believes battery performance is most crucial in determining whether EV will be widely received by the public. Other factors include price and a network of charging stations.
“All car companies are working on both EV and hydrogen cars,” said Pattanadej. “A hydrogen car is better than EV because it does not need electricity, but the problem is how best to fill hydrogen into the car. For EV, batteries are toxic waste, so battery technologies must make them smaller and more efficient.”
The car guru said all car manufacturers have been researching for an approach to autonomous driving for a long time. For now, the automation will work in places where drivers strictly obey driving rules. But “there are many consequences to ponder, such as if an accident happen, who is legally wrong? What will be covered by insurance?”
AI, big data, and cloud computing technologies should make driving more enjoyable and safer.
“Trusting the car will be an issue to consider. How reliable is AI? Will it always make the correct judgement? All technologies today improve at a very fast pace, so we don’t have to wait for long to see the result,” concluded Pattanadej.