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2009 Tokyo Motor Show Report
Personal mobility highlights a lean year
This year's edition of the Tokyo Motor Show was very lean. Notably absent from the bi-annual motorcycle and automobile show was Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki, as well as all European brands. A show representative told us the number of exhibitors was less than half from the previous year, a poignant sign of these difficult economic times.
The relatively low-key exhibition had an overall theme of personal mobility, highlighting green technology like electric and hybrid-electric power sources, as well hydrogen-fueled engines. Make sure to check out our photo gallery to check out all the cool stuff from the show.
Honda had the biggest motorcycle presence at the show, highlighted by the new VFR1200F we'll be riding in a few days (check out our blog post for our initial impressions). When pictures first surfaced of the V-4-powered sports tourer, online critics generally judged the styling with less than glowing reviews. But I can tell you that it looks much better in person, appearing less bulky than 2-D photos. Its modern styling elements may require some time to get used to, but by the same token, it makes some other contemporary bikes look a bit dated.
The VFR is aimed more at the BMW K1300S sporty tourer rather than the comfier K13-GT, and you can expect an MSRP to match, even though Honda hasn't yet announced a retail price. They will be hitting dealers in March 2010. American Honda will be bringing only the red version of the new Viffer, but other markets have the option of attractive silver or white variants.
Also shown was a production version of the CB1100 naked roadster seen in concept form two years previous at the Tokyo show. This sporty bike is powered by an air-cooled inline-Four that harkens back to iconic Hondas from the 1970s. Fuel injection and a catalyzed exhaust brings it into the 21st century. Sadly for North Americans, only Brazil and Australia are thus far scheduled to receive the cleanly styled retro nakeds.
Surprisingly, the CB1100F, a sportier relative of the non-F CB also shown at Tokyo two years ago, hasn't been slated for production, although a “concept” version was on display this week. To my eye, the bikini-faired F would have the greatest appeal among American baby boomers. It would seem to be a wonderful alternative niche bike for the North American market, but Honda says it currently has no plans to send it down the production lines.
Honda also displayed several examples of green technology. A sure-fire hit around the globe would be an electric version of the venerable Super Cub, the world's most produced motorcycle. The EV-Cub concept is built around an aluminum die-cast frame and uses small electric motors mounted in the hubs of both wheels, creating a two-wheel-drive system.
Another clever item from Honda is a compact generator that is fueled by portable butane tanks for electric power anywhere. The ENEPA follows a likewise-fueled garden tiller, the Pianta, first seen last year and already available in Japan.
The Suzuki area next door wasn't quite as dynamic as Honda. The Bandit 1250 gets an update, now fitted with a new full fairing to become the 1250F ABS. Also shown was a 400cc version of the Gladius 650 that debuted last year, sharing the 90-degree V-Twin architecture. A 400cc Boulevard cruiser also made an appearance, motivated by a 45-degree liquid-cooled V-Twin.
Suzuki also jumped on the green technology bandwagon with its Burgman Fuel-Cell Scooter, a look ahead at what might one day make production. It is hydrogen powered and uses an air-cooled fuel cell. Suzuki makes the spurious claim of a 220-mile range – the catch is that range is only achievable at a steady 19 mph.
One hall over was the Yamaha display, and it included more electric-powered variations than gasoline-fueled motorcycles. The company's flagships (VMax, YZF-R1 and new YZ450F motocrosser) were on display, and they were joined by a smattering of concept, prototype and “reference vehicles” that revealed a glimpse of future products.
Appearing ready for production was the SR400 thumper, a variant of the long-running SR500 formerly sold in the U.S. decades ago, now anointed with fuel injection to modernize the old air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve motor.
Further down the production road are some slick electric-powered personal mobility devices like the EC-f, a minimalist and futuristic vision of what might eventually be found on the road.
Harley-Davidson had a presence at the show, the only American company making the trek to Japan this year – Ford, GM and Chrysler were all absent. Oddly, the H-D display incorporated a Buell section. Apparently they didn't get the memo that the Buell factory was being shuttered as we reported here.
Of all the Tokyo Motor Shows to attend, the 2009 edition won't go down in history as the best. But as the world economy improves, we're sure to see a much more impressive bounty of interesting new vehicles. Based on this year's show, it's inevitable that we'll see a continued emphasis on clean and green two-wheelers as time marches on. Please check out our photo gallery for much more info.