Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Tokyo’s shrinking motor show

October 22, 2009

Before the Tokyo Motor Show kicked off this week, I wrote about how subdued the biennial event was likely to be this year, in the absence of any foreign automakers or even domestic truck makers.

But I’m not sure I was quite prepared for what I witnessed here on the second day of the media preview days.

AUTOSHOW/Sitting here in the press centre where there are nearly 200 work spaces set up, you could almost hear a pin drop. Most of the seats are empty, and there’s only the low hum of hard drive motors escaping from the laptops of the few of us left here.

As a car industry reporter, I’ve been to dozens of motor shows on three continents over the past seven years. At the media centres, it’s usually a mad rush to grab a spot or a LAN cable connection; and there’s no guarantee someone wouldn’t pull the cord anyway, if you leave your PC unattended for more than half an hour.

Down on the show floor, the mood was similar, if not worse.

Despite spanning just half of the floor space as the last Tokyo Motor Show two years ago, the first thing you noticed was how much the organisers must have tried — rather unsuccessfully — to fill the gaping holes left on the red carpet by the would-be exhibitors that pulled out over the preceding months.motorshow2

This, despite the fact that Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors, for example, share the east wing of the convention hall with Takara Tomy, a toymaker known for its miniature car models. Or a stretch of panels displaying children’s drawings of futuristic cars.

Needless to say, all the motorcycle and parts makers have also been “promoted” to the main exhibition hall this year, after occupying a more remote corner of the Makuhari Messe venue in previous shows.

“It’s sad, isn’t it,” said an acquaintance tending one of the carmakers’ booths, stopping me in my tracks as I strolled through the seemingly deserted halls.

“There’s so much space. You can actually feel a breeze in here,” he said, griping about the endless comparisons he saw on TV last night against the glitzy, well-attended Shanghai auto show in April.

It seems when times are tough and cash is dear, there’s no contest between China and Japan.

In China, interest in cars is so high that even on media-only days at the auto shows, you’ll see children and toddlers with adults who are either taking liberties with their press credentials or had bought the coveted passes from scalpers.

As is true in many smaller-scale local shows, some visitors place orders for cars at the motor show booths in China.

Chinese car sales will top 10 million this year, more than double those in Japan.

Since the turn of the decade, carmakers in Japan have been battling sinking sales as the population ages, urban-dwellers grow in number and people simply lose interest in cars.

This year, one of the aims of the motor show is to ignite interest in cars among children, in the hope that one day, they will become loyal customers, organisers say.

“We’re extending free admission to junior high school students this year,” Satoshi Aoki, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said before the show. “We appreciate your help in promoting the event to the public.”

Picture credits: REUTERS/Toru Hanai and REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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