At Tokyo auto show, visions for cars of the future, no Ghosn

TOKYO (AP) – The Tokyo Motor Show opens this week with plenty of futuristic technologies but absent one of the auto industry’s hugest influencers: Nissan’s former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.

Since Ghosn’s arrest for alleged financial misconduct in November 2018, Nissan has seen its sales and profits tumble drastically.

At a presentation to reporters yesterday, two senior Nissan executives talked up electric vehicles featured at Nissan Motor Co’s booth. Ghosn is gone, but his legacy was evident in the many initiatives he spearheaded while running the company for nearly two decades.

As the company struggles to recover from nearly a year of chaos in its leadership, its rivals are pushing ahead. The Tokyo show gives automakers a chance to showcase some of the industry’s upcoming mobility technology, including ecological fuel cells and personal transport devices that look like scooters.

The show also features virtual reality shows and sports performances by robots.

For kids, there are sections devoted to Legos, miniature cars and driving games.

Toyota Motor Corp Chief Executive Akio Toyoda took centre stage, appearing first as an animation character in his likeness named Morizo.

Nissan Motor Co Ltd Senior Vice President Alfonso Albaisa speaks during a press conference at the Tokyo Auto Show in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

“We put people first,” Toyoda said, standing on a huge stage designed to evoke a futuristic city. Toyoda said his company will focus on “the power of people,” offering services in addition to new models, such as ecological commuting, mobile charging and the use of robotics and artificial intelligence to connect people in cars.

The main goal of the Tokyo show has been to woo Japanese consumers. World premieres are usually made at the US shows, in Detroit and Los Angeles. But all the major Japanese automakers had sprawling colourful booths.

American automakers like General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co, which have poor sales in Japan, usually skip the show, including this year. Among the more conspicuous foreign participants was French automaker Renault SA, Nissan’s alliance partner, whose booth faced Nissan’s.

Yokohama-based Nissan’s newly named Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Makoto Uchida, and his predecessor Hiroto Saikawa, who resigned last month over his own financial scandals, did not make appearances at the media presentation.

Nissan officials said Uchida hasn’t officially taken up his post and is still in charge of Nissan’s China joint venture. His successor there has not yet been chosen and it’s unclear if all that will be done within this year, they said.

At this year’s show, Nissan introduced two concept model electric vehicles, one a sport-utility vehicle and the other a tiny car, known as kei in Japan that its executives said would become commercial products soon.

Nissan pioneered electric vehicles, leading the industry with its Leaf hatchback, said Executive Vice President in charge of research and development Kunio Nakaguro. Nissan has sold 430,000 Leafs.

Design Chief Alfonso Albaisa, who also took stage, stressed how Nissan models boasted futuristic sleek and what he called “charming” forms characteristic of Japanese culture to highlight a bright future.

“So much innovation in such a little box,” he exclaimed of the tiny IMK concept car.

The Nissan executives also highlighted plans for bringing new technologies, such as “hands off driving” and “automated parking” to market. “We are not just going big on electrification. We are also thinking big on next generation driver assistance technology,” said Albaisa.