Tokyo Auto Show a Technological Wonder The Tokyo Auto show is the premiere showcase for new automotive technology in the world. Sales of Japanese cars are reaching a 20-year low, and companies are looking to capture more of the market. On display are cars with electronic and windows on the floor for a view of the road.
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Tokyo Auto Show a Technological Wonder

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Tokyo Auto Show a Technological Wonder

Tokyo Auto Show a Technological Wonder

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Tokyo Auto Show opens this weekend. In many ways, it's the premier showcase for new automotive technology in the world. But sales of Japanese cars are reaching a 20-year low, and the great Japanese companies are looking for cars that will capture more of the market.

Ian Rowley is covering the Tokyo Auto Show for BusinessWeek magazine and joins us from Tokyo.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. IAN ROWLEY (Reporter, BusinessWeek): Thank you.

SIMON: What have you seen that's blown your socks off?

Mr. ROWLEY: Probably - it's fairly easy. It's a car called GT-R from Nissan, the new supercar.

SIMON: This is the big powerful one?

Mr. ROWLEY: Oh, this is a - it's very powerful. I think it's just about 190 miles an hour; naught to 60 in three and a half seconds. It's one heck of a car.

SIMON: Now, at the other end, I gather there are several Japanese cars that have made real gains on fuel efficiency or even operating by electricity.

Mr. ROWLEY: Yeah. Some of the most interesting ones, I think, are the ones that are the - technologically because they run on lithium-ion batteries, sort of similar to things you might find in a laptop computer or mobile phone.

SIMON: I saw the picture of a car - sequence of a car that tucks into another car.

Mr. ROWLEY: Oh, this is from Suzuki. Yes. The big one, it's actually not that big. And then they have these sort of - or a kind of a glorified wheelchair that kind of pops out of the back.

SIMON: Can you give us some insight as to some of the - what must be anxieties of these very talented engineers in the Japanese auto industry when they see competition from around the world - not only have U.S. automakers maybe gotten a little bit better, but India is now entering the market.

Mr. ROWLEY: It's interesting because, on the one hand, the - not all of the Japanese automakers are doing ridiculously well globally and fantastic sales and so forth. But one other thing that marks them out - and particularly Toyota - is they - they're a bit worrying about what the people are doing and using that to kind of drive themselves on.

Although in India, they're actually quite strong and particularly Suzuki, which controls about 50 percent of the Indian market. But the big thing that they've been talking about in that kind of area is plans to make a car that costs as little as $3,000. And Nissan, in particular, working with Renault, which is their partner, are desperately trying to get a $3,000 car in India by 2010, they're talking about.

SIMON: Mr. Rowley, what have you seen that you'd like to bring home yourself?

Mr. ROWLEY: Obviously, a car like a GT-R, but I think it's about $70,000. That's pretty a bit beyond my budget.

SIMON: And then - I notice there's a car that has windows at your feet so you can watch the road, which cannot be recommended safety procedure.

Mr. ROWLEY: I think this is more for the passenger. So one of the challenges the designers here is to make cars appeal to younger people and make them invest in new cars rather than - I don't know - getting a new mobile phone or a plasma screen TV. And those that letting watch the road while you're with passengers is just one of the little gimmicks they're sort of thinking about.

SIMON: Mr. Rowley, thanks very much.

Mr. ROWLEY: Thank you.

SIMON: Ian Rowley of BusinessWeek magazine, covering the Tokyo Auto Show.

And this is NPR News.

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