E-Power, Autonomous Driving Take Centre Stage At Tokyo

Taking Stock E-Power Autonomous Driving Centre Stage Tokyo Motor Show
E-Power, Autonomous Driving Take Centre Stage At Tokyo

Wild, over-the-top concepts cars, exotic design studies, cutting-edge technologies that may never see the light of day, and more glitz and glamour than you’d see in Hollywood – for years, that’s what the biennial Tokyo Motor Show (TMS) has been all about. The 45th edition of TMS concluded in the last week of October this year and its tagline of ‘Beyond the Motor’ provided more than a hint of what to expect. Sure, the glitz, glamour and exotica was all there and accounted for, but this year, the TMS also mirrored the automotive industry itself, which is currently in a state of flux, undergoing massive changes.

As reported every day in the media, the automotive industry is gearing up for the post-IC engine era, readying itself for the next stage in personal mobility, which will be driven by electric power and advanced driver assistance systems, including fully autonomous driver. Earlier, at global motor shows, OEMs used to focus on showing beautiful, high-performance cars to driving enthusiasts, and wowing people with V12 engines, big horsepower and dramatic styling. Now, the V12 is a rarity (the V8 has sort of taken over, and soon, the hybrid V6 will be baying for its blood too!) and manufacturers choose to focus on lowering emissions, increasing efficiency and building better, more improved ADAS. This was also the primary focus at this year’s TMS and here we take a look at some key factors that were the primary drivers for this year’s event.

ELECTRIC POWERTRAINS

With the governments in various countries already announcing deadlines for ending the use of the IC engine, OEMs are now scrambling to ramp up the development of advanced batteries and electric motors that will progressively replace the IC engine over the next 10-20 years. With more compact, lighter, longer-lasting batteries in development, and highly efficient electric motors that produce relentless torque with zero emissions, motoring is in for a big revolution that’s coming soon.

For anyone who still thinks electric vehicles (EVs) have to be very expensive and/or boring, Honda had the perfect motor show exhibit – the Honda Sports EV Concept, which made its world premiere at the TMS this year. While actual tech details are scant, Honda says that the EV Concept, which takes design cues from Honda cars of the 1960s, features a pure electric high-performance drivetrain, along with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) implementation that provides just the right amount of driver assistance when needed. The company also showed the new Honda CR-V hybrid SUV, which features Honda’s Sport Hybrid i-MMD two-motor hybrid system, with the vehicle being available in FWD and 4WD variants. The vehicle will go on sale in Japan next year.

Nissan also stepped into the EV fray, unveiling the IMx zero emissions concept at the TMS. While not slated for actual production at this time, the IMx is an all-electric crossover concept with a driving range of more than 600 km on pure electric power alone. The vehicle also features a future version of Nissan’s ‘ProPILOT’ system that, when activated, retracts the steering wheel into the dashboard and takes on all driving duties, providing fully autonomous driving. Propelled by a pair of high-output electric motors at the front and rear, which provide AWD capability to the IMx, the vehicle boasts an impressive 320 kW and 700 Nm of torque. Taking things a step further, the IMx can not only park itself, it can also connect to a smart electricity grid and act as a virtual power plant by returning electricity to the grid during longer periods of disuse.

Mitsubishi was also getting its EV act together and unveiled the new e-Evolution Concept, a 4WD electric SUV featuring high-performance electric motors and a high-capacity battery pack. The e-Evolution’s triple motor 4WD system uses a single motor to drive the front wheels, while twin rear motors drive the rear wheels via an electronically controlled torque-vectoring AYC (active yaw control) unit. Even the braking system is electric, with traditional hydraulic brakes having been replaced by electric callipers that provide improved braking feel and response.

Electric powertrain development, including advances in battery technology and electric motors, along with ADAS and autonomous driving took centrestage at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show

AI & AUTONOMOUS DRIVING

Apart from advanced electric powertrains, artificial intelligence (AI) and full autonomous driving were the other two big buzzwords at this year’s TMS. Nissan showed a modified Infiniti Q50 sedan prototype, featuring advanced autonomous driving tech that may be production-ready by the year 2020. Using Nissan’s next-generation ProPILOT technology and an elaborate AI setup that uses inputs from 12 sonars, 12 cameras, 9 mm wave radars, six laser scanners and a high-definition map, the car can analyse complex urban and highway scenarios in real time and navigate across all kinds of city traffic without any need for human intervention. Nissan will begin the rollout of 1st generation ProPILOT-equipped vehicles next year, with more advanced 2nd generation systems becoming available from 2020 onwards.

The Mitsubishi e-Evolution Concept shown at the TMS also features advanced AI, with a range of sensors that allow the system to read changes in driver intent as well as changing road and traffic conditions. By coordinating driver intent with vehicle performance, the AI system aims to unobtrusively enhance the driving experience, making driving easier and safer.

But while cars took the lead with AI implementation, motorcycles haven’t been left behind entirely. Honda showed the Riding Assist-e, an experimental motorcycle model featuring automatic balance control technologies that come from the area of humanoid robotics. The Honda Riding Assist-e can stay upright on its own, balancing automatically via small, autonomous movements of the handlebar, eschewing large, heavy gyroscopes that have sometimes been used in past for similar auto-balancing motorcycles. This new Honda system is light, compact and aimed at making urban riding in congested traffic easier for motorcycle riders.

In addition to futuristic design and styling, OEMs also showcased cutting-edge vehicle interiors, with major advances in user interface design. Expect to see bigger touchscreens and better voice recognition soon

While Honda showed its self-balancing bike, Yamaha took things many steps further, with the Yamaha Motobot Ver 2.0, a robot that can actually ride superbikes at high speeds. While not yet competitive against a top MotoGP rider like Valentino Rossi (yes, Yamaha did pitch the Motobot against Rossi, with the latter winning the ensuing ‘race’), the system is expected to help with further development of high-end bikes at Yamaha. The company also showcased the Niken, a three-wheeled motorcycle with innovative front suspension for advanced high-speed riding and cornering dynamics. Some of these innovations are expected to find their way on to Yamaha’s production-spec machines within the next year or two.

ELECTRIC COMMERCIAL VEHICLES

While cars and motorcycles provided the requisite glamour, the TMS also featured a smattering of next-generation commercial vehicles, with advanced electric powerplants. On display, for example, was the Mitsubishi E-Fuso Vision Once concept, which kicks off Daimler AG’s plans for electric trucks and buses. The all-electric E-Fuso Vision One is a heavy-duty truck that boasts a range of up to 350 km, making it well suited for regional intra-city cargo deliveries. According to Daimler, this e-truck could be production ready by the year 2021 and might go on sale in certain European markets depending on market factors.

Isuzu also showed its own electric truck, the FD-SI, a light-duty delivery truck featuring a large-capacity battery with rapid-charging capability. With its futuristic styling, advanced construction methods and all-new cabin design, the FD-SI is not really production ready and won’t be in the foreseeable future, but works as a design study for future electric trucks from the Japanese manufacturer. Isuzu also showed the Elf EV, a zero-emissions delivery truck powered by a lithium-ion battery pack and a driving range of up to 100 km. Small steps, yes, but expect big payoffs by the time the next TMS takes place in the year 2019.

TEXT: Sameer Kumar