Walking the show floor at the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon, Japan’s number one custom and tuner extravaganza, one thing soon became clear: the organisers had actually got the name wrong. This year it really should have been dubbed the "Toyota Auto Salon".
At a time when many cried off due to the recession, Toyota went the other way, putting in a huge commitment to this annual performance show.
We had a stand chock-full of new and cool performance-orientated stuff and Akio Toyoda himself, Toyota’s new petrolhead CEO and the man behind the LFA, turned up and took part in a talk show.
With Toyota also launching a new ‘G' sports conversion series for Japan, there was no doubting the message: the firm really wants to connect with young Japanese enthusiasts and push the performance and 'fun to drive' bit.
On the stand, many eyes fell on the FT-86 G Sports Concept, a fresh version of the compact, rear-drive sports coupe that Toyota and Subaru are working on. This latest iteration of the ‘Toyobaru’ looks much sharper and sexier in the metal, and has found a turbocharger now to go with its 2.0-litre Subaru-flat four.
Then there was the GRMN Sports Hybrid Concept, a startling remake of the old MR2 with 3.3-litre V6 hybrid power and four-wheel drive. It is a car that raises all kinds of interesting questions and possibilities.
Fancy a faster iQ or a driver-orientated Aygo? Toyota could oblige there too. Step forward the iQ GRMN + Supercharger Concept with a blown 1.3 litre and 97bhp at its disposal. The GRMN FR Hot Hatch concept was a reworked, 1.5-litre, rear-drive Aygo, the reasoning being that that’s more fun than a normal Aygo.
GRMN, by the way, stands for Gazoo Racing (Akio’s racing arm) with MN referring to Hiromu Naruse, Toyota’s master test driver.
Okay, so Toyota’s two Prius concepts were a touch, er, challenging, but the Lexus IS-F CCS, a track-day special with many carbonfibre bits, looked stunning.
Across at Honda, a bodykitted Sports Modulo version of the Insight held centre stage. Nissan revealed a Club Sports version of the 2010 GT-R, while Subaru relied on a small STi stage to showcase its new, domestic-market, 316bhp Impreza R205 (the next step up from last year's WRX STi Spec C).
In recent Tokyo Auto Salons, it’s been the Nissan GT-R that’s been the aftermarket favourite. This year, many went for the Prius (it is Japan’s best-selling car, after all). Cue dozens of dressed-up versions of Toyota’s eco-champ, some more tasteful than others.
In the dare-to-be-different department, I loved the fake Toyota 2000 GT Roadster built off a Mk 1 MX-5 chassis. A spectacular dragon-flavoured, rotary-engined Westfield was another eye-catcher, while a green bodykitted Subaru Forester from NATS was so ugly that it made the standard Forester seem like the Mona Lisa.