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.
All this, plus the D1 Drifters powersliding around a special course outside, put the 2010 Tokyo Auto Salon on the map.
But it was Toyota’s show, without doubt, and an intriguing electric version of the firm's classic Sports 800 roadster from the 1960s rounded things off. It showed that even the horsepower-heavy Tokyo Auto Salon can go green when it wants to.