Nissan’s senior vice-president of design, Alfonso Albaisa, said at the Tokyo motor show that the city's shows of the early 1990s were far bigger than today.
While that sounds like a bit of a damning statement for Japan’s hold on the global market, it’s not a very fair one. Motor shows are in a bit of decline; why would manufacturers choose a crowded motor show and risk being overshadowed by someone else’s product when they can have all the glory with a non-motor show release? The internet has made this far more possible and fruitful than before.
Albaisa’s not all wrong, though; in the 1990s, Japan had a bit of a boom in the car industry - he called it the ‘Bubble of Japan’. But, fast forward to 2017, it’s safe to say that Japan is well and truly back.
Although some may argue that the Japanese auto industry never really went anywhere, it has lost a bit of momentum in recent years, with models such as the Mitsubishi Mirage and previous-generation Nissan Micra embodying how beige things had become.
What does Japan have today, then? A global sales-leading electric vehicle in the Nissan Leaf, with a sporty version teased and a follow-up SUV on the way. Sales and overall package phenomena in the Toyota C-HR and Nissan Qashqai. A class-leading hot hatch in the Honda Civic Type R. Potentially world-beating EVs in Honda’s EV concepts. The return of the Honda NSX, a family of exquisitely styled Mazdas, as well as the Toyota Supra and Honda S2000. A trio of great-handling affordable sports cars in the Toyota GT86, Subaru BRZ and Mazda MX-5. A remarkable return to glory for the Nissan Micra and Subaru’s WRX, with a Mitsubishi Evo steaming its way back for the next round of their grudge match.
And that’s just the start of it.
There’s a lot hanging on this Japanese renaissance; there’s a lot of potential in there and nearly all of it at least a couple of years off, so the ball needs to get rolling, and quick. South Korea’s car industry has built a formidable head of steam, especially in the UK, and various global concerns mean that a wrong turn or unfortunate setback could put an end to multiple models.
But, until that happens, let's just celebrate that the Bubble of Japan is back. And for fans of the car industry, that's a ferocious force for good.