Twelve hours at 35,000ft is time enough to consider the winners and losers at this year's Tokyo motor show.
The losers were all those who decided not to show up. For this was great motorshow: full of fun, optimism and an abiding passion for cars. From the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-type coupé to the little Honda S660 and Gordon Murray’s Yamaha Motiv – this was a show that celebrated great cars in all their many guises, from big to small, traditional to avant garde.
But the real winners will be the show-going public, a point too often lost on organisers of motor shows around the world.
In the same way those who work in F1 forget they’d not have jobs were it not for the public that watch what they do, car manufacturers regard motor shows primarily no longer as a means of introducing the public to their cars in the most user-friendly form possible, but as a form of corporate willy-waving aimed to prove to their industrial opposition that mine really is bigger than yours. At Frankfurt in September I have no doubt the VW Group alone took more stand space than every major car manufacturer that turned up in Tokyo put together.
The result, as anyone who has been to the Frankfurt show will tell you, is you spend much more time walking between stands than looking at what they contain, which is frankly farcical. One end of the show was over a mile away from the other and apart from being murderous on your feet, it is very inefficient with your time.
By contrast look at Tokyo, or indeed, the Los Angeles show taking place at the same time but on the other side of the planet. In Tokyo there were two small halls filled with relatively compact stands which were therefore packed with interesting cars: elsewhere in the world manufacturers have to stuff their stands with products old and new and myriad variations thereof simply to fill the acreage they’ve bought. By far the biggest stand in Tokyo belonged to Honda and had this been Frankfurt it would have been so small there’d have been a genuine chance of missing it altogether.
Also notable by its absence in Tokyo were the vast backstage cities and front-of-house glitz manufacturers build allegedly to keep customers and journalists entertained and interested but, once again, really just as acts of Jonesmanship on an industrial scale. I interviewed Ted Klaus – the man in charge of the Honda NSX – and instead of being ushered away into some closeted inner sanctum as is usually the case, we didn’t even have anywhere to sit down, so we just stood by the car and talked.
And I can understand why such a back-to-basics approach may be seen by some as a little too hair-shirted, but to me it revealed an essential truth: it’s all about the cars. Or at least it was in Tokyo. Which is exactly how it should be and, elsewhere, too rarely is.