Concept cars are always a good bet if you’re a trying to drum up a bit of attention and get the crowds flocking to your booth. And, at Tokyo Motor Show this year there were plenty of them vying for pole position.
But while many of these weird and wonderful visions of the future are nothing more than designer dreams, Nissan was showcasing its Ariya Concept, which is actually a lot more developed than just being a funky creation on wheels. This is a car that could actually happen.
In fact, Nissan had two new concepts on display at the show, with the Ariya being presented alongside the IMk. This dinky little all-electric offering draws its main inspiration from the tiny Kei cars that proliferate Japan’s packed inner city streets, but adds a whole lot more inside the bijou box design.
While the shag pile carpet might not be for everyone, the IMk looks undeniably cool and would sit nicely at the compact end of the growing EV marketplace. The car is designed with Japan firmly in mind, and its main purpose would be for shorter journeys. Simple, but effective.
While the Nissan IMk remains a pure concept for the time being, its larger relative the Ariya, suggested company executives, is in a much more advanced stage of development. A crossover EV, which is set to feature twin electric motors, the imaginative new model has evolved from the Nissan IMx concept that debuted in Tokyo back in 2017.
The Ariya Concept revolves around the core values of Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility thinking. As a result it would feature a host of new and improved technology with Nissan’s ProPilot 2.0 sitting at the heart of it all.
The beefed up package of driver aids would include the ability to enjoy hands-off highway driving, complementing Nissan’s already handy Door to Door Navigation. The much more sophisticated navigation system would benefit from a raft of cameras and sensors that cover a full 360 degrees around the car.
Meanwhile, your smartphone is meant as a key piece of the controls puzzle. For example, getting the car ready for your departure with seat position and heater controls adjusted before you’ve even got in could be carried out using your handset. There’s a party trick thrown in for good measure too. ProPilot Remote Park lets the car park itself once you’ve got out. Pretty useful if you’ve found a particularly tight space that makes getting out of the car itself nigh on impossible.
A celebration of Japanese design
Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president of global design seemed particularly excited about the car as he stood in front of it. He explained that both the exterior and interior are meant to celebrate the Ariya’s Japanese DNA. It’s definitely got more attitude than the similarly-sized X-Trail for example.
The striking front end is dominated by the traditional grille-replacing ‘shield’, which instead of being a conventional affair hides a lot of the tech that makes the car tick including Lidar. Another high point, quite literally, is the way the interior can accommodate even the tallest of occupants, despite the fact that the Ariya has its batteries in the flat floorpan.
Based on what you can see from Nissan’s images, once you’re sitting inside that Japanese influence is obvious, while less immediately spotted aspects such as seats with thinner frames means that the car should feel roomier.
It’s all Japanese minimalism too, with a 12.3-inch display monitor that features haptic controls offering a definite air of less-is-more for occupants.
And, if you want a premium feel then you should get that too from the seat coverings, door trims and natural wood flourishes that deliver an almost living-room-on-wheels experience.
The Ariya Concept sounds like it might have performance to match those dynamic looks too, with CHAdeMO quick charging via a port at the back of the front wing a la the Audi e-tron. Dual front and rear electric motors should promise lots of torque and Nissan executives hinted that its capabilities could be boosted with handling tweaks pulled in from the inspirational and legendary GTR. Concrete facts and figures on the eventual specification are pending, but the Ariya does sound like it could be a very exciting prospect to drive.
It isn't just Nissan that has been busy on the design front though as several other flamboyant concept vehicles dominated the Tokyo Motor Show floorspace. Toyota unveiled its mad-looking e-Racer concept, along with the similarly zany LQ.
Meanwhile, Lexus also had a solid pop at creativity with the outlandishly OTT design lines of its LF-30. Next to that the Mercedes-EQ looked mild by comparison. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi had a pretty wild concept offering in the shape of a plug-in hybrid SUV called the Mi-Tech.
Elsewhere, the rather likeable Hanare from Suzuki brought the living room on wheels theme back to life and this oddball creation doesn't get hindered by the sort of silly accoutrements you get in regular cars. In the case of the Harare that includes a lack of steering wheel and driver’s seat. Whether or not you’d actually ever see one on the road remains to be seen, but unlike the Ariya that's concepts for you.
Suzuki also had another bright idea on its booth – the shapeshifting Waku SPO two-seater PHEV that can morph into a pick-up or van. Its less radical Hustler looked modest close by as it draws inspiration from existing Kei cars.
Away from pure concepts, Mazda took the covers of its first proper EV in the shape of the MX-30, which is far more sensible. That’s not to forget the loveable and out soon Honda-e too of course, which made the revised and hugely practical Jazz look slightly tired by comparison.
So then, lots of EVs, and one or two concepts that might actually make it into production…
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Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.