Most global carmakers look to China, absent in Tokyo image

This year’s Tokyo Motor Show is a lonesome affair for the Japanese, with foreign automakers largely no-shows for the first time in decades as they cut costs amid the downturn and focus on fast-growing markets like China.

The Japanese have always had a major presence at the Tokyo show, now being staged for the 41st time. But never before have this nation’s top five automakers and their affiliates so dominated the biannual event.

The cars on display Wednesday — electric vehicles, plug-ins, futuristic hybrids — were all designed to drive home the message that the Japanese are determined to take a decisive lead in green auto technology.

“The race to zero-emission has begun,” Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn said, driving on stage in a bullet-shaped electric vehicle.

Inspired by a motorcycle, the experimental Land Glider has wheels that tilt into corners, swaying from side to side.

Journalists got a preview of presentations by Nissan and other automakers ahead of the event’s opening Friday. The show, which opens to the public over the weekend, runs through Nov. 4.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s No. 1 automaker, is showing a plug-in Prius, which travels longer as a pure electric car.

A regular Prius hybrid delivers better mileage by switching between a gasoline engine and an electric motor. Toyota leads in hybrids, selling a cumulative 1.4 million Prius cars since its 1997 debut.

CEO Akio Toyoda showed off an in-the-works two-seater Lexus luxury hybrid called LF-Ch.

To stress that Toyota also was bullish about electric vehicles, he showed the short-range commuter FT-EV II.

“Some say that hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles are completely different,” he told journalists. “But Toyota hybrids can also run as electric vehicles. They are already half electric vehicles.”

Takeshi Uchiyamada, executive vice president at Toyota, said 30% of Toyota’s new product sales may be hybrids, not including plug-in hybrids, by 2020.