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Electrifying Tokyo Motor Show 2017


If you didn’t feature something with electric drive at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show you just didn’t rate. There weren’t any serious 4WDs on display, but the battery-based powertrain seems to be the way of the future. 

The Japanese event was held against a backdrop of recent global government policies that reject electrified vehicles. The most influential of these pronouncements was the Chinese Government’s imminent release of a timetable to end the ‘production and sales of traditional-energy vehicles’.

China is the world’s largest car market, accounting for around one third of global car sales.

The Chinese have followed the Netherlands, Norway, India, France and Great Britain in implementing policies to phase out the sale of new passenger vehicles that rely solely on internal combustion engines.

Presumably, these countries will have to accept some degree of heat-engine participation, in the form of hybrid powertrains and range-extenders for battery electric vehicles, unless there’s a radical battery breakthrough that allows for three-minute charging and 600+km range.

As regular attendees of overseas motor shows the Outback Travel Australia team is accustomed to sifting through showbiz glitz and glamour, to report on nuts, bolts and electronic innovations. We’ve now had to add ions and volts to the mix!

Electrification was obvious on nearly every vehicle-maker’s stand and powertrain exhibit.



This Daimler-owned Japanese brand has been re-inventing itself since its 2004 acquisition by the world’s largest truck maker and is now the leading electrification brand in the truck world.

Fuso launched the world’s first series-production battery-electric truck in Tokyo, presenting the eCanter light truck model. This vehicle will be sold in relatively small numbers in Europe and the USA, during 2018 and a 2.0 edition is expected in 2019.

The 2018 model uses an in-line electric motor, driving through a standard Canter live rear axle, but the 2020 edition should feature an across-axle motor and transmission unit, reducing weight and increasing efficiency.

The eCanter featured six lithium-ion battery packs and had a range of only 100-150km at launch.

OTA was given a brief drive of a loaded eCanter and we can assure you that it lacked nothing in performance: easily out-accelerating standard diesel-powered model. Performance was delivered in almost complete silence.

Engine braking was powerful, actuated by engaging a regenerative program that not only slowed the vehicle but put some amps back into the battery pack.

We eagerly await a twin-motor, 4WD version!

Star of the Fuso stand was its next-generation electric vehicle: the Vision One battery electric vehicle (BEV). The 23-tonne GVM medium truck on display was a ‘B’ sample, indicating that it’s well on the way to series production. ‘C’ and ‘D’ pre-production vehicles are scheduled for 2018 and the series production Vision One should be ready for release in 2020.



Volkswagen has been pulling out all the stops in the last year to repair its damaged image, so it was no surprise to see the oddly named ‘I D Buzz’ electric battery van on display in Tokyo. This twin-motor battery electric vehicle (BEV) is a zero-pollution machine, in strong contrast to VW’s law-breaking diesel passenger cars.

This retro-styled eight-seater made its global debut at the 2017 New York Motor Show and is scheduled for series production in 2022.

The ID Buzz has electric motor outputs of up to 280kW and a claimed driving range of 600km.




The Serena e-Power 4WD people mover is Nissan’s second model to feature e-Power technology that was introduced in November 2016.

The electric drive system borrows from the technology in the Nissan Leaf, the world’s best-selling electric vehicle, but e-Power also includes a small gasoline engine that charges the battery, eliminating the need for an external charger.

The latest iteration of ProPilot, Nissan’s single-lane autonomous driving technology for highway use, will also be available in the Serena e-Power, when it goes into production in mid-2018.

We don’t know the outputs yet, but Nissan’s electric-motor range currently runs to 160kW and 350Nm, so up to 320kW and 700Nm from twin motors is possible.

Another Nissan release at the Tokyo Show was the e-NV200 all-electric, BEV van. The front wheel drive show vehicle was fitted with an integrated fridge body: cooled by a refrigeration unit with its own lithium-ion battery pack.



The Toyota subsidiary has for a long time concentrated on compact vehicles: particularly the tax-encouraged sub-700cc minivan and mini-people-mover market. The Tokyo Show release was the DN U-Space van, with three-cylinder 660cc petrol power and sliding doors on both sides.

A hint of future electrification of this market came in the form of the DN ProCargo concept vehicle, with a low, flat floor and 1.6-metre headroom throughout.

Daihatsu’s DN Trec made its world debut. This compact SUV featured a 1.2-litre petrol-hybrid powertrain.



Suzuki previewed its XBEE range of small SUVs, powered by 1.0-litre turbo petrol engines, with mild hybrid electrification.

The company also showed two Spacia mini-van concept vehicles that looked production-ready.



The global market leader had several way-out concept vehicles on display, but the most practical was the cubist TJ Cruiser SUV. This wagon looked almost production-ready and may be powered by a two-litre petrol-hybrid powertrain.

Toyota is backing fuel cell technology and displayed the FCV SORA city bus and JPN taxi that are expected to be in production before the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

Toyota Body displayed an interesting LCV van and people mover concept, featuring teardrop side windows and dual sliding doors.



Electrification component makers

There was a raft of suppliers ready to provide auto makers with electric bits and pieces.


The Europe-based conglomerate showed off its latest electric transaxle assembly, combining motor and reduction gearing in a chassis-mounted module, with half-shafts to the wheels.

Interestingly, this display included brake discs mounted to the wheel rims, not the hubs.



Best known for its piston business the German maker introduced a 48-volt mild-hybrid package, with twin motors. The integrated unit was a plug and play design, with 40-60kW and 80-160Nm outputs.



Bosch displayed a schematic chassis with integrated electric motor and reduction gearing, driving to half shafts.



This components-manufacturing giant displayed an electric motor that demonstrated clearly the simplicity and weight-saving potential of electric propulsion.

The electric motor was a permanent-magnet, synchronous motor from a Formula E racing car. The specifications were most impressive: 500-700V DC input for 220kW and 440Nm, from a weight of only 27.5kg.



This Japanese supplier displayed a number of electric drive components, including production-ready motor-in-wheel units, a prototype compact example and a chassis-mounted motor and transmission for the rear wheel drive function on SUVs.



This local supplier displayed a production motor-in-wheel assembly and a way-out Flex Corner Module concept. This active display showed that the wishbones and steering arms were telescopic and able to vary steering arcs, track width, toe-in and toe-out and camber.




This specialist transmission maker released its CVT8 model at the Show. This new continuously variable transmission combines the seamless gear reduction of a CVT with hybrid electric integration.



Nuts ’n’ bolts

The mechanical side of the auto business continues to innovate, because even with electrification there’s still a need for reduction gearing, constant velocity joints, bearings and brakes.


The company’s latest development on display was a new, low-vibration CV joint that boasted a 30-degree operating angle and with a claimed reduction of 50-percent in shudder value. This has been achieved by employing a tripod design.


A name best known for prowess in the Sumo world is also one of Japan’s best known brake manufacturers. Concerned with the considerable amount of dust emissions from conventional friction brakes, this company is developing alternatives.

On display was a prototype magnetorheological fluid brake that used electrical current to alter the viscosity of internal fluid, to create a braking effect inside a sealed hub housing.