Concept cars boast green, gadget cred at Tokyo Motor Show

High-tech digital systems are every bit as high profile as green technology in the latest concept cars

If you care about the environment and like gadgets there's a double dose of good news from this year's Tokyo Motor Show. Cars are going green and packing an increasing amount of high-tech systems to communicate with the driver and entertain passengers.The motor show, which opened to the media on Wednesday, saw the debut of a number of concept and prototype cars with electric, hydrogen or hybrid engines. In many of the concepts the dials and lights of the dashboard have been replaced by wide LCD monitors that provide much the same information but in a much more stylish and colorful way.

Nissan unveiled its Land Glider, a futuristic single-person all-electric vehicle that leans into corners like a motorcycle when it turns. The concept borrows some of the same dashboard features from Nissan's all-electric Leaf car that's due next year and features a wrap-around LCD panel with a second, center panel for the navigation display.

The car could be available as soon as three years from now and is aimed at city dwellers who want to make short trips. The car's small size is intended to help cut down on congestion, said Takashi Nakajima, product design director at Nissan's design center.

Equally shiny was the dashboard of Mitsubishi's concept PX-MiEV. The car, a plug-in hybrid, has three LCD panels around the steering wheel showing graphics representations of the car and its speed, energy performance and the air conditioning system. A fourth display in the center panel provides an interface to the entertainment system.

Honda brought its concept U3-X mobility device to the show. The U3-X has a small fold-out seat and a pair of fold-out foot-rests. Riders control the device by simply leaning in the direction they wish to move. An incline detector inside the device senses shifts in upper-body weight and responds by moving forwards, backwards or sideways, or turning.

Honda and Toyota have both developed such prototype mobility devices with the idea that one day commuters will travel by car to the edge of city centers and then get around within the city on the machines.

It's not just around the driver where things are going high-tech.Daihatsu unveiled the Deca Deca small van, which is intended to appeal to people with outdoor hobbies. Two large doors open up one entire side of the van, which is spacious enough in the rear to carry things like a bicycle or load of plants.

For photographers the van hides a special feature: Pull down a protective cover and a 35-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor is revealed. The cover becomes a desk top and you've got a small photo studio on wheels. A seat completes the set-up and provides a space to view images that have been taken on a photography trip and do some editing with a computer.

Phiaro, a company that builds one-off concept cars for auto makers, was showing a design of its own that has a touch-panel display to control the car's entertainment functions. The company worked with mobile network operator Willcom to build in its Core XGP service that supports 20Mbps data networking to and from the car.

The Tokyo Motor Show opens to the public on Saturday and continues until Nov. 4 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, near Tokyo.

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Tags JapanTokyo Motor Showautomobilesgreen cars

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