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Toyota dreams and has £14bn to build the cars

Tokyo motor show was a reminder of the Toyota group's standing in the international motor industry firmament. The third biggest vehicle maker in the world has a domestic market share of around 40%, will sell 2m units in North America this year and is in the middle of a major manufacturing expansion in Europe.

With cash reserves approaching £14bn, Toyota can do more or less what it wants - it created 29 concept cars for its stand.

Fujio Cho, president of Toyota, said: "Motor shows are where we are able to present to many people the unlimited dreams we have for cars."

Those dreams, thought some viewing the Pod, might be chemically enhanced. Pod, developed in conjunction with Sony, can detect the mood of the driver and change the colour of a panel on the outside to reflect that.

A drive-by-wire joystick operated by the driver's right hand -- shades of the latest jet fighter technology -- controls all steering, braking and acceleration.

This is space-age stuff that the grandchildren of today's learner drivers might be comfortable with - for now, it was a free-thinking, futuristic exercise designed to amuse Japan's fad-conscious car buyers.

A pretty girl wearing minimal clothing ensured consumers swarmed over the stand on public days and other manufacturers were equally determined to entertain show-goers.

But the thrust of Toyota's presence - which included its Daihatsu subsidiary for the first time - involved pertinent technology like fuel cell vehicles, hybrids and other ultra-high economy models. There were few all-new production cars on display, but sports car concepts like the FXS roadster, RSC (for rugged sports coupe) and Daihatsu Copen appear to be heading in that direction.

So, too, do the FCHV hybrid concept vehicles, including the Series IV and V based on a production sports utility known as Kluger V (Highlander in North America).

Toyota is gearing up for limited production of fuel cell vehicles, including the fuel cells themselves, starting in 2003. Along with Honda, Toyota appears to be setting the pace in the development of these silent, emissions-free vehicles that promise to keep the world mobile in the mid-21st century.

The ES3 four-seater concept (revealed at Frankfurt) demonstrated for Toyota's Japanese aujdience the direction it is taking with production vehicles. It might be a forerunner for the joint Toyota/Peugeot-Citroen sub B-sector car due to be built in central Europe from 2005. Toyota will be responsible for the platform engineering and manufacturing, and PSA will handle parts procurement. Both companies promise separtate body styles. (November 9, 2001)

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