It was overwhelmingly obvious that this year’s Tokyo motor show was a two-sided event: The Germans versus The Japanese in a ‘Godzilla versus Mothra’ kind of way.
VW, Audi, BMW (with Mini), Mercedes and Porsche all sent their wares with very competent show stands with limited offerings from PSA, Renault, Volvo and JLR making an appearance. Japan was out in force with all the major OEMs. But here was the difference: the presentation.
Even though the Japanese OEMs had more of everything on show, it looked very simply that it should have been about quality rather than quantity. Included in quality is how holistically the stands were put together.
The Germans had tier 2 or even 3 grade stands (tier 1 would be your Frankfurt city sized constructions complete with driving tracks or star architects) whereas the Japanese, particularly Honda, Mitsubishi and Subaru, put up stands that looked like they were ordered from a catalog.
The exception was Nissan, who looked world class with the only unique plan and took up an entire end of Hall 6.
If the German stands can be mid-level in their terms and still look premium in comparison to many others, it really does show the difference in thinking between the two cultures.
In today’s global arena, presentation is everything. Just looking at Audi’s tried and tested red cars on white versus white cars on black with perfect lighting, or Porsche’s silver on silver for a homogenous ‘solid’ feel make others ‘colored’ with envy. Literally, this was the case.
The amount of randomly placed cars in assorted colors as seen on Suzuki, Daihatsu and Toyota felt like a smattering of sprinkles on ice cream. And talking of food, Toyota’s mess of a stand had an Americana plastic house complete with plastic trees and plastic people from an amusement park with what looked like a food stand hut from behind, complete with gingham cloth and ketchup/mustard tubes. It was actually their press counter – no hotdogs, not even plastic ones.
If the Japanese OEMs really wish to compete on an even global stage, a lot has to be learned from the stalwarts of the business. It isn’t enough these days just to do a good car, you need an even better pitch (both figurative and physically).
Anyone who has visited Japan can see this when looking at domestic car dealerships — the flat-pack construction and softly colored carpets do nothing to sell the car. In fact, it just enforces the idea that it is simply a household domestic product, a mobility machine best seen in white and comes with free installation. The stands at the Tokyo show were no different.
The Japanese are the masters when it comes to subtlety and sensitivity, but a car is a machine with soul and needs to be conveyed as such. Carmakers are selling an expensive ideal, a dream, and it’s that story that needs to be sold.
While not everyone can have a Mini dealership or stand with a DJ and a coffee bar, at the very least the stand needs to show off the passionate and perfectly produced work in a context that sets the tone.