Eco-friendly cars were in the spotlight as the Tokyo Motor Show opened Wednesday, with Toyota unveiling a new model and Nissan touting its aerodynamic BladeGlider for energy-conscious drivers, AFP reports.
Toyota, a pioneer of hybrid vehicles, rolled out its FCV concept car, a four-seater sedan that has a range of 500 kilometres (310 miles) -- longer than previous versions -- and whose fuel cells can be recharged in just three minutes through hydrogen gas tanks stored inside.
The car, expected to go on commercial sale in about two years, seeks to jump key hurdles that have hindered consumer buying of eco-friendly vehicles such as limited range and refuelling infrastructure.
Relatively high prices and restricted model choices have also hurt demand despite automakers' big hopes for the sector.
But purchases of low-emission vehicles are forecast to grow due to increasingly strict emissions standards.
"Reducing energy consumption is the key for automobiles to survive," said Osamu Honda, executive vice-president of small-car maker Suzuki.
"The demand for less fuel consumption is getting stronger and stronger."
Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, also showcased its futuristic scooter-like FV2 which allows standing drivers to change direction simply by shifting their weight. It is similar to the Segway although it can move at faster speeds.
The concept vehicle's pop-up windshield can turn oncoming objects a distinct colour to alert drivers to their presence.
Despite the show's focus on eco-friendly vehicles, Toyota executive vice president Mitsuhisa Kato said automakers must still make vehicles that consumers want to buy.
"We must not turn cars into a simple means of transport -- a tool," he told reporters.
"We don't want a car that people neither love nor hate. We want to make cars that people fall madly in love with, cars that convince them they could never drive anything else."
The world's leading automakers have long been eyeing a big-selling green vehicle, including Honda -- which already has a fuel-cell car, the FCX Clarity, available on a small scale in a limited number of markets.
Rival Nissan on Wednesday showed off its BladeGlider, an electric concept three-seater vehicle that is meant to give drivers a sense of piloting an airborne glider.
The sleek, futuristic styling is squarely aimed at drivers who still want performance and styling in an environmentally friendly car.
But Nissan's target for sales of its commercially available Leaf electric vehicle are way behind the predictions of chief executive Carlos Ghosn, who said Wednesday he remains hopeful.
"The BladeGlider concept provides a glimpse of Nissan's electric programme and its potential," Ghosn said.
Eco-friendly vehicles are popular in high-tech Japan, with the show also exhibiting the latest advances in vehicle electronics.
"The link between cars and electronics is coming together more and more," auto expert Tatsuya Mizuno, head of Tokyo's Mizuno Credit Advisory, told AFP before the show started.
The exhibition's 43rd edition, which runs until December 1, features 177 exhibitors including parts suppliers from a dozen countries.
But US-based automakers, which have not attended since before the global financial crisis, are again staying away as are South Korean producers, with the exception of Hyundai.
The big European automakers will be looking to boost their presence in the world's third-largest car market after China and the United States.
However, foreign brands hold a miniscule share -- just 4.5 percent -- of a market that saw more than 5.0 million vehicles sold in Japan last year.
That puny presence has long fuelled anger among US and some European automakers, which say they have been effectively shut out of Japan through tariffs and other barriers.
The issue is an obstacle in ongoing free-trade negotiations.
Luxury German brands including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche, which have achieved significant success in Japan, are among this year's attendees, along with Audi, Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot-Citroen, Britain's Land Rover and Sweden's Volvo.