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Tokyo Motor Show no longer Asia's premier auto showcase

Only 109 exhibitors will participate, compared with 241 companies during the previous show in 2007, as power in the automotive industry shifts from Japan to China.

October 24, 2009|Yuriko Nagano

TOKYO — The 41st Tokyo Motor Show 2009 is opening this weekend, but what used to be Asia's premier showcase of new automobile technology is turning into, well, pretty much a domestic event.

Just 109 exhibitors will participate, compared with 241 companies during the previous show in 2007. No U.S. automakers will display their wares. Just three foreign passenger carmakers are exhibiting, none of them major.

The decline underscores a shifting balance of automotive power in Asia, where China is the rising star. April's Auto Shanghai show drew 1,500 exhibitors, including the U.S. Big Three automakers and major European manufacturers.

Chinese auto production has already reached 10 million vehicles this year, making China only the third country, after the U.S. and Japan, to reach that mark, according to figures released this week by the China Assn. of Automobile Manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Japanese automakers have been hammered by the economic downturn. Production from January to August was 4.6 million vehicles, down 41.5% from the same period last year as exports fell, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Assn.

"The number of cars sold in Japan will continue to shrink compared to China because of Japan's low birthrate," said Yasuo Kusakabe, chairman of the Automobile Journalist Assn. of Japan.

"I'm worried. . . . The event needs to evolve into something where Japanese auto manufacturers can effectively show to the world more of where Japanese technological advances are headed, in order to not be eclipsed by China."

Japanese automakers are doing just that, exhibiting an array of hybrids and electric vehicles at this year's show. Japanese companies with green vehicle technology are still ahead of foreign competitors, but that dominance may not last, some experts said.

"Development time for electrical vehicles is shorter," said Shigeru Matsumura, senior analyst at SMBC Friend Research Center.

Tokyo's biennial motor show opens to the general public today. The event lasts until Nov. 4.

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Nagano is a special correspondent.

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