Why Japanese carmakers are concentrating on making the connection

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 03 Nov 2015

More than a machine: Subaru's Yoshinaga highlighted the emotional role its cars play in people's lives.

At this year's Tokyo motorshow, Toyota's keyword was "wow!" and on the Subaru stand, company head Yasuyuki Yoshinaga dedicated as much of his presentation to building a bond with owners, of "becoming partners in our customers' lives", as he did on discussing the future of connected or autonomous vehicles.

"A life with Subaru is a richer life. We want to create and share such opportunities for enrichment. We want to help our customers create indispensable partnerships with their Subarus that go beyond what people usually expect from their cars. This is our aim," he said.

Yoshinaga's counterpart at Toyota, Akio Toyoda, was also focused on emotion and on the car's cultural history, rather than simply on hybrids or hydrogen. "Why did people choose cars over horses? There are probably a lot of reasons, but the one I find most compelling is that it was simply more fun to get around by car. Maybe, just the existence of cars back then made people go ‘Wow!'," he reflected.

Since replacing the horse at the turn of the 20th century, the car has become an integral part of people's lives and a source of emotion and of deep feeling as much as a mode of transport. But the car is about to go through the biggest change in its 130-year history. As internal combustion gives way to plug-in or hydrogen powertrains, and driving gives way to being driven, the car as we know it today could be heading for an identity crisis.

It's why Toyota's Kikai concept investigates what makes machinery beautiful, why Nissan's Teatro for Dayz explores the wants and needs of tomorrow's car owner, and why much of this year's Tokyo motor show is dedicated to trying to strengthen the emotional connection in an age when zero-emissions, zero-fatality and potentially zero-involvement cars are common.

"Our objective for autonomous drive is not to take you out of the car. Our objective is to keep you in the car and empower you," said Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance about the idea of these new technologies breaking the bonds that drivers have with their cars. "There's a big difference between autonomous drive and driverless cars. Driverless cars are cars without a driver, which is what Google is pursuing. Our objective is to make your life on board more pleasant and easier."

But even as the technology develops and cars roll towards a future where they're potentially viewed as white goods, Japanese companies feel that they will still be able to find a way to make a human-machine connection.

"Eighty years on [from Toyota's birth], our customers can be found around the world. Our goal remains the same, however: providing "Wow!" to customers everywhere. This means bringing fun and excitement to all the communities in which you can find our cars. That, I believe, is Toyota's mission," said Toyoda. — AFP Relaxnews

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