Japan's 'Little 4' automakers battle the big boys at the Tokyo Auto Show

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Indy Lifestyle Online

They may not garner the sales or the acclaim of their "Big 3" compatriots but Japan's "Little 4" automakers -- Suzuki, Mazda, Subaru and Daihatsu -- unveiled some impressive cars at the October 21 opening of the Tokyo Auto Show.

Suzuki, which sells in such huge numbers at home that they were the ninth best-selling carmaker worldwide through the first half of 2009, was keen to show off its Swift Plug-In Hybrid compact, developed in partnership with Detroit's General Motors. But it's their tiny Alto concept which is expected to play a big part in the company's immediate future, as the unremarkable but efficient car should appeal to the broadest possible audience.

Subaru showcased its first hybrid ever, the highly anticipated Tourer hybrid concept station wagon, featuring a turbocharged engine that is expected to become a common feature of future Subaru hybrids. With gullwing doors, plenty of power and great fuel efficiency this car could take the wagon market by storm in 2012.

Mazda exhibited their updated Kiyora hybrid concept to showcase their latest environmental and safety technologies. A stop/start idling stop system, regenerative braking and their latest hybrid engine technology all contribute to an excellent 75 miles per gallon (3.1 l/100 km) fuel economy.

The most important car for Daihatsu is their e:S minicar, which gives a strong indication of where the minicar specialist is headed in the future. The tiny petrol car boasts an impressive 71 mpg (3.3 l/kpl), stop/start idle technology and will likely be a hit across Asia and possibly Europe.

Daihatsu's Deca Deca revealed something of a mix between a boxy van and the mini "kei" cars that are so prevalent in Japan. Their Tanto EXE concept provides a preview of the next generation of their popular minivans.

From an aesthetic perspective, perhaps the most interesting car from Daihatsu is their sturdy Basket all-terrain convertible. The dimensions have been reduced, but this car harkens back to the bygone International Scout (produced 1961-1980) , perhaps the first non-military SUV ever.

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