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Seven cool things set to happen in Japan during 2015

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RocketNews 24 (by Casey Baseel):

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that you should always wash your hands after going to the bathroom. If there’re two things we know, though, the second is that you’ll never get anywhere in life being fixated on the past. So while 2014 was a pretty good year for us, we’re already looking to the year ahead, which is already promising seven cool happenings for Japan in 2015.

1. Opening of the new Shinkansen line

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Japan may have a reasonably priced overnight bus network and well-maintained highways, but there’s no denying that the quickest and most convenient way to get around the country is the Shinkansen. Currently, you can travel by bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano, but the new Hokuriku Line will allow travelers to extend their Shinkansen trips from Nagano all the way to coastal Kanazawa. So starting March 14, you’ll be able to zip on over to the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture in record time to enjoy its historic Kenrokuen Garden, delicious seafood, and, provided you’ve still got some yen left over, golden handicrafts.

2. First flight of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet

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If tertiary travel is too tedious for your rarified tastes, there’s also the maiden voyage of the MRJ coming up in 2015. Jointly developed by Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Fuji Heavy Industries (parent company of automaker Subaru), the MRJ is scheduled to take to the air for the first time this spring. Airlines won’t be receiving their own until 2017, but nonetheless, the upcoming test flight is a major step towards Japan’s first domestically produced airliner since the financial failure of Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing’s YS-11, which was discontinued over four decades ago.

3. Osaka’s Dotonbori Canal becomes a pool


If you’ve spent much time looking at photos of Japanese cityscapes, odds are you’ve seen Dotonbori, Osaka’s neon-lit entertainment district that straddles the Dotonbori Canal. After years of revelers diving into the water after victories by the local Hanshin Tigers baseball team, someone decided they may as well make part of the canal into an outdoor pool, which is just what’s scheduled to happen to a one-kilometer (0.62-mile) section of it for four weeks in August of 2015.

4. The next, and possibly final, Evangelion movie

Creator Hideaki Anno has never been particularly decisive about putting a period on his masterwork, as evidenced by how Eva’s cash-strapped TV finale has already been followed by a half-dozen movies. Signs point to a late 2015 release for the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion theatrical feature, though, which has been billed as the culmination of 20 years’ worth of groundbreaking animation (those of you who can’t wait until the end of the year can whet your appetite with a teaser-style Eva short film right here).

5. So long, SIM locks!

Like topknots and the feudal system, SIM locks are set to become a thing of the past in Japan starting this May.

6. The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II

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2015 is also a good time to stop and take a moment to appreciate that Japan can get excited about developments in consumer electronics because it’s a country at peace, as it has been for the last 70 years.

7. Prince William visiting Japan

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Another thing that wouldn’t have been happening during open war between the U.K. and Japan, Prince William is scheduled to visit the country as part of a trip through Asia in late February.

Mitsubishi Motors to sell Illinois plant and move U.S. production to Japan

Mitsubishi Motors

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. will stop making vehicles in the U.S. this year and close down its plant in Illinois if no buyers are found.

Bloomberg ( Jie Ma):

The Japanese automaker will cease producing its only model, the Outlander Sport, at the Bloomington-Normal plant at the end of November, it said in a statement today. The SUV will be exported from Okazaki in Japan to North America from the next model year. A final board decision is pending July 30.

Mitsubishi Motors’ move follows that of Suzuki Motor Corp., which exited the U.S. car market in 2012 after three decades. While U.S. auto demand is recovering, smaller Japanese car companies are finding it difficult to get enough orders to run their plants economically. A weaker yen also makes producing in Japan for export more viable, though Mitsubishi President Tetsuro Aikawa said foreign-exchange rates had no bearing on the decision.

Production at the U.S. plant, opened in 1988 as a joint venture with then Chrysler Corp., fell to as low as 18,500 units a year in 2009 from a peak of 222,000 units in 2000 due to the economic crisis and the end of supplying Chrysler. A slump in Russian demand since last year also dented output at the Illinois factory, which produced vehicles for export.

Aikawa said that the closure of the plant won’t have a big impact on its mid-term U.S. sales target. If no buyers are found, the company will take appropriate measures to settle the employees’ retirements, he said. Mitsubishi Motors will focus its production in Southeast Asia, Japan and Russia, he said.

Mitsubishi Motors rose for the first time in four days, trading 4.5 percent higher at 1,090 yen as of 1:58 p.m. in Tokyo trading. The benchmark Topix index fell 1.3 percent.

Toyota redesigning Prius plug-in hybrid to double car’s all-electric range

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RocketNews 24:

Toyota’s Prius is designed for one purpose, and it’s not to deliver the sort of exciting performance that will seduce you into taking a spirited drive through a moonlit mountain pass (that’s another car’s job). No, the Prius promise is that it will get you from Point A to Point B in the most energy-efficient way possible.

But while the standard hybrid Prius remains a popular choice for eco-conscious motorists, sales of its plug-in variant have been stagnant. Toyota is hoping to change that, though, with an updated Prius that can travel roughly twice as far under purely electric power than the current model.

If you’re the kind of person who’s more familiar with the handling differences between front-wheel, rear-wheel, and all-wheel drive than what separates one class of hybrid from another, a brief refresher on just what constitutes a plug-in hybrid may be in order. Unlike a standard hybrid vehicle, the batteries in a plug-in hybrid can be charged directly by plugging the car into a socket. By allowing the car to run in either a purely electric mode or with the electric motor and gas engine working together, plug-in hybrids seek to combine the flexibility of a normal hybrid with the efficiency and lower emissions of an all-electric vehicle.

Toyota released its first plug-in Prius, called the Prius PHV, in January of 2012. Hoping to build on the strong brand awareness and reputation of the normal hybrid Prius, the company was expecting a similarly warm response for the newer, ostensibly more advanced version of the car.

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But while the Prius PHV sought to offer the advantages of both a hybrid and all-electric mode, it couldn’t deliver on the latter for very long. From a full charge, the current Prius PHV can only run 26.4 kilometers (16.4 miles) in full-electric mode before its batteries are drained, meaning that unless you’re headed someplace fairly close, you’re going to need to burn a little gas to get there and back.

Car buyers haven’t seen that as much of an advantage, especially considering that prices for the Prius PHV start at 2,931,429 yen (US$24,634), more than 30 percent more than the ordinary Prius hybrid, which is priced from 2,232,000 yen. The end result is lackluster sales numbers, and three years and three months after its launch, Toyota has only found some 20,000 buyers for the Prius PHV, a mere fifth of what the company was hoping for in that time frame.

In contrast, rival Mitsubishi Motors has enjoyed great success with its Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid SUV, which boasts a 60.2-kilometer all-electric range. Even with its much higher price (starting at 4,123,440 yen), Mitsubishi has been selling Outlander PHEVs at a brisk pace, moving 13,000 in 2015 alone.

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This sales gap has shown Toyota that it needs to step up its game, and the company has announced that the Prius PHV will be getting an update. Equipped with an increased quantity of batteries, and also thanks to weight-saving measures in other parts of the vehicle, Toyota is promising that the refreshed Prius PHV will be able to travel more than 50 kilometers in its all-electric mode, a distance roughly twice what the current model is capable of.

The new Prius PHV is expected to arrive at dealers in the fall of 2016. In the meantime, grab a map and start plotting out all the new places you’ll be able to go without needing a drop of gas.

Mitsubishi PHEV Concept Teaser

The first clear pictures of Japan’s Stealth Fighter emerge

The First Clear Pictures Of Japan's Stealth Fighter Emerge

Japan‘s Mitsubishi built ATD-X experimental stealth fighter has emerged! This technology demonstrator, known within the Japanese Ministry Of Defense as the “Spirit of The Heart,” is set to fly sometime later this year.

The First Clear Pictures Of Japan's Stealth Fighter Emerge

Japan hopes the Advanced Technology Demonstrator eXperimental (ATD-X) will lead to a larger high-performance production aircraft with low-observable (stealthy) qualities, designed and built indigenously sometime in the next decade. New technologies that the ATD-X will test include a second generation AESA radar, advanced “fly-by-fiber-optic” flight control system that can compensate for battle damage and control surface failures, an advanced ESM and ECM suite, thrust vectoring and locally developed high-thrust turbofan engines to name a few.





The First Clear Pictures Of Japan's Stealth Fighter Emerge



Japan’s rarest cars, from exotic sports coupes to Toyota’s answer to the Hummer

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RocketNews 24: 


For decades, the automobile industry has been one of the driving forces behind the Japanese economy. But for every Camry, Civic, or Miata that went on to international success, Japan’s carmakers have produced a model that came and went so quickly that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s even seen one on the street, let alone actually driven one.

Today, we present a field guide to Japan’s rarest, most frequently forgotten rides.

1. Toyota Sera

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Leading off is Toyota’s Sera, which given its design cues had a surprisingly long four-year run. Not only did this coupe feature a glass roof, it also came with Lamborghini-esque scissor doors, ensuring that the driver would always attract the attention of birds flying overheard and anyone in the parking lot. Unfortunately, the Sera also featured lackluster performance and handling, and the disharmony of its “look-at-me” styling and absence of driving fun has resulted in it largely fading from memory.

2. Daihatsu Leeza Spider

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The engineers at Daihatsu who decided to tinker with the company’s Leeza Spider thankfully had the common sense not to give it a glass roof like the Sera. Unfortunately, their wisdom didn’t extend to picking a better car to chop the top off of than the dry as a piece of week-old white bread Leeza hatchback.

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Needless to say, the open-top version was even more short-lived than the standard Leeza, which only stuck around for seven years.

3. Suzuki X-90

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Daihatsu isn’t alone in the club of poor convertible decisions, as Suzuki’s corporate history carries the stain of the X-90. With proportions so awkward your first instinct when looking at a picture is to assume the image is warped, the X-90 sought to combine the unentertaining ride height of an SUV with the lack of practicality and luggage space of a compact roadster. The result was a two-seater with one seat more than it needed, as finding anyone willing to ride in the passenger seat of the X-90 was a difficult task.

4. Mazda AZ-1 / Suzuki Cara

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Mazda went all out with the AZ-1. Despite falling into Japan’s lightweight kei jidousha class of cars, the AZ-1, with its gull-wing doors and engine mounted behind the pilot, was built to squeeze every last drop of fun and excitement out of a car in the compact category. Unfortunately, the AZ-1 hit showrooms just about the time the bottom fell out of Japan’s Bubble Economy of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the car was a sales disaster.

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The Cara, a rebadged version of the car from Suzuki (which supplied the engine for the AZ-1), didn’t fare any better. The only apparent justification for the Cara’s higher sticket price versus its Mazda cousin was a switch to manually turn its fog lights on and off, and the Cara bowed out after just three years and a paltry 533 units sold.

5. Mazda Eunos Cosmo

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The AZ-1 wasn’t the only time the exuberance of Mazda’s designers won out against its accountants’ restraint. Its Cosmo luxury coupe, powered by the first, and only, triple-rotor engine the company has offered in one of its road-going cars, was initially hoped to be the flagship of its planned overseas luxury brand Amati. Instead, the Cosmo, with gas mileage similar to that of a Lamborghini but without the performance or panache to justify it, sold so poorly in Japan that the financial damage contributed to Mazda’s decision to scrap the Amati project entirely.

6. Mitsubishi Debonair V Limousine

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Mitsubishi got similarly overambitious with its Debonair V Limousine, which was offered in both “European Style” and “American Style,” with the latter featuring a faux convertible top and blacked-out windows.

Despite the clear effort and thought put into pleasing both metallic-roof loving Europeans and visibility-hating Americans, designers overlooked one critical item: the whole point of a limousine is to show others you have enough money that you don’t have to ride around in a Mitsubishi.

7. Toyota Origin

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Not even Japan’s largest automaker is immune to occasionally overestimating the appeal of its nameplate. The Origin, offered for only the 2000 model year, was designed to look almost exactly like Toyota’s Crown sedan of the 1950s, the first model the company exported.

A closer look at history would have revealed this was an inauspicious model to ape, though, as the 1950s Crown was a colossal failure in the international market, with performance well below what overseas buyers demanded. The Origin’s 7,000,000 yen (US $70,000) price tag was also a bold choice for a car powered by a measly 220 horsepower, and the limited edition Origin’s production run ended after Toyota found roughly a thousand drivers willing to bite on the initial batch.

8. Toyota Comfort GTZ Supercharger

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Toyota didn’t skimp at all on content with this model, though, as it tossed a supercharger, lightweight wheels, new front fascia, and lip spoiler on its Comfort sedan. Unfortunately, even all this wasn’t enough to overcome the Comfort’s image as a car for taxi companies and driving schools. Despite the potential for a great sleeper performance car, the public’s response was simply sleepy, making this tuned variant a rare sight.

9. Toyota Sprinter Trueno Convertible

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Another sporty Toyota that failed to catch on was this open-topped conversion of the fabled AE86 “Hachi Roku” Corolla fastback. Offered only through Toyota Tama dealers and with a price tag approaching double that of the hardtop it was based on, we can see why it never sold in big numbers. Nonetheless, excuse us as we shed a tear at all the open-air drifting we aren’t doing.

10. Toyota Mega Cruiser

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It’s pretty easy to make the analogy that Toyota is the General Motors of Japan, what with the long history and broad appeal to domestic buyers the companies share. Something else the two have in common is that much like GM offered the Hummer, a civilian version of the military Humvee, Toyota took the all-terrain vehicle it built for the Japanese Self Defense Force and produced a street-legal version called the Mega Cruiser. Given Japan’s narrow roads, tiny parking spaces, and expensive gas, you’re as likely to see a tank on the road as a 2,850-kilogram (6,270 lb.) Mega Cruiser.

11. Mitsuoka Orochi

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Finally, how about not just a car model that’s rare, but an entire manufacturer many people don’t know exists? While Mitsuoka’s started off as a boutique automaker that re-skinned Nissans in more eye-catching sheet metal, in 2007 the company released its own original creation, the Orochi. Despite its exotic looks, the Orochi is outfitted with the same engine that powers Toyota’s Land Cruiser SUV, which at just 220 horsepower produces far less thrust than that of the Italian exotics it’s clearly gunning for in the styling department. Still, for road presence and uniqueness it’s hard to top the Orochi, which appears on public roads only slightly more often than the mythical eight-headed serpent for which it’s named.

Sources: Naver MatomeCar Sensor

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Japan’s rarest cars, from exotic sports coupes to Toyota’s answer to the Hummer