The atmosphere at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show is almost surreal.

Every major manufacturer outside Japan pulled out of event, even the Chinese didn't pitch up.

Apart from true British specialist makers Lotus and Caterham, only BMW tuner Alpina saw fit to attend the 41st Tokyo show, leaving the domestic makers a clear field.

Motor Shows, it seems, are a high profile casualty of the economic downturn. Small numbers of automakers have this year not shown up at Detroit and Frankfurt but this is the first time one of the 'big five' shows - which also include Geneva and Paris - has been so badly affected.

Interestingly, earlier this year, everyone showed up at China's annual show. Could this be the end of motor shows as we know them?

Japan is hurting. Its population is shrinking and car sales are falling as people find car ownership in the country's crowded cities an increasing hassle. Parking is expensive and roads congested. Another headache for car chiefs is a decreasing interest in cars among young people.

According to a Reuters report, in Tokyo, home to one tenth of Japan's population, car ownership is under 0.5 per household, less than half the national average.

For the financial year to next March the Japanese Auto Makers Association (JAMA) predicts that car and truck sales will hit a 32-year low of around 4.3m vehicles, a drop of 8% from last year, despite reduced taxes and other incentive schemes aimed at slowing the slide.

At the show itself there were 19 world premieres, down from 37 two years ago, while floor space has been reduced by over half.

But the Japanese carmakers put on a brave face. At least Tokyo has given them the chance to display their latest technologies, most of them green.

The three halls are 'padded' out with everything from displays of former cars of the year, to childrens' car art, from Scalextric-style games to a stand displaying the virtues of the nearby Disney resort.

Then there are motorcycles. Lots of them mingling with their four-wheel friends, and, in the case of Honda and Suzuki, even sharing their stands. Who would have thought?

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