While all the major European and North American car companies pulled out of the Tokyo show, it was left to UK niche automakers Caterham and Lotus to keep the international flag flying.

The two brands are imported by separate companies although they both belong to VT Holdings, a Japanese business which operates almost 170 dealers in the country, mainly with Japanese brands.

Lotus had been committed to attend the show for some months and stuck to its guns. It used Tokyo to launch its limited edition Exige Stealth model - which will be known as Scura in Europe - complete with unique paintwork which is more than just a matt finish.

Matt surfaces tend to show marks and chips so, for the Scura/Stealth, Lotus has been experimenting for a while with a process where a newly formulated rubberised paint is applied - it actually feels soft to the touch and Lotus says it is four times more resistant to marking and peeling than regular matt finishes.

The company plans to make just 35 special edition models.

Caterham had nothing new to show but said Japan is a very important market - although not as good as it once was.

Products manager in Japan, Justin Gardiner, said: "We used to sell 250 cars a year here 20 years ago, 50% of production. Now we well around 50 annually, 15% of our output and it is very much an enthusiast market.

"Many of the original cars we sold are still on the road and that is part of the problem - people don't sell them and buy new ones."

There is plenty of interest though. Since VT Holdings took over the import business at the turn of this year, it has been able to drop the price considerably from around GBP48,000 to just GBP27,000.

Gardiner added: "We now have many more economies of scale being involved with a larger company, and the margins have been reduced."

Caterham only sells the R300, powered by the two-litre Ford Duratec engine. The more racy R500 will not meet Japanese emissions standards, Gardiner said.

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