CHIBA, Japan -- The usually futuristic ''concept cars" at the Tokyo auto show are taking on an all-too-real immediacy this year amid soaring oil prices, with ecologically friendly autos grabbing the limelight.
The overriding message at the Tokyo Motor Show, opening Saturday, is that gas-guzzlers must make way for green cars that pollute less and rely less on shrinking supplies of fossil fuels.
Reporters got a preview yesterday of the show's offerings of experimental ecological cars, including a vehicle that switches back and forth between an electric motor and a hydrogen-powered engine from Mazda Motor Corp. and a fuel-cell small car from Suzuki Motor Corp.
Auto officials say it's urgent to develop cars that run on fuels other than gasoline. Crude oil prices have doubled over the last five years as the global oil supply struggles to keep up with ballooning demand.
Hybrid vehicles deliver a cleaner ride and reduce greenhouse emissions by switching between different powertrains, such as an electric motor and gasoline engine.
Sanyo, which has a booth at the show, estimates annual production of hybrid vehicles may increase to 3 million worldwide by 2010, or 7 percent of the 44 million passenger-car market. Annual hybrid production now totals less than half a million.
Toyota Motor Corp., the first automaker to sell a commercially mass-produced hybrid with its Prius in 1997, is showing an even more advanced hybrid called Fine-X, which is powered by an electric battery and a pollution-free hydrogen fuel cell.
General Motors Corp. also was pushing its technological advances, displaying its collaboration in fuel cells with Japanese partner Suzuki.