Overseas automakers prepare for electric vehicle push in Japan

Overall car sales in Japan, excluding small light vehicles, fell 3.2% last year, but sales of overseas models rose 1.7% and imports of battery electric vehicles nearly triple.

In September, Narumi Abe did something still rare in Japan – she bought a foreign car, choosing a Peugeot e-208 over a Honda e because, she says, the Peugeot can travel longer distances between charges.

Abe joined a tiny but growing group of JapanThose drivers who avoid house brands for foreign battery electric vehicles (EVs).

While the trend is unlikely to make a big dent in overall sales, it does highlight the perception that many domestic automakers have been slower to adopt battery-electric vehicles, focusing instead on hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells and alternative fuels for internal combustion engines.

“I wanted to buy something that would be best for the environment,” said the 30-year-old, who runs a business in Tokyo selling agricultural products.

Toyota has committed 8 trillion yen ($69 billion) to electrification through 2030 and expects to sell around 3.5 million battery electric vehicles globally by then. That’s about a third of Toyota’s current annual auto sales.

Volkswagen AG in Germany expects half of its cars to be battery electric vehicles by then.

Nine tenths of the five million cars sold each year in Japan come from domestic companies such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

But while overall car sales in Japan, not including small light vehicles, fell 3.2% last year, sales of foreign models rose 1.7%. Imports of battery electric vehicles almost tripled to a record 8,610 vehicles, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association.

Analysts estimate that about half of them were Tesla cars. Volkswagen, Europe’s largest automaker, is one of the foreign automakers that sees the opening of a battery electric vehicle Japan.

It plans to sell more than a dozen such models in Japan by 2024, including cheaper Audi and Volkswagen sport utility models this year that will target a wider range of consumers, country manager Matthias Schepers said at a press conference in January.

He expects battery electric vehicles to account for a third of Audi’s sales, or about 10,000 vehicles, in Japan for 2025, he said. The VW Group will expand the installation of fast chargers to 250 of its own showrooms by the end of this year, he said.

Stellantis, owner of the Peugeot brand acquired by Abe, is also expanding its range by Japanwith two new models going on sale this year.

They are joined by South Korean Hyundai Motor, which this month announced its return to Japan 12 years after his departure due to poor sales. JapanThose drivers will be able to order its Nexo SUV hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle and Ioniq 5 midsize crossover electric vehicle starting in May.

To boost its chances of success this time around, the South Korean company has teamed up with a car-sharing service operated by online social gaming company DeNA Co and insurance company Sompo Holdings to allow owners of Hyundai to lease their zero-emission cars.

• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard


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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd newspapers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before touring South East Asia in the late 1990s. leader of The Nation for over 17 years and has a family in Bangkok.

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