The pressure is on for domestic automakers at this week’s Japan Mobility Expo to prove they’re serious about not just going carbon neutral, but revolutionizing the way people and goods move.
The event opens on Thursday as the rebranded successor to the Tokyo Motor Show, which began in 1954 and was last held in 2019, attracting 1.3 million visitors before going on hiatus during the pandemic. The goal this year is to have 1 million visitors, organizers said.
Toyota Motor, Honda Motor, Nissan Motor and their Japanese counterparts have long been criticized for their reluctance to phase out gasoline cars. This week, they’ll pepper the show with electric vehicle (EV) concepts to send the message that they’re ready and able to make battery-powered cars more common on the nation’s roads in the years to come.
Battery electric vehicles will account for just 1.5 percent of new car sales in Japan in 2022, lagging well behind other rich countries, according to BloombergNEF. By comparison, nearly one in five new cars sold was battery-electric in China, which became the world’s largest car exporter earlier this year.
“There is strong concern that rising energy and labor costs will make it difficult to manufacture, let alone sell, cars in Japan,” said Masami Tanaka, director general of the Japan Association of Automobile Manufacturers’ next-generation mobility division. “Key industries need support for the sake of the country’s economic growth.”
Japan’s top automakers have pioneered the use of gasoline-electric hybrid powertrains, only to accept that the global transition to EVs will take longer than expected and vary by region. They have advocated multiple approaches to reducing emissions, drawing the ire of environmental groups.
For this week’s show, although almost 500 companies have signed up, only three foreign carmakers will be exhibiting: China’s electric car leader BYD and Germany’s Mercedes-Benz Group and BMW.
The lack of EV penetration in Japan also applies to non-Japanese companies – although Mercedes-Benz, BYD and Hyundai Motor have started offering all-electric cars in Japan, initial sales have been slow. The potential for Chinese brands like BYD to grow domestically is limited, according to Bloomberg Intelligence senior auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida.
“The Mobility Show is a good opportunity to better understand their business strategy,” Yoshida said.
Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus will unveil a range of battery-electric concept cars, betting on its role as a central part of the carmaker’s electrification strategy announced earlier this year. The Toyota-branded EV concepts will include a sleek SUV called the FT-3e and a sports car sharing core components called the FT-Se.
Nissan has shared renderings of four EV concepts – the Hyper Urban crossover, the Hyper Adventure off-roader, the Hyper Tourer minivan and the compact Hyper Punk – all of which feature angular, unusual designs.
Honda and Subaru will present electric sports car concepts, while Suzuki Motor will premiere a mini electric wagon.
Most Japanese automakers have made commitments to increase production of electric cars and reduce emissions from their lineups, although they have yet to produce high-volume models to compete with BYD or Elon Musk’s Tesla. Such vehicles are unlikely to hit the market in earnest until 2025 at the earliest.