The Japan Auto Show is back as the industry faces an EV tipping point

Toyota Motor Corporation vehicles are seen at a briefing on the company’s battery electric vehicle strategies in Tokyo, Japan, December 14, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo License Rights Acquired

  • The Tokyo show opens on Thursday for the first time since 2019
  • Toyota begins strategic move into battery electric vehicles
  • BYD will be the first Chinese automaker to participate in the exhibition
  • Japan’s domestic car market is shrinking along with the population

TOKYO, Oct 23 (Reuters) – The Tokyo motor show is back for the first time in four years and newly rebranded for the electric vehicle era, in a marketing shift that may reflect more of the industry’s aspirations than the lagging lineup of Japanese battery-powered automakers.

The Japan Mobility Expo, which opens on Thursday, comes at a critical time for the local industry. Toyota ( 7203.T ), the world’s best-selling carmaker, this year announced a strategic focus on battery electric vehicles, including plans to commercialize advanced batteries and adopt die-casting technology pioneered by Tesla ( TSLA.O ) .

Toyota’s shift helped quell criticism that it was too slow to adopt battery electric cars. But the outlook is bleaker for some smaller rivals such as Subaru (7270.T), Mazda (7261.T) and Mitsubishi Motors (7211.T), which may face a more daunting challenge in launching electric vehicles , analysts say.

Meanwhile, top Chinese automaker BYD ( 1211.HK ) will be the first Chinese automaker to exhibit models at the show and one of only three foreign automakers to do so, along with German brands Mercedes ( MBGn.DE ) and BMW.

And unlike many of the Japanese companies that will show concept cars, foreign automakers will show off battery electric cars that are already in production or will be in production.

There appears to be a “widening gap” between Japan’s stronger carmakers, such as Toyota and Honda ( 7267.T ), which are producing record profits, and weaker players, said Koji Endo, head of equity research at SBI Securities.

Japan’s auto industry is also facing pressure from high production costs and declining sales in China, where Japanese brands such as Nissan ( 7201.T ) and Mitsubishi, which have reportedly decided to end production there, have been hit harder than others non-Chinese manufacturers.

Toyota will display a variety of battery-powered concepts at the show, including a sports utility vehicle, a mid-size pickup and a sports car.

The world’s biggest carmaker by sales has long advocated a multi-pronged approach to reducing carbon emissions that includes electrified and alternative energy options beyond battery electric vehicles.

The company will show new models from its Century and Crown series, which it previously presented as plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles.

Nissan plans to show the battery-powered Ariya, Leaf and Sakura models, in addition to new battery EV concept models, such as a luxury minivan.

SHRINKING THE DOMESTIC MARKET

The biennial show did not take place in 2021 due to the pandemic. This year will feature a range of mobility technologies, including autonomous vehicles, motorbikes, trucks and so-called ‘flying cars’.

Yet despite striving to appeal to a wider audience, Japanese automakers are grappling with growing pressure from a rapidly aging and shrinking population that has fewer young people to buy cars, putting pressure on car sales .

New passenger car registrations last year hit their lowest annual level on record, according to data from the Japan Association of Automobile Manufacturers since 1993.

Registrations are down 6.2% in 2022 from the previous year to 3.4 million vehicles.

Nearly a third of Japan’s 124 million people were 65 or older as of May 1, according to government data.

Last year was the third year in a row that new car sales remained below 4 million, although they were also hit by a post-pandemic chip shortage that disrupted car production and supplies.

In contrast to the bleak outlook in Japan, data from the ASEAN Automobile Federation shows that the automotive market in Southeast Asia is growing.

Sales of passenger vehicles in seven Southeast Asian countries jumped 24 percent year-on-year to 2.2 million in 2022, the data showed, even as Japanese automakers battled China’s newly launched EVs to retain their share of key markets such as Thailand.

Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by David Dolan and Jamie Freed

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Daniel Leussink is a correspondent in Japan. Most recently, he covered Japan’s auto industry, detailing how some of the world’s biggest automakers are switching to electric vehicles and unprecedented supply chain disruptions. Since joining Reuters in 2018, Leussink has also covered Japan’s economy, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, COVID-19 and the Bank of Japan’s ultra-easy monetary policy experiment.

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