Tokyo – A decade ago, Nissan became the first automaker to offer a mass-produced car that ran on batteries alone. That hatchback, Leaf, has been a smash hit, at least by electric car standards Rs 500,000 Sold by the end of last year.
But as the Nissan blast continues to increase crowds, there is a danger of overtaking Japan’s powerful auto industry. While governments and automakers around the world are taking bold steps to transition to electric-only vehicles, Japanese car companies and regulators are placing their bets.
Japan dominates the global market for the current generation of climate-friendly vehicles – gasoline-electric hybrids – and hopes to leverage its vast investment in technology as long as possible. Massato Inué, originally the lead designer of the Leafs, said the short-term focus leaves the country’s most important industry at risk of the disappearance of a transformational moment.
“When there is a disruption, there is always fear,” said Mr. Inu, who retired from Nissan in 2014. But ready or not, he said, “a huge wave of electric vehicles is really coming.”
For now, this is a mere wave. Electric cars make up less than 3 percent of global sales, with many buyers purchasing them due to their high cost, limited range, and long charging time. With the exception of some luxury models it is not easy to turn a profit on cars.
Nevertheless, the race for an all-electric future, led by Tesla for a long time, has intensified and expanded this year. In January, General Motors Becomes First Major Automaker It will try to do so by 2035 to announce that it will eliminate all tailpipe emissions from its cars. Last week, Volvo Moved forward Its big competitors by 2030 pledging only electricity.
In addition to traditional vehicle manufacturers, start-ups such as Chinese company N.I.O. And titans from other industries like Apple are demanding a slice of the market.
Automakers are already outpacing their Japanese competitors in the United States, China, Europe and South Korea. Toyota did not release its first battery-electric vehicle in the consumer market until 2020, and only then in China. Honda relies on GM to produce electric vehicles for the US market.
Last year, Japanese car sales accounted for less than 5 percent of battery-electric vehicles sold worldwide, according to EV-volumes.com. That part was mostly due to the Leaf’s enduring popularity: the car accounted for about 65 percent of all Japanese battery-electric vehicle sales.
The rush in electric vehicles has been fueled by plans in China to reduce overpriced sales of electric cars or ban gasoline-burning vehicles in European countries and elsewhere in the coming years. Scientists say the transition from gas-powered vehicles is important to combat climate change and reduce haze.
These moves have created a huge potential market for all-electric vehicles, which are clearly visible to investors as cars of tomorrow: Tesla is more valuable than the next six automakers, only a small fraction of their sales Despite being a fraction.
Yet in Japan, automakers and governments are questioning some of the basic assumptions that inspired the electric bandwagon. He is skeptical – at least in the medium term – of the potential profitability and environmental superiority of electric cars.
In December, Japan announced that it would stop selling new petrol-only cars by 2035. But the government still sees hybrids as an important technology and has no intention of leading places like Britain and California that plan to ban them, a trade ministry official said in a recent interview. Japanese regulators say they will release specifics this year.
Resistance to destroying hybrids has found its most powerful voice as president of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, and Toyota, the world leader in hybrid car sales.
The company sets the tone for the entire Japanese auto industry. It owns Daihatsu and has in recent years entered into partnerships with three small automakers – Subaru, Suzuki and Mazda – for the development of electric vehicles – a group that manufactures more than half of all Japanese cars. It has also promoted heavy cars that run on clean burning hydrogen, a technology that has yet to catch on in Japan or elsewhere.
During the news of December 1 the seminar In his capacity as head of the Automotive Association, Mr. Toyoda ridiculed the idea of replacing hybrids with all-electric vehicles in Japan, accusing Japanese media of increasing their commercial and environmental viability.
Mr. Toda has cleaned electric cars as electric only, making them and factories. Japan, Toyota’s second-largest market, plans to go to carbon neutral by 2050, but as long as it continues to rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity, he said, the environmental benefits of vehicles will continue to be mirage.
Japanese automakers are “hanging on by their fingernails,” he said, and if Japan made a change for all-electric vehicles – which have fewer components and are easier to manufacture – it could cost millions of jobs and autos. Suppliers can destroy the entire ecosystem of parts.
Sales of petrol-electric hybrids are expected to increase by 2027, according to A. Report by IDTechEx, A market research firm. So it makes sense that Japanese firms – and regulators – want to try to reclaim the country’s huge investment in hybrid technology and wait to see how consumer preferences and foreign regulatory regulations evolve, James. Edmondson, an analyst at the firm said.
“For manufacturers like Toyota, like Nissan, hybrids are very prolific, a good business case for them, so it’s in the government’s interest to keep pushing for them,” he said.
Kota Yuzawa, an auto industry analyst at Goldman Sachs, said it was not a matter of whether Japan’s automakers could make the transition. They have world-class technology and are investing significant resources in its further development. “But they are waiting for the right time,” he said.
“The biggest questions are: can you build a mass-market vehicle? Can you break too? ” she added.
The answer is yes, said Mr. Inoue, the leaf designer, who now spends his time between running a consulting company at IAAD, a design institute in Italy, and teaching sustainable mobility design.
But it is not easy to make the shift from making hybrid to all-electric vehicle. The two types of cars cannot be manufactured effectively on the same platform, Mr. Inuay said, and “if many companies do not change now, efficient production of electric vehicles will become significantly more difficult in the future.”
With its history of large-scale electric vehicles, Nissan is arguably the best place in Japan’s major automakers to compete in the market for emission-free cars. But the company, by itself Access, Has lost its edge and is now chopping to catch.
Last summer, it Announced Its most ambitious battery-electric vehicle since the Leaf, the SUV called the Aria. And in January, the company said it would be carbon neutral by 2050, a decision that gave a facelift National policy Changes at the end of last year.
But, like other automakers in Japan, it is proceeding cautiously.
“For Nissan’s key markets, every new vehicle will be offered in the early 2030s.” But “in other markets, we will gradually switch to electrified vehicles.”
Meanwhile, the company will vigorously promote its new hybrid technology, which it calls E-Power: essentially, an electric motor powered by a gas generator.
In Japan, the government’s lack of enthusiasm for emission-free cars is likely to put its automakers at a serious disadvantage, said Kazuo Yajima, the former chief engineer of Leaf, a company that now develops micro-electric vehicles, Blue Sky Technology operates.
China and the European Union have lost the race for hybrid technology, Mr. Yajima said, so their governments have made a strategic decision in the development of electric cars, including key technologies such as batteries.
Japanese automakers’ reluctance to make the leap for all-electric vehicles, Mr. Yajima said, could cost them the same amount as consumer electronics firms in the country, largely irrelevant to their failure to stay ahead of market trends went. .
Mr. Inoue agrees. The automotive sector is the “final battleground” for Japanese industry, he said.
“Now Japan is winning,” he said, “but I think in 10 years if we lose the opportunity to go into the field of electric vehicles, we can lose.”