The Japan auto show returns for the first time in four years and is newly rebranded for the electric vehicle era in a marketing overhaul that may be more reflective of industry aspirations than Japanese automakers’ lagging battery-powered lineup.
The Tokyo Mobility Show, which opens on Thursday, is critical for the domestic industry. This year, Toyota (7203.T), the world’s top-selling automaker, announced a strategic pivot to battery EVs, emphasizing autonomous and connected vehicles that can reduce dependence on oil and help address global climate change goals. Meanwhile, Honda (7267.T) struggles with high input costs and slumping sales in China, where it produces most of its cars. A slow start on EVs could put the brakes on those efforts, leaving Toyota and Honda lagging behind competitors that are more aggressively embracing the technology.
Some observers worry that Japan’s early stall on EVs will set back the country’s top manufacturers for a decade or more, a scenario with far-reaching economic and social implications. They point to semiconductors and consumer electronics as industries that Japan dominated, only to miss essential trends abroad and lose market share to nimbler foreign competitors.
But there’s also reason to believe that Japan’s lag in EVs won’t last. “The EV revolution is going to happen, whether the Japanese companies like it or not,” says a senior analyst at Goldman Sachs. “There is a lot of momentum in the industry.” And unlike hybrids, which require complex mechanical systems, full-on EVs are much more straightforward. “Within the companies, there’s a sense that it’s easy to switch to EVs,” the analyst says.
That’s true to an extent, but the industry has lingering concerns about a looming reversal in fortunes. Several of Japan’s top carmakers pioneered hybrid powertrains, but now they believe it will take longer than expected to transition fully to EVs. They have also advocated for multiple approaches to reducing emissions, drawing the ire of environmental advocacy groups.
Some of those worries will be addressed at the Tokyo Mobility Show, featuring an array of innovative EV concept vehicles that illustrate how electric vehicles can power society today and for future generations. For instance, Nissan’s series of “hyper” EVs are designed to empower journeys by reducing traffic and air pollution. Other cars include the new Suzuki Swift and what’s believed to be the next Mazda MX-5. All will likely highlight the underlying technology underpinning future production models. The event occurs from October 25 through November 5 at the Tokyo Big Sight Exhibition Center. See our live stream of all the hottest reveals. *1