(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s carmakers are staging their first motor show in four years to make the case they’ll remain major global forces to be reckoned with in the electric-vehicle age.
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The newly named Japan Mobility Show will be counter-programming of sorts to worrisome trends: the host country may well lose its position as the world’s top car exporter to China, and third-largest economy to Germany this year. With their domestic market shrinking and parts of Europe and the US rapidly embracing EVs, Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and their peers are under escalating pressure to transition from internal combustion engines.
All of the major Japanese automakers and their top executives were in attendance Wednesday, along with China’s dominant EV maker BYD Co., which is muscling its way in on a market that’s been tough for import brands to crack. Here were some of the highlights from the first press day:
We’ll Catch Up, Mazda’s CEO Says (5:45 p.m.)
Asked about Japan’s slow march toward electrification compared with global carmakers, Mazda CEO Masahiro Moro said he believes there’s plenty of time to make up for lost ground.
Battery EVs aren’t the only solution, Moro said in an interview with Bloomberg Television, stressing there should be several ways to meet each customer’s individual wants and needs. Battery-electric vehicles accounted for just 1.5% of new-car sales in Japan in 2022, according to BloombergNEF.
“We have a multiple technologies including battery EVs, so I believe Japanese companies will catch up,” he said.
Honda and GM Scrap Cheaper EV Plan (4:40 p.m.)
Honda Chief Executive Officer Toshihiro Mibe said the company is shelving plans to develop affordable EVs with General Motors due to a changing business environment, as well as cost and cruising distance challenges.
“After studying this for a year, we decided that this would be difficult as a business, so at the moment we are ending development of an affordable EV,” Mibe said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “GM and Honda will search for a solution separately. This project itself has been canceled.”
Honda and GM’s goal, announced in April last year, was to assemble EVs priced below GM’s planned $30,000 Chevrolet Equinox and similar future offerings from Honda. By joining forces, the two were betting they would be better equipped to reduce battery costs faster and develop EVs at prices that would help them better compete with Tesla Inc.
Lexus May Set Up Its Own Chargers (4:30 p.m.)
Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus is looking to use Japan as a testbed to see how to improve EV adoption, including around charging infrastructure.
“We’re asking ourselves, how can we make the experience better?” Lexus President Takashi Watanabe told reporters at the show. “How can we utilize and work closely with out Japanese dealer network to testbed different kinds of services and new kinds of experiences to make the whole BEV experience better?”
Nissan to Lean on Alliance as EVs Bloom (2:30 p.m.)
Nissan wants to use its at-times rocky alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi Motors to help cushion the cost of transitioning to EVs, CEO Makoto Uchida said.
“It’s very challenging to do it alone,” Uchida told Bloomberg TV in an interview from the show. “Therefore, we decided to further invest in Ampere. We want to maximize our relation for the next stage, knowing that a massive investment will be required.”
Nissan said in July it would invest as much as €600 million ($635 million) in Renault’s EV unit Ampere. On Tuesday, Mitsubishi Motors announced a €200 million investment in the business.
Nissan’s ‘Game-Changing’ Hyper Force Concept (1:15 p.m.)
Nissan unveiled concept models of several electric cars, including the Hyper Force, which includes virtual reality features allowing the driver to indulge in gaming when the vehicle is stopped. They can use a special VR helmet to race against friends or digital manifestations of professionals. CEO Makoto Uchida described the simulation technology as a game-changer.
Meanwhile, the Hyper Punk concept can adjust music and lights according to a driver’s mood, and the Hyper Tourer is more of a light, or kei, car with driverless technology. Nissan is marking its 90th anniversary this year.
BYD’s Push Into Japan, and Global Ambition, on Display (11:14 a.m.)
BYD, which began selling its all-electric Atto 3 SUV in Japan earlier this year and Dolphin hatchback last month, said its electric Seal sedan will hit the market next spring.
China’s biggest carmaker, which is poised to overtake Tesla as the world’s biggest seller of electric vehicles, has been seeking to expand its global footprint, even in places like Japan, where car buyers prefer domestic brands.
Yamaha Shows Off Electric Three-Wheeler (11:01 a.m.)
The Japanese motorcycle maker displayed the Tricera, an open-topped Batmobile-esque three-wheeler EV under a development concept it calls Urban Exciting Mobility, where the “mind, body and machine become one organism.”
The vehicle marks quite a step from the Messerschmitts that emerged from Germany almost 70 years ago.
Lexus Leads Charge Into Toyota’s EV Future (10:41 a.m.)
The Lexus concept LF-ZC previews the centerpiece of Toyota’s campaign to take on Tesla and BYD, with the Japanese carmaker’s premium brand set to go all-electric by 2035.
The sleek EV will be sold in 2026, taking advantage of the company’s next-generation battery platform to offer better range and faster charging, Simon Humphries, Toyota’s chief branding officer, said in a presentation.
With Toyota’s forthcoming Arene software platform, the car will be equipped with intuitive entertainment and monitoring systems, and built using a streamlined production process. The LF-ZC will be powered by a next-generation, high-performance lithium-ion battery capable of delivering 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of range and charging in 20 minutes, according to the company.
“We believe that BEVs, through their unique attributes, will expand the scope of possibilities,” Humphries said.
Honda Takes on Air, Sea and Space (10:20 a.m.)
Honda is showing an electric-powered vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, an avatar robot and its HondaJet business plane at the show.
“My dream is to create a world where people can move freely on the ground, sea and air, as well as outer space, in vehicles bearing the Honda logo, CEO Toshihiro Mibe said during a presentation.
The Prelude appears to be making a comeback. The popular two-door sports car, which was retired in 2001, is now under development as an electric vehicle.
“Honda has been focusing on sports cars in all eras,” Mibe said. “This is something that only Honda can do.”
Subaru Has a Motor Sports EV and Flying Car (10:17 a.m.)
Subaru unveiled a motor sports EV concept, as well as a flying car it said has already taken to the skies in preliminary tests. The key is figuring out how people will adapt to them.
“We believe air mobility will become a useful means of transportation in the future, but for that we need customers to appreciate how it might fit into their lifestyles,” CEO Atsushi Osaki told reporters. “That will take time.”
Mercedes Aims to Double Japan EV Sales in 2023 (9:55 a.m.)
Mercedes-Benz Japan CEO Kintaro Ueno said he’s hopeful the company will double its EV sales in the country this year, having sold about 1,000 in 2021 and twice as many in 2022.
The German automaker, which launched revamped versions of its GLE SUV last month, is considering installing fast chargers in Japan in 2024 to help drivers efficiently power their vehicles, Ueno said.
“EVs are still at an early stage,” Ueno said later in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “The entire market is only 2% EVs. Of that, 45% is imported cars, so imported cars are doing very strong — or at least domestic cars aren’t kicking in yet.”
Mazda Puts Renowned Rotary Engine Into Plug-In Hybrid (9:15 a.m.)
Mazda Motor unveiled a concept sports car that uses the carmaker’s rotary-engine technology in a hybrid powertrain with a battery that can also be plugged in for charging. The vehicle can be used for everything from commuting to driving on racetracks or for weekend outings, he said.
“We want to expand the circle of people who feel love for cars,” CEO Masahiro Moro said of the Mazda Iconic SP prototype.
Toyota Kicks Off With Focus on Battery-Electric Cars (8:50 a.m.)
Toyota CEO Koji Sato kicked off the show at a jam-packed news conference Wednesday with battery-electric concept cars that he said would define the carmaker’s future.
Departing from speeches by his predecessor Akio Toyoda, Sato focused exclusively on EVs during his 15 minutes on stage and didn’t get into Toyota’s view that hybrid powertrains and other technologies, such as hydrogen, will also help move the company toward a carbon-neutral future.
“They aren’t just eco-friendly, they also offer driving pleasure, and they can also offer diverse experiences,” Sato said. Different customers will have different needs, and Toyota will offer something for everyone, he said.
Concept Cars Point Way to Toyota’s EV Future (8:45 a.m.)
A crowd of journalists from around the world swarmed Toyota’s booth to watch Sato unveil several EV concepts, including a sports car and an SUV, as well as a modular pickup truck and minivan.
“This is the future that awaits us,” Sato said.
The FT-Se and FT-3e provided a glimpse of the fully electric lineup Toyota will roll out in 2026, while the IMV 0 and Kayoibako offered options that can be personalized based on owners’ needs. These EVs will use Toyota’s forthcoming in-house software, Arene, which Sato said would let drivers order food and access entertainment.
--With assistance from Tsuyoshi Inajima, Peter Vercoe and Craig Trudell.
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