Hong Guang MiniEV
BEV is well underway to become the powertrain of choice for most OEMs; Chinese, German, Korean and US manufacturers – old and new – have adopted an EV pipeline to secure their position on the market. The Japanese OEMs are, or perhaps have been, more reluctant. They believe that HEV is the way to go until fuel cell is a viable option, and have consequently not invested as much in EV readiness.
Japan has a point though: electric vehicles are not necessarily cleaner than a HEV in every country, and a massive transition to electric will have an impact on energy consumption – and again not every country can readily provide for the additional kWs.
But then there’s the commercial reality. When consumers across the world wanted SUVs, OEMs were happy to comply and charge a mark-up for what is essentially a sedan with higher clearance. Now, consumers want electric, and the Japanese OEMs have a problem. Time to catch up with reality, and fast.
Competition on the domestic market
The world’s biggest EV producer, China, understands that there’s a gap to filled, and is eager to take over market share from the Nippon OEMs. SAIC-GM-Wuling has seen an opportunity to propose its Hong Guang MiniEV as an alternative to the many, mostly gasoline powered, kei-cars (very popular and affordable Japanese mini-cars, extremely suitable in Japan’s narrow city roads).
The Chinese have done their homework. At a very low $4,400 and a range of 120km,the Hong Guang is suitable for commuting and limited business use. A real estate company has tested the implementation of the MiniEV and found that providing this vehicle, free of charge, to their employees would cost them less than compensating these employees for commuting.
Competition on the international market
Tesla’s success has obviously not gone unnoticed in Japan either and the race to become Japan’s Tesla has started. The runner-up is Sony Honda Mobility – unsurprisingly a JV between the Sony Group and Honda Motor. The JV will produce a first model out of the Honda factories in North America; this model will be a flagship EV, to compete with high-end models from e.g., Porsche and Tesla. Plans exist to launch additional models, more affordable, but not cheap, nor kei cars.
The Old OEMs
In the meanwhile, Nissan is reinforcing its position within the Alliance and has filed 2,070 EV related patents, 6 times Renault’s. The advance in EV should give Nissan a strong enough position to enter the negotiations to reduce Renault’s stake in the company. On the R&D side, Nissan is again exceeding Renault’s expenditure ($4,3 billion versus $2,7 billion). When negotiating the shareholding of Nissan, it is clear that IP will be a significant piece of the conversation.
The bZ4X, Toyota’s only BEV today, will be joined by the bZ3 sedan, to be produced and distributed in China (only) by its JV with China FAW Group. The OEM will also invest billions in developing batteries to enhance its position of EV component manufacturer. Nonetheless, there’s no sign of Toyota making a u-turn on its position on electrification, leaving a massive gap that other OEMs are keen to fill.