31 oct 23

5 trends from the Japan Mobility Show 2023

For the first time in four years, Japan hosts a motor show again. The focus of the reformed event, now dubbed Japan Mobility Show, lies on battery power, newcomers and - just like in the heydays - mind-boggling concepts. Fleet Europe highlights the trends for fleet managers who want to tap into the future of transport and mobility in Japan.

Yes, Japan is picking up on battery-powered cars and vans as they seek to catch up with competitor brands from abroad and try to shake off the image of sluggish EV adoption. In a year-on-year comparison, sales of battery-powered cars are tripling in the Archipelago this year, but the absolute numbers remain modest. The market penetration in 2022 did not exceed 1.7%.

Whether the BEV share in Japanese fleets will ever rise above 50% remains the biggest question mark under the show’s spotlights, as the transition today is mainly driven by minicars or kei-EVs (the Nissan Sakura is the nation’s best-seller) while the rollout of charging infrastructure remains challenging in the strongly urbanised nation.

Swapping the label Motor for Mobility is a successful move, as the trade fair witnesses a record number of 475 participants, featuring robots, air and personal mobility and even an area zooming in on transport solutions after natural disasters.

1. The U-turn towards BEVs

Toyota vowed to make up for lost momentum and projected a registration target of an annual 1.5 million battery-powered models by 2026, rising towards 3.5 million by the end of the decade. Last year, Toyota sold 24,000 EVs globally.

Still, most BEV show stoppers from the Toyota group were concepts, like the Lexus LF-ZC, promising a next-generation platform, state-of-the-art software and a remarkable range of 1,000 kilometres from enhanced lithium-ion technology. Its most exciting vision was the Kayoibako, a multifunctional zero-emission van, deployable as taxi or shop on wheels.

Nissan showcased a somewhat similar minivan. The luxurious Hyper Tourer (pictured above) is an MPV, important for the Japanese professional sector, reimagined around a skateboard platform with solid-state batteries. While Toyota said at JMS that the technology would be introduced on a high-performance, limited-run car over a few years, Nissan claims twice the energy density of lithium-ion and a production cost of between $65-$75 per kWh by 2028. Both OEMs believe fast charging can be reduced to ten minutes.

No new production EV models at Honda either, but the brand did unveil its efforts in circularity with acrylic resin technology for bodywork on its concept car Sustania-C and on a motorbike. As electrification spawns new startups in Japan, like in any market, the Sony-Honda Mobility joint venture presented its EV brand Afeela publicly for the first time.    

Focusing on urban last-mile delivery, B-ON (though not a Japanese company) announced a partnership with Harmony in Mobility (HIM), offering shared solutions tailored for commercial fleets. Its eLCV Pelkan features a smart package dispenser that automatically identifies the right stop for each parcel.

2. BYD, a “threat” for Japan

“We can already show our latest technologies with our existing cars, so we don’t need concept models”, said Atsuki Tofukuji, president of BYD Japan at JMS. The rising star from China showcased production models, like the SUV Atto 3, and the U8 of its luxury brand Yangwang. Its first appearance in Tokyo must help BYD to reach 2,000 registrations in Japan by the end of the year.

With a stand sized up to the dimensions of neighbour Lexus, the loyal Japanese corporate drivers will be more difficult to convert than their European counterparts. Still, the danger ‘made in China’ is perceived as real by the local media, who failed to see how the brand can manufacture models with the same quality at half the price. BYD aims for a hundred dealerships in Japan by 2026.

3. Volkswagen yields the floor

The top-three selling foreign brands in Japan remain German. While Volkswagen left the floor to BMW and Mercedes, these brands primarily accentuated their prowess in EV technology. The zero-emission armada from BMW, including the iX5 Hydrogen, was spearheaded by the next-gen BEV Neue Klasse and the brand new all-electric sports-activity coupe iX2 (pictured left) making its public world debut. No world premieres at Mercedes, but the audience at the Big Sight exhibition centre was star-struck by the electric EQG version of Japan’s most prominent status symbol, the G-Class.

4. Rerouting the path for a hydrogen mobility

Japan’s strongest hydrogen advocate, Toyota, is not abandoning fuel cells as a zero-emission alternative for passenger car transport, but is reviewing its strategy favouring the LCV, truck and pick-up segment. It claims that the infrastructure is easier to deploy for commercial vehicles as they follow a more predictable route from A to B.

Unveiling a hydrogen-powered version of its famous scooter Burgman (pictured right), Suzuki is joining the idea to implement the technology in the two-wheeler sector. Not with a fuel cell but with an adapted combustion engine.

5. Forging the way for future transportation concepts

With three Chinese cities already offering autonomous ride-hailing, Honda announced a catch-up. It will bring robotaxis to Tokio within two years, with more cities already on the agenda. Thanks to a partnership with GM daughter Cruise, which will build the dedicated spacious self-driving vehicle Origin (pictured left). Just after the news broke, Cruise’s operational license was withdrawn in its hometown San Francisco over safety issues.

Looking up from the streets, Subaru presented the concept of a flying car. Following in the footsteps of competitors like Hyundai, Audi of Porsche, one of Japan’s most popular car brands wants to be a “representative of the next generation of air mobility”, which is not as far-fetched as it seems, as the company benefits from an aero department involved in the project.

Image Source: Toyota, Nissan, Honda, BMW, Suzuki

Authored by: Piet Andries