Japanese Automakers Shifting toward Electrified Vehicles in Race for Survival

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Nissan Motor Co.’s Ariya electric SUV which is scheduled to go on sale this year.

Japanese automakers and their overseas rivals are banking on electrified vehicles — a class which includes fully electric vehicles and hybrids — as holding the key to survival in an industry facing increasingly stringent environmental regulations and even a looming ban on sales of gasoline-powered vehicles in major countries.

Nissan Motor Co.’s announcement on Nov. 27 that every new vehicle offered in major auto markets would be electrified by the early 2030s encapsulates this shift. Nissan’s new plan centers on electric vehicles and vehicles equipped with its e-POWER technology, which features an electrified powertrain with a gasoline engine that charges the vehicle’s battery. Nissan’s Ariya, an electric SUV considered a centerpiece of the automaker’s global strategy, will be available in mid-2021. Nissan plans to release vehicles featuring e-POWER technology in China this year and in Europe in 2022.

Encouraged by robust hybrid sales, Toyota Motor Corp. aims to electrify nearly half of its new car sales — 5.5 million units globally — by “about 2025,” five years earlier than initially planned.

Honda Motor Co. has also said that it intends to electrify two-thirds of its new models by 2030. Honda is jointly developing electric vehicles with U.S. auto giant General Motors Corp. to help defray development costs. The unlikely alliance is indicative of automakers’ increasing willingness to work with rivals across international borders, as they rush to weather the strong global headwinds buffeting conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.

In Europe, restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions have been tightened, and automakers can be fined if their vehicles breach certain standards. Some observers have suggested Japanese carmakers apart from Toyota could also be slapped with fines. Britain will ban sales of new gasoline vehicles from 2030, and France will follow suit from 2040.

In the U.S., California plans to become the first state to ban gasoline vehicle sales by 2035. The arrival of the Biden administration, which has made environmental protection a major focus, could foretell similar moves in other parts of the country.

China, the world’s largest auto market, has also set a goal that would require all new vehicle sales to be electrified by 2035.

Major nations have been providing subsidies and other assistance to promote wider use of electrified vehicles. According to research firm Fuji Keizai Co., electrified vehicles are forecast to account for 46.4% of the global market in 2035, up from a paltry 6.4% in 2019.

■ Overseas makers charging ahead

Major overseas automakers are also accelerating the electrification of their lineups.

In November, GM announced plans to offer 30 all-electric models globally by 2025. GM also aims to have electric vehicles account for 40% of new vehicles it sells in the U.S. and said it will invest $27 billion (about ¥2.8 trillion) in electric and self-driving vehicle development through 2025.

In an online address this month, GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said the electrification of vehicles will be key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “GM intends to lead that change,” Barra pledged.

Volkswagen Group, Europe’s largest automobile manufacturer, intends to launch about 70 electric vehicles by 2030, and it has already produced about 20 models. The German automaker also aims to offer about 60 hybrid vehicle models. The electrified vehicle share of VW’s new car sales increased significantly in 2020. Led by the flagship ID.3, VW sold about 230,000 electric vehicles last year, more than triple the number from 2019. VW also sold about 190,000 plug-in hybrids, a 2.7-fold increase from 2019.

Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden’s Volvo Cars aims to have electric vehicles account for half of all new vehicle sales by 2025.