Demand for commercial EVs in Japan boosted by decarbonization trend

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s Minicab MiEV is seen in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

Electric vehicles are attracting more and more attention, especially in the field of commercial deliveries. The growing global trend toward decarbonization and increased interest from various industries has inspired some car makers to revive EVs that have passed out of production and develop plans for new models. Competition in the Japanese market has become fierce, with Chinese companies also entering the fray.

Revived models

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is set to relaunch its Minicab MiEV light commercial EV on Nov. 24. The vehicle was originally marketed in December 2011, but sales were sluggish due to a lack of charging facilities and poor name recognition. The company halted production of the model in March last year after only notching around 10,000 sales.

However, Mitsubishi decided to resume sales after receiving a surge of inquiries about the vehicle from logistics companies in light of the government’s announced aim of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Observers say companies can demonstrate their commitment to decarbonization by using EVs.

The MiEV can travel a maximum of 133 kilometers on a single charge. Apart from a larger cargo area, the newest iteration of the vehicle is unchanged from the previously marketed model. “Today, people are thinking differently about the environment, and we’re keen to promptly deliver our EVs to companies that want them,” a Mitsubishi representative said.

Government support

Sensing a commercial opportunity, automakers are keen to focus on EV development. Suzuki Motor Corp. and Daihatsu Motor Co. — two of the largest minicar manufacturers in Japan — are working with Toyota Motor Corp. to introduce commercial EV minivans in fiscal 2023.

Honda Motor Co. plans to launch 30 different EV models by 2030, including a light, commercial EV priced in the ¥1 million yen range in the first half of 2024.

The government, which plans to boost EV development by providing financial support to help decarbonize the automotive sector, hopes EVs will account for 20-30% of all new small commercial vehicle sales by 2030.

The market is expected to continue growing. According to estimates by Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, more than half of all commercial vehicles in Japan will be EVs by 2050.

China revs up production

Chinese companies are gaining ground in the commercial EV market. A Chinese firm is set to make EVs for Sagawa Express Co., which has teamed up with a domestic startup to develop EVs for delivery usage.

This month, SBS Holdings, Inc. began using 1-ton class EV trucks produced by a Chinese manufacturer for its logistics business.

There are, however, a number of technological issues that need addressing before EVs diffuse more widely. “The initial cost of introducing EVs is high, but they’re likely to gain more ground as a measure to reduce delivery costs,” said Shinya Omori, president of SC-ABeam Automotive Consulting. “The development of replaceable batteries for long-distance transportation is also awaited.”