BYD Introduces ‘Underpriced’ Dolphin EV to Japan Market; China Firm Aims to Fill Gap Left by Domestic Automakers

The Yomiuri Shimbun
BYD Co.’s Dolphin electric vehicle is seen in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Wednesday.

BYD Co. of China has introduced its “underpriced” Dolphin compact electric vehicle to Japan.

The major Chinese EV manufacturer aims to have the Dolphin, which can be purchased for less than ¥3 million with the help of public subsidies, penetrate the Japanese market while the number of domestically produced EV models is still limited. To that end, it is promoting the vehicle’s low price for its long cruising range.

“The model is a definitive version of the compact EV with everything you need in terms of price, cruising performance and safety,” said Atsuki Tofukuji, president of BYD Auto Japan Inc., which handles sales in Japan, at the Dolphin’s launch in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The price of the Dolphin starts from ¥3.63 million. Utilizing EV-related public subsidies, it can be purchased for ¥2.98 million.

The Dolphin is 4.29 meters long and 1.77 meters wide, similar in size to the Leaf, Nissan Motor Co.’s EV. But, according to BYD, a full battery could be enough to drive the Dolphin for 400 kilometers, farther than the Leaf.

Launched in 2021, the Dolphin is currently available in Thailand and Australia in addition to China. For the Japanese market, the vehicle height has been lowered to fit in automated parking facilities, and a function has been added to prevent accidents caused by sudden acceleration.

The model is meant to meet the demand for a second vehicle among people living in urban condominiums or rural areas, showing the company’s determination to cultivate the Japanese market.

BYD was founded in 1995 as a battery manufacturer, and has emerged as the second-largest EV maker in the global market after Tesla Inc. It has sold about 700 units of the ATTO3, which was launched in Japan in January as its first passenger car in this nation. The Dolphin is the second BYD model to be introduced to Japan.

BYD aims to sell 1,100 units of the Dolphin by March 2024, surpassing the sales performance of the ATTO3. The company also plans to open 100 dealerships in Japan by the end of 2025.

Filling ‘void’

EVs accounted for 1.7% of passenger car sales in Japan in 2022, a lower percentage than in China, the United States and European countries. This is because EV choices are few in Japan, where only about 10 models are sold by Japanese manufacturers.

EVs are also relatively expensive in Japan. Tesla models, considered to be the best-selling imported EVs in Japan, start at the ¥5 million range, and the EV jointly developed by Toyota Motor Corp. and Subaru Corp. is priced at around ¥6 million.

Nissan Motor’s Sakura, priced at the ¥2 million range, is selling well, but it is a minivehicle. There are no Japan-made standard and compact EV cars in the ¥3 million range, so the Dolphin may fill the void and gain support in the Japanese market.

“The Dolphin may quickly achieve sales in Japan thanks to the surprising real price of less than ¥3 million and being a compact car, a type with a large customer base in Japan,” said Shinya Omori, president of SC-ABeam Automotive Consulting.

However, it could be difficult for BYD to spread the model widely in Japan, as the company name is still little known here. A source close to a Japanese car manufacturer said Japanese, European and U.S. vehicles have the advantage in terms of brand strength.