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Japanese automakers developing EV models of pickup trucks for overseas markets

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Isuzu Motors Ltd.’s D-Max model truck is seen in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — Japanese automakers are developing electric vehicle models of their pickup trucks, though manufacturing electric-powered vehicles has been considered difficult due to their high cost.

Pickup trucks are popular in Southeast Asian countries, and the trend of decarbonization has been spreading in the region.

Japanese automakers have begun shifting their business strategy to provide EV pickup trucks in the market.

Able to run on rough roads

Pickup trucks have unroofed pickup beds, they have large engine displacements and they can run on rough, unpaved roads.

Users can load harvests, construction equipment or other large items, into pickup beds.

Though large pickup trucks are not widely used in Japan, JATO Dynamics Ltd., a British business research company, reported that they accounted for about 20% of new car sales in the Southeast Asian region in 2022. In Thailand, the percentage was higher at 47%.

Pickup trucks are widely used both as family and commercial vehicles in the region.

In North America, 7% of new car sales are pickup trucks.

Isuzu Motors Ltd. President Shinsuke Minami said, “We plan to produce pickup truck EVs in Thailand,” at an event held in Bangkok to unveil an improved D-MAX model, which is one of the company’s flagship vehicles.

Isuzu Motors plans to export and sell an EV version of the D-MAX in 2025 and then expand sales channels of the model to Thailand and other places.

About 30% of Isuzu Motors’ global sales come from Thailand.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has said that if the country does not shift to EVs, it will be left behind in the greening of the automobile industry. The Thai government therefore aims to expand production and sale of EVs.

U.S. on frontline

The biggest hurdle to clear is pricing.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. plans to offer an EV version of its Triton model for sale as early as 2028. But Executive Vice President Hiroshi Nagaoka said, “Because EVs are loaded with a lot of batteries, the model will be higher priced.”

Triton model sales in Southeast Asia account for one-third of the company’s global sales. In Thailand, the current minimum price of the model is about 700,000 baht (about ¥2.8 million).

Nagaoka said the price of the planned EV model “may not match” local market trends.

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to begin production of pickup truck EVs in Thailand, but officials said the timing of commercial sales has not been decided.

On the other hand, Ford Motor Co. of the United States began selling EV models of the F-150 in 2022, making it a forerunner in the trend.

According to JATO Dynamics, Toyota grabbed the largest global sales share at about 30% of pickup trucks, followed by Ford’s at about 15%. Isuzu was ranked fourth at 8%.

It is predicted that U.S. and European automakers will release more EV models. If Japanese automakers fail to rival them, their presence in the automobile industry may shrink.